North Carolina’s $30 billion budget is now law, taking effect at midnight as Monday night segued into Tuesday morning.
With the law comes raises for tens of thousands of workers, expansion of private school scholarships, Medicaid expansion, major water and sewer upgrades and projects in local districts across the state — all with taxpayer money.
The long-delayed budget finally became law after Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper let the deadline he had to take action on the bill expire. Signing a bill generally means the governor supports the legislation, while a veto would have required a successful override vote from the General Assembly. Cooper did neither.
If the governor takes no action after 10 days, a bill becomes law without his signature. That has become the route for Cooper to signal disapproval while also not delaying the bill becoming law further, with override votes likely to have overturned his decision. This budget includes Medicaid expansion, a longtime priority of Cooper, so any further delay would have meant longer delay for expansion, too.
The state constitution provides the governor time to act up until 11:59 p.m. on the 10th day after a bill reaches his or her desk, House Clerk James White told The News & Observer on Monday. Cooper announced on Sept. 22, the day the budget passed the Republican-supermajority General Assembly, that he would let the clock run out.
When Cooper announced he would let the bill become law without his signature, he called it a “bad budget” but also celebrated that Medicaid expansion would be implemented.
The two-year plan to spend roughly $30 billion a year was written by the Republican-supermajority General Assembly, with much of the delay caused by disagreements between the House and Senate.
With it come raises of 7% over the next two years for most state employees, average raises of 7% over that period for teachers, and bigger increases for some workers like bus drivers and highway patrol officers. Retired state employees will receive a 4% one-time bonus this year.
School vouchers, policy in budget
The budget expands private school scholarships funded with taxpayer money to everyone, a win for Republicans and supporters of the school choice movement, which backs the idea that public money should follow each student regardless of where they go to school.
One of the biggest proponents of school choice is Mecklenburg County Republican Rep. Tricia Cotham, who started the legislative session as a Democrat and changed parties in the spring, giving Republicans a veto-proof supermajority in the House and the entire General Assembly. Some House Democrats voted with Republicans on the state budget.
Policy in the budget also includes expanding the power of the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations, known as Gov Ops, and exempting lawmakers from the state public records law. Gov Ops is co-chaired by the two top Republicans in the legislature: Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, who also determine the final budget.
Raises for state employees, teachers and bus drivers will be retroactive to July 1, when the fiscal year started.
This will be the second major budget — which passes every two years — in a row that made state employees and educators wait extra months for their raises.
When Cooper announced his plan for the bill, he called Medicaid expansion “a life-saving, monumental decision for our state,” but said the budget also “seriously shortchanges our schools, prioritizes power grabs, keeps shady backroom deals secret and blatantly violates the constitution, and many of its provisions will face legal action.”
Delayed NC budgets of late
In 2021, too, before Republicans gained a veto-proof supermajority, Cooper, Moore and Berger negotiated the budget well past the summer deadline. They only came to an agreement in November. Cooper signed it Nov. 18, 2021, the same day that the General Assembly passed it.
In 2019, Cooper vetoed the budget and the House overrode his veto, but the Senate didn’t. Instead, there was no big budget at all, leaving thousands of workers without raises.
Unlike the federal government, North Carolina does not shut down if there’s no budget. A continuing resolution passed years ago keeps state spending levels at the same amount as the previous year until action is taken. The move has meant lawmakers have less of an incentive to pass a budget by June 30.