AG says governor can't ignore ferry law

Transportation officials say they won't start imposing tolls, but Attorney General Roy Cooper says "state law as passed by the legislature must be followed."

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N.C. ferry
RALEIGH, N.C. — Attorney General Roy Cooper says Gov. Bev Perdue can't ignore legislative budget writers by refusing to increase ferry tolls at the coast.

“It is our opinion that the state law as passed by the legislature must be followed. It was the legislature’s decision to collect tolls and the legislature has the authority to remove them," Cooper said Friday.

He has issued a letter saying that Perdue's executive order "raises substantial concerns under our Constitution," and suggests that Perdue should implement the new tolls.

Perdue stayed the new tolls in February saying that the poor economy and ongoing recovery from bad storms in 2011 made this the wrong time to impose new fees on eastern residents. 

Her office has yet to issue a response, but has said in the past that the General Assembly could clear away the executive order by putting a relatively minor change in the law.

Grier Beaty, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation said her agency would "stay the course" and continue to follow the executive order until directed to do otherwise. The attorney general's letter doesn't change that, she said.

Lawmakers say they were happy the attorney general sided with them.

"The governor exceeded her constitutional authority when she ordered her administration to violate the law," said Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger. "We are please the attorney general reaffirmed the separation of powers and upheld the constitution." 

 Update (2:37 p.m.): Chris Mackey, a spokeswoman for Gov. Bev Perdue, had this to say:

“The Governor believes her executive order is both legal and right. The Governor issued her order because she doesn’t think it is right to collect ferry taxes from working families in eastern North Carolina.

“If the Republican leaders of the General Assembly are determined to collect the ferry tax, they can do it when they return to Raleigh in ten days. The Governor’s executive order clearly states that the General Assembly can vote to end the moratorium at any time.”

Update (3:56 p.m.): After hearing from Perdue and the DOT, Auth then had this to say:

"Based on the attorney general's opinion, the ball is in the governor's court. The General Assembly already voted on this matter when we passed our budget last year and an executive order cannot erase a law. If Gov. Perdue continues to direct the Department of Transportation to follow her order, then it is clear she has absolutely no regard for North Carolina's laws and constitution."