Senate completes override of budget veto

Posted June 15, 2011 1:12 p.m. EDT
Updated June 15, 2011 7:05 p.m. EDT

— After the House got enough Democratic support in a late-night vote to override Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto of the state budget, Republican senators completed the historic feat Wednesday afternoon.

The Senate voted 31-19 along party lines to enact the budget over Perdue's objections.

"The budget we're looking at balances without a tax increase," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said during the debate.

Other Republican senators called the $19.7 billion budget fiscally responsible, noting it follows the lead of many businesses hit hard by the sluggish economy and reins in spending. They also said voters put the GOP in charge of the General Assembly last fall to cut taxes and spending.

"I don't think we've done anything other than what we promised," said Sen. Don East, R-Surry.

House members met just after midnight Wednesday and voted 73-46 on the override after limiting debate. Five Democrats who voted for the bill when it initially passed last month joined the Republican majority in the House to provide the needed votes for the override.

Perdue is the first North Carolina governor to veto a state budget, and only once before have lawmakers successfully overridden a veto.

The budget, which takes effect July 1, was passed earlier than other recent state spending plans.

"It's significant particularly for local governments and for our local school systems because they now know for certain what they can plan on," said Berger, R-Rockingham.

Republican lawmakers contend that the spending plan is close to the budget Perdue proposed in March, but the governor released a statement Tuesday saying the claim is false.

Perdue said the proposed budget cuts $257 million more from public education than she proposed, as well as $236 million more from state universities and $69 million from community colleges. The lower funding will force school districts to lay off thousands of teachers and teaching assistants statewide, she said.

Members of the North Carolina Association of Educators had planned to lobby lawmakers Wednesday in an effort to defeat the override, but the late-night vote short-circuited those plans. The group still rallied outside the Legislative Building to voice their displeasure over the budget.

"Our schools, our educators and our children are too important to give up on," NCAE President Sheri Strickland said. "The fight will be continued. We will not be deterred, we will not be silenced and we will not forget."

Sen. Linda Garrou, D-Forsyth, said the budget cuts are already being felt, noting that Cumberland County Schools issued about 375 pink slips on Wednesday, including cutting 130 teaching jobs and 179 teacher assistants.

"I never thought I'd see the day that we'd come to this," Garrou said.

Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, dismissed the idea that the budget would harm education. He and other Republicans called it fiscally responsible, noting that it cuts spending and taxes to be in line with the lower revenue North Carolina is generating in the sluggish economy.

"Children are going to continue to learn. Everything's going to be fine," Apodaca said. "This Chicken-Little-sky-is-falling routine is getting a little old."

Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt predicted that lawmakers would have trouble with budget adjustments next year because Republicans used local discretionary cuts to reduce state spending instead of taking the zero-based approach of reviewing every spending item that they had promised to use.

"It's a convenient way of (balancing the budget), but I don't think it's very productive," said Nesbitt, D-Buncombe.