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Gov. Cooper says he'll let new North Carolina budget become law without his signature

Senator Chaudhuri questions Senator Jackson on the state budget bill.
Matt Ramey
Senator Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake, questions Senator Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, on the state budget bill.

Gov. Roy Cooper announced Friday that he’ll allow the new state budget to become law without his signature.

Cooper made the announcement minutes after the state Senate took a final vote Friday morning along party lines. He says the $30 billion spending plan is a "bad budget," but he doesn’t want to delay Medicaid expansion any longer.

That will only take effect when the long overdue budget becomes law, and a veto would have delayed that step for several more weeks. The state House isn't planning to return until the week of Oct. 9.

"Make no mistake; overall, this is a bad budget that 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," Cooper said in a statement. "However, we must recognize this irresponsible legislature’s decade of refusal to expand Medicaid, which has caused life and death situations for so many North Carolinians and threatened the very existence of numerous rural hospitals. I will not allow people who are crying for help to wait any longer, so I am directing our Department of Health and Human Services to begin today the process for expanding Medicaid while allowing this budget to become law without my signature."

Senate leader Phil Berger called Cooper's decision a "brazen display of political cowardice and avoiding accountability."

"This budget is good for all North Carolinians," he said in a news release. "Yet, in a display of politics trumping policy, every Senate Democrat voted against increased funding for education, against pay raises for teachers and state employees, against expanding school choice to all families in North Carolina, and against supporting our rural communities with critical infrastructure."

The WUNC Politics Podcast is a free-flowing discussion of what we're hearing in the back hallways of the General Assembly and on the campaign trail across North Carolina.

The budget includes raises of 4% this year for most state employees, with an additional 3% next year. Starting pay for teachers would increase by $2,000 to $39,000, and teacher pay overall would rise by an average of 7%. It would decrease the personal income tax rate to just under 4% by 2026, but only if revenue targets are met.

Republicans touted hundreds of millions allocated for mental healthcare, and grants of $2 billion for water and sewer infrastructure in rural communities.

Rep. Lindsey Prather, D-Buncombe, voted against the budget because she objects to much of it, including state employee and teacher raises she says are too small. But she praised the launch of Medicaid expansion.

"It certainly feels like a win, and it is a win for the 600,000 North Carolinians who are now going to get health insurance who didn’t have it, as well as the North Carolinians who are still being kicked off of Medicaid who aren’t going to have that bridge they would have if we had approved this budget two and a half months ago," Prather told the WUNC Politics Podcast recently.

With Cooper declining to sign, the budget will become law in 10 days.

Colin Campbell covers politics for WUNC as the station's capitol bureau chief.