RALEIGH, N.C. — Gov. Bev Perdue signed an executive order Friday to extend federal unemployment insurance benefits for thousands of North Carolina residents amid a battle with Republican lawmakers, who tied the extension to the state budget bill.
In April, the Republican majority in the General Assembly passed a bill to extend the federally funded benefits for up to 20 weeks, but it contained a stipulation that would have weakened Perdue's control over the state budget.
If a state budget is not in place by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, the bill ordered, Republicans would move forward with slashing Perdue's proposed $19.9 billion budget by 13 percent.
She vetoed the measure, calling it "extortion," and 47,000 unemployed people in the state lost their jobless benefits sooner than expected. Those people can expect to see a check as soon as next week.
"They were holding me hostage, but they were really holding 47,000 people hostage. So yeah, finally I am going to act on my own," Perdue said Friday
Perdue said she has been trying to work with Republican lawmakers to no avail. She said she repeatedly asked them to send her a clean bill and restore unemployment benefits.
"Not until yesterday had we talked to labor and decided we could move in this direction," she said.
Perdue said she waited so long to make the move because she originally "wanted to be a team player" with the legislature.
"Last night, I went home and said, 'I am over this,'" she said.
Perdue said the benefits are paid entirely with federal funds.
"Every week we deny these benefits is another week that we keep $11 million of federal funds from flowing into our economy. This money would pay for things like groceries, rent and clothing and help small businesses who sell these items or collect that rent," she said.
Perdue's press secretary Chris Mackey said the governor gave "Republican leaders the chance to do the right thing and they didn't. So, she found another solution."
About 20,000 people should receive benefits next week when the first round of checks are sent. Perdue said the rest of the people should receive benefits in eight to 10 days.
"It is going to help people pay for food, clothes. It is going to help people pay their house payment, their light payment and their medical payments," she said.
Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, was critical of Perdue's order calling it "incompetent."
"If Skip Stam has the audacity to tell me I am incompetent for doing something that is going to make 47,000 people's lives better, let him and shame on him," Perdue said.
Budget bill still working its way through the House
Perdue is counting on Democrats to side with her in the budget battle. The state Senate voted 31-19 Thursday to pass a $19.7 billion spending plan for next year, and that vote is veto-proof. But in the House, the Republican majority is four votes short of being able to overturn a Perdue veto.
Republican lawmakers said they hope to have a plan on Perdue's desk this weekend.
Perdue said Friday she hasn't made up her mind on whether she will veto the bill.
The House voted 73-44 in favor of the Republican Senate majority penned the $19.7 billion budget bill. After midnight, they'll reconvene for a final budget vote and send it to the Senate. The Senate is expected to hold a session at 10 a.m. Saturday morning to ratify the bill and send it to Perdue.
The two-year budget bill designed to attract enough Democrats in the House to turn back any potential veto by Perdue.
Before the first of two required votes in the chamber, GOP senators beat back several amendments by Democrats, who complained the measure would devastate public schools and health care for the poor.
Republicans argue that they've tempered the reductions in funding for public schools and restored funding for teaching assistant jobs and for more teachers in the early grades. They also expect the state to gain tens of thousands of private-sector jobs from letting temporary taxes expire and offering a small-business tax break.
"I don't want to hear that Republicans don't care. That's not true," said Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph. "This is a very caring budget."
Senate Democrats contend the bill would eliminate more jobs immediately in the public sector. They cite documents from the public schools, University of North Carolina system and community colleges saying the Senate budget would eliminate 13,000 positions in the new fiscal year starting July 1.
"To say that this budget can do anything to improve schools is totally misguided, totally misleading," state Board of Education Chair Bill Harrison said Friday.