RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina General Assembly is playing a waiting game with Gov. Beverly Perdue and her responses to three significant bills on her desk as they prepare to leave town, possibly for the rest of the year.
Legislative leaders want to adjourn next Monday or earlier, once issues related to the three bills are resolved. Perdue has until midnight Sunday to sign the bills into law, veto them or let them become law without her signature.
The bills include the $20.2 billion budget, changes to the Racial Justice Act and the development of a natural gas exploration and production industry that would include a controversial drilling method. The Republican-led General Assembly would try to override any Perdue vetoes.
Perdue addressed the budget in a hastily called news conference Tuesday afternoon but gave no indication whether she would sign or veto it. Instead, she urged lawmakers to "do more for the children of North Carolina" and increase education funding in the spending plan.
"Everyone wants more for their kids than we had for ourselves," she said. "They need to keep working. They need to reach down deep and do more for the children of this state (and) invest more in our children's future."
The governor said she met last week with House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger to make her feelings known and try to work with them. But they sent her a letter Tuesday morning, she said, that indicated they wouldn't change the budget that both the House and Senate passed last week.
"We sincerely appreciate the time you spent with us last Thursday and the spirit in which you recommended changes to our budget," the letter read. "There is not a consensus in support of your changes in the legislature. We hope you will give the budget before you careful consideration. It advances many of North Carolina's priorities and we hope you will sign it."
Tillis and Berger issued a joint statement after Perdue's news conference, noting that the budget provides an extra $255 million to public schools, gives teachers and other state workers a raise, resolves funding issues in the state Medicaid program and addresses other state needs.
“If Gov. Perdue truly cares about the best interests of North Carolina, she will sign this budget," Tillis and Berger said. "From students attending public schools to drivers filling up their tanks to Medicaid patients recovering in our hospitals, every North Carolinian benefits from this budget. A veto would show that Gov. Perdue is more interested in playing politics than in budgeting responsibly.”
Regarding the other pending bills, Perdue last year vetoed an attempt to repeal the landmark Racial Justice Act, which allows death row inmates to use statistical evidence to challenge their sentences. One inmate already has had his death sentence commuted to life in prison by showing racial bias played a role in jury selection. The state has appealed the ruling.
The House and Senate passed the latest effort to overhaul the 3-year-old law by veto-proof majorities.
Perdue has said that she believes gas drilling can be done safely in North Carolina if the proper regulations are in place, and Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said last week that the Senate delayed its final vote on the drilling bill to make sure the governor was on board with its provisions.
Still, environmentalists have been flooding the Governor's Office with calls and emails in recent days, urging her to veto the bill and push for a slower approach that would allow more study of hydraulic fracturing, the drilling process that some believe could contaminate area water supplies.
Several other meaty or controversial pieces of legislation likely won't be heard before the legislature adjourns.