Cooper: New Year will bring renewed push for budget resolution

North Carolina

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said he’s pushing for a resolution to the months-long budget impasse when lawmakers return in January, but it’s not clear if the New Year will bring a new compromise.

Cooper sat down for an interview with CBS 17 on Wednesday.

He vetoed the budget passed by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in June, citing a variety of issues including lack of Medicaid expansion and raises for teachers not being as high as he wanted.

“All of them deserve a decent raise. We have the money,” he said.

Since June, the General Assembly has passed a variety of so-called “mini-budgets,” mostly addressing non-controversial items. One of those mini-budgets would have given teachers an average 3.9 percent raise over two years. Cooper vetoed that as well, calling it “paltry.”

No new compromise plan has emerged since then, leaving the teacher pay issue unresolved.

“I’m fully responsible for stopping a bad budget, and I’m glad that I did,” he said. “It means sweeping corporate tax cuts yet again that’s gonna hurt the ability to fund education and other needs in the future. There’s nothing to expand healthcare to over half a million working people.”

Last week, Republican Senate leader Phil Berger released a statement on the budget stalemate.

“We clearly know that Governor Cooper refuses to consider a budget without inclusion of Medicaid expansion. Faced with that reality, the only pathway that exists to provide teachers with a pay raise is for the bipartisan budget to be enacted through a veto override,” he said.

Berger placed an override vote on the Senate calendar in October but never called for the vote to take place, as Democrats said they wouldn’t join Republicans in overriding Cooper’s veto.

“When they come back next year, I’m hoping that the holidays will put them a little more in the spirit to think about the importance of pay raises for our educators,” Cooper said.

Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The budget impasse goes on amid an intense partisan divide.

Republicans hired private investigators to look into how Cooper handled a deal involving the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.

Companies involved in the project, including Duke Energy, paid more than $50 million into a fund to deal to mitigate environmental impacts and promote economic development in eastern North Carolina.

The investigators found Cooper did not personally benefit but said he “improperly” used his authority.

“This is nothing more than a partisan sham orchestrated by a hyper-partisan Republican leadership,” he said.

The investigators even suggested criminal activity might have occurred and recommended an independent investigation.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous. We have complied with their request and made all of this information public,” Cooper said.

Silent Sam

Cooper criticized the recent settlement between the UNC system and the North Carolina Sons of Confederate Veterans, in which the group will receive more than $2.5 million to maintain the Silent Sam Confederate monument that once sat on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill.

Protestors toppled the monument more than a year ago. Under the settlement, it can’t be put back up in any county that has a UNC system institution.

“I wanted the monument removed months ago. And, I’m glad that it is removed. That’s positive. But, this was not the right way to do it,” said Cooper. “The UNC Board of Governors needs to find a way to fix this.”

Some students and faculty have expressed outrage over the settlement by holding protests on UNC’s campus.

Five members of the Board of Governors wrote an op-ed this week defending the decision.

“Compromise was a necessity,” they wrote in a piece co-authored by Jim Holmes, Darrell Allison, Wendy Murphy, Anna Nelson, and Bob Rucho. They noted the $2.5 million going into a charitable trust for the monument’s preservation will come “from interest accumulated in the UNC-Chapel Hill endowment.”

“When a respected foundation pulls a grant from the university, that should send a signal that this was not the right way to do this,” said Cooper.

The governor said there should be more diversity on the Board of Governors, and that “more autonomy should be given to the UNC system’s constituent institutions.

“We need to find a way to look at how our university leadership is selected,” he said, noting the members are all chosen by the General Assembly.

The system has “had three presidents in three years and lots of interim chancellors and a lot of things that are beginning to hurt us.”

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