Local Politics

Perdue quietly signs state budget

Posted August 7, 2009 5:57 p.m. EDT
Updated August 7, 2009 7:12 p.m. EDT

State budget

— Gov. Beverly Perdue on Friday quietly signed the $19 billion state budget into law more than a month after the spending plan was supposed to take effect.

"It's nothing people can brag about, but it's something that protects education," Perdue said in explaining why she bypassed the traditional formal signing ceremony for a state budget.

The governor also noted that she held a news conference Tuesday evening when lawmakers were voting on the budget to express her views and answer questions from reporters.

Perdue said she would have preferred a budget that raised more revenue and cut less from education, but she said she recognized lawmakers had made tough decisions in trying to erase a projected $4.6 billion deficit.

The budget includes $990 million in new revenue, mostly from a one-cent increase to the sales tax rate. It also includes higher taxes on tobacco and alcohol and a surcharge on  the tax liability of businesses and top wage earners.

"We cut every piece of state government," Perdue said. "I really do believe it helps keep public schools functioning. It doesn't do it all. It's not a great solution, but it's better than where we were."

The budget also includes a provision to continue providing in-state tuition rates to athletes from outside North Carolina at University of North Carolina schools.

"I think there has to be a commitment to all the schools to keep tuition as low as possible, and so these kind of decisions are problematic," Perdue said.

Republican lawmakers continued to criticize the budget and predicted it would become a campaign issue next year.

"This budget raises taxes by well over $900 million annually, and you still cut education by a lot," Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger said.

"Economics 101 basically says you don't try to raise taxes during a recession to get out of it," said Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg.

Berger and others maintained the budget could have been balanced without the tax increases.

"When times are tough, tighten your belt," he said.

Democrats said they believe they did tighten, slashing the Department of Health and Human Services budget by 29 percent and education spending by almost 10 percent. About 725 state workers will lose their jobs under the budget, and another 1,318 vacant positions will be eliminated. Hundreds of teachers also could lose their jobs as school districts adjust to cuts in state revenue.

Having already cut billions from the budget, Democrats said, they were left with no choice but to raise taxes to avoid even deeper cuts.

"If we had not made some increased revenue, the cuts to education and health and human services would have really been major," said Sen. Bill Purcell, D-Scotland.