Hot mics and heated words mark state budget debate

Posted June 3, 2011 8:26 p.m. EDT
Updated June 4, 2011 12:29 p.m. EDT

— A Wake County legislator apologized Friday night to the governor for calling her incompetent in comments caught on an open microphone earlier in the day.

Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam was among members meeting in a closed strategy session who did not realize that the audio in the room was being picked up and piped throughout the Legislative Office Building.

Stam, the majority leader, said, "Either way, she's incompetent" of Gov. Bev Perdue, who signed an executive order Friday to restore the flow of unemployment benefits ending a partisan dispute over whether to tie those checks to the passage of the state budget. 

“She knows it’s going to become law, and she wants to get the credit. We really need to crack on her for this,” Stam said.

In a press conference later in the afternoon, Perdue made fun of the GOP's goof. "Are these on? Is there a switch? I am incompetent when it comes to microphones," she joked.

Republican leaders have tried for weeks to link passage of a budget bill to the restoration of the benefits to the unemployed. Perdue's action Friday broke that link.

Stam said he personally apologized to the governor for his comment. "I sent a note to the governor apologizing for my choice of words," he said.

The Republican leaders were meeting to plot their strategy going forward. By law, a budget must be approved by the start of the new fiscal year July 1. The $19.7 billion budget bill, with the extension of unemployment benefits included as an amendment, is expected to pass a final vote in the House just after midnight and be on the governor's desk this weekend.

She has not said whether she would use her veto power. In the Senate, Republicans have enough votes to override any veto. In the House, they are four votes short of the necessary super-majority.

Rep. Thom Tillis, the speaker of the House, cautioned his colleagues against alienating the Democrats they will need to make their spending bill a law.

“Please do not go after Democrats. Five of them are voting with us,” he said. But if Republicans want to go after a specific member, Tillis said, “Gut-punch ‘em, hit ‘em in the jaw, doesn’t matter to me.”

Stam backtracked on that statement as well. He interpreted Tillis' comment this way: "Don't attack the party because there are a lot of good Democrats out there."