@NCCapitol

Perdue: 'Hoping for a (budget) miracle on Jones Street'

Posted June 2, 2011 1:09 p.m. EDT
Updated June 2, 2011 6:51 p.m. EDT

State budget

— Gov. Bev Perdue is counting on Democrats to side with her on the state budget. 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 veto-proof.

Republican lawmakers said they hope the plan will make it through the House and reach Perdue's desk by the end of the week.

The House is holding committee meetings at 8 a.m. Friday, followed by a session at 2 p.m. on the budget and other bills. After midnight, they'll reconvene for a final budget vote and send it to the Senate. The Senate is expected to hold a session later Saturday morning to ratify the bill and send it to Perdue.

Perdue had some harsh words on the latest version of the budget Thursday, calling it "a bad budget ... that takes North Carolina backwards." She also sent a letter to Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis on Thursday.

"You seem to be unclear about my views regarding what constitutes an acceptable budget for North Carolina," she wrote.

If the governor vetoes the budget, she needs her party behind her.

"People have rights as members to do what they want to do, and I hope at the end of the day they will be with me," she said. "I'm not admitting (the Republicans) have enough to override. I'm hoping for a miracle on Jones Street."

Representative Jim Crawford, D-Granville and Vance, is one of five House Democrats who say they met with Perdue before negotiating with the Republican leadership.

"If I thought we could get any better deal I'd be with her, but I don't think there's any better deal out there," Crawford said. "She said the bottom line's the teachers and teacher assistants, and they're in there."

The Republican Senate majority penned a $19.7 billion, two-year budget 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 the public schools and restored funding for teaching assistant jobs and for more teachers in the early grades. They also expect 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.

"What's been done in this budget to boost the economy will take years, I mean years, to offset the thousands of jobs lost through this process in education," said Sen. Charlie Dannelly, D-Mecklenburg. "We all know that the basic foundation of economic growth is a sound effective educational system ... This budget diminishes all of that."

Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, criticized what he called "Republican math" in which job losses are ignored and only new teaching positions are counted.

"This budget does immense damage to the education system," Stein said.

Sen. Doug Berger, D-Franklin, complained that some cuts would hurt the state's elderly residents. "Society is judged by how we take care of the least of us," he said.

Another defeated amendment would have allowed Planned Parenthood to keep receiving funds from the state to provide medical services unrelated to abortions for poor women.

"This budget in general is not just an attack on citizens. It's an attack on women," said Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, in support of the Planned Parenthood amendment. "You've gone from attacking their children, all the way to their health."

Republicans point out that nearly $3 million in the state budget – funded by federal grants – would go to teen pregnancy prevention initiatives.

The Senate also defeated an attempt to separate an effort to extend jobless benefits to more than 40,000 North Carolina residents who have exhausted all unemployment benefits. Democrats wanted a standalone bill, but Republicans wanted the measure kept within the budget.

While in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, Perdue compared the spending plan to a fig leaf on a statue, "covering up parts so we really don't see the cuts fully." She later issued a series of news releases analyzing the impact on school districts across the state.

The Wake County Public School System, for example, would lose $42.3 million under the proposal, while Durham Public Schools would have to cut $9.3 million and Cumberland County Schools would lose $15.1 million, according to the analysis by Perdue's staff.

"Folks need to stand up and make the right decisions, not do something that's politically expedient or something that is totally unnecessary," she said. "For all those people who are going to lose their jobs, this is unnecessary, and it does hurt North Carolina."

The Senate president pro tem ended the lengthy debate Wednesday by noting that the difference in education funding between the governor's proposal and the spending plan before the Senate was a fraction of 1 percent.

The spending cuts in the proposed budget reflect the economic slowdown, Berger said, while trying to support education and other services.

"It's an effort to do what's best for North Carolina," he said.