Local Politics

High court hears case on gubernatorial power

Posted September 7, 2010
Updated September 8, 2010

— In a hearing that attracted political and legal power-brokers, the state Supreme Court on Tuesday heard arguments about whether North Carolina's governor can legally shift money from special funds to help balance the state budget.

To deal with a state economy reeling from the combination of the dot-com bust and the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, former Gov. Mike Easley raided various funds in February 2002, seizing $1 billion to help cover a mounting deficit. Included in those funds was $80 million from the Highway Trust Fund.

Two men who helped create the Highway Trust Fund in the late 1980s, former Transportation Secretary Jim Harrington and former state Sen. W.D. Goldston, an Alamance County Democrat, sued over the move, saying money raised through gas taxes that goes into the trust fund is earmarked for specific highway projects.

A Wake County judge dismissed the case two years ago, ruling that Easley is constitutionally required to maintain a balanced budget, so he had the authority to use highway money in the face of a deficit. A divided Court of Appeals overturned that decision last fall, ruling that Easley needed legislative approval to transfer money to the General Fund.

Former Supreme Court Chief Justice Burley Mitchell represented the state in Tuesday's court hearing, while former Associate Justice Bob Orr argued the case for Harrington and Goldston.

I. Beverly Lake Jr., another former North Carolina chief justice, former Govs. Jim Hunt and Jim Holshouser House Speaker Joe Hackney were among those attending the hearing.

N.C. Supreme Court Web only: N.C. Supreme Court hears challenge to gubernatorial powers

The extensive interest "says it's a close case," Hunt said. He said he believes Easley was correct in using Highway Trust Fund money to balance the budget, saying the state constitution gives him that power.

"Somebody's got to be the final decision-maker, and I think the governor is that person," he said after the hearing.

Gov. Beverly Perdue twice took money from special funds last year to help pay state bills amid a deficit, including the lottery reserve fund, the Clean Water Trust Fund and the public school building and textbook funds.

Lake said those supporting Easley's move are trying to "take an easy issue and make it complicated."

Associate Justice Patricia Timmons-Goodson recused herself from the case, meaning six justices will decide the issue. A 3-3 decision would mean the Court of Appeals ruling would stand as the final ruling on the matter.

The Supreme Court decision is expected by the end of the year.


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  • mayers Sep 8, 2010

    What has to be remembered, is people are crooks whether they are republicans or democrats.That's their nature, they just choose what party to run on. NC has been a den of thieves for years, their just now getting caught!

  • UNCfuturealumi Sep 7, 2010

    Why does Bev P., think that the people of NC has ok'ed her to move money around. She just trying to make us appear stupid..well, on election day she rode the coattail of Obama, that was a stupid act..soon she will be out and forgotten and I cannot wait.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Sep 7, 2010

    100 years of Democrats controlling Raleigh and the resulting corruption should tell the voters of North Carolina something.

    Yet, the poor people of North Carolina continue to blindly vote these crooks into office without questioning the damage that Democrats have done to North Carolina after 100 years of control in Raleigh.

    The people of NC unfortunately get the government that they deserve after voting for Democrat crooks for over 100 years.

  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Sep 7, 2010

    If it wasn't for Easly misappropriating money from the Highway trust fund to pay for his failed socialist programs including "more at four", I-540 wouldn't be a toll road from I-40 to Holly Springs.

    Easley should have to pay for the construction of I-540 out of his personal funds after misappropriating money from the highway trust fund.

  • Rebelyell55 Sep 7, 2010

    Thie woman has over step her boundary so many times it's not funny. She thinks she some kind of dictator? I really thought she would be of some use to NC, but have not seen nothing but abuse of power and corruption so far. She got to go quickly.

  • davidgnews Sep 7, 2010

    Our state government is running a shell game like NC is one big ol' county fair.

  • kodac31 Sep 7, 2010

    Simple solution to North Carolina's problems.... GET RID OF ALL THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS!!! WAKE UP NORTH CAROLINIANS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!!!! They have been in power for over 100 years in this state...ITS TIME FOR A CHANGE, for the sake of the State of North Carolina, as a citizen please do your duty--VOTE VOTE VOTE--->REPUBLICAN---> From local, state, to federal offices. Its time to clean house!

  • Adelinthe Sep 7, 2010

    Lead by Example - "I worry that if the court rules in favor of the Governor this will have the potential for future, irresponsible spending practices by the State Government."

    I agree 100%.

    I thought a TRUST, was just that. A financial instrument set up for certain purposes, and nothing else.

    God bless.


  • Adelinthe Sep 7, 2010

    Have governors done this in the past? Or just Easley and Perdue???

    Personally, I think it's shameful to take money specially earmarked for educational purposes for the state's children and use it for something (anything) else other than on children.

    But I can easily picture Perdue taking candy from a baby, so I wasn't surprised by her move.

    God bless.


  • gammasandi Sep 7, 2010

    note to educators: focus more on teaching individual responsibility in every area of life, i.e., if you have children, be prepared to pay the medical bill, the education bill, etc....and,note to politicians: stop the "pork" spending now or answer to us taxpayers.