After what can only be described as a long, strange parliamentary trip, House Bill 383 finally made it to – and through - the House this afternoon.
But it won’t get to the governor’s desk till Saturday.
H383 is the measure that changes a legal formula to allow 37,000 jobless North Carolinians to keep receiving extended unemployment benefits from the federal government.
It wouldn’t cost the state anything, but the price for the Governor would be steep: GOP leaders added a provision for a year-long continuing resolution, forcing Perdue to run the state on 13 percent less than she proposed unless she agrees with the GOP’s budget plan.
GOP leaders insisted the budget measure was needed to avoid “brinksmanship.” They said Perdue could threaten to shut down the state government by refusing to sign their budget. This measure, they say, would remove that possibility.
In fact, the state has never shut down, and should there be no budget deal, the governor has emergency powers to run the state without a budget, anyway.
Those facts notwithstanding, Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, told his colleagues today that “100% of state employees would lose their paychecks” in a shutdown over the budget. “After watching Washington, D.C., last weekend, we want to make sure that North Carolina, its workers, teachers and citizens don’t face a similar situation.”
“She said she has a jar full of red ink,” Stam said. “This bill will make sure she doesn’t use her veto stamp as a bargaining chip.”
“We will have disagreements,” Stam added. “But teachers and state employees should not be the pawns in that debate.”
Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake, denounced H383 as “a politically motivated stunt.”
“While we’re talking about hostages, let’s talk about people who are on unemployment,” Ross said, pointing out that Democrats had filed a bill to make the needed formula change early last week, without the budget provision. “We could have shown people who are on unemployment and struggling to pay their bills that we take them seriously.”
“Let’s call a spade a spade,” Ross said. “You’re holding people on unemployment hostage for a political gimmick.”
Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, argued Perdue had been playing political games, too, by not informing the General Assembly that they needed to address the formula problem.
“This is no secret,” Ross retorted. “It’s certainly not a secret to all the people who’ve been sending e-mails to my office. It just has not been a priority for the majority party until it could be attached to a stunt,” Ross said, “and that’s a fact.”
After session, House Speaker Thom Tillis denied it was a “stunt,” although he conceded it was “well-timed.”
Tillis said the budget measure would give local governments and schools some certainty moving into the new fiscal year. But he backed off the shutdown argument.
If there’s no budget deal by June 30, Tillis told reporters, “Will we shut down? No. Will we shift our gears?” he asked. “Yes.”
The measure could have gone to Perdue’s desk today, but Tillis called a special House session Saturday morning, at which Rep. Stam will officially ratify the bill and send it to the governor.
The deadline for the unemployment benefit change is Saturday, so sending Perdue the bill that same day will prevent her from calling legislators back into session, either to override a potential veto or to send her another version with the political bits stripped out. If the formula change isn’t signed by Saturday, benefit checks will stop coming.
Tillis denied that the move would leave the governor no choice but to sign the measure. He says benefits could be reinstated if the state makes the needed change next week. But there would be delays for benefit recipients.
“If the governor wants to avoid those,” Tillis said, “she needs to sign the bill.”