News: CJ Exclusives

General Assembly Overrides Vetoes on Budget, Fracking, Racial Justice Act

Perdue goes 0-for-3 at close of GOP's first session as majority in 140 years

RALEIGH – An override of Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s budget veto highlighted a day of votes in which the Republican-controlled General Assembly shot down the governor’s vetoes three times.

The General Assembly on Monday night voted to override Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s veto of the state budget bill, clearing the way for adjournment and allowing lawmakers to go home to campaign for the November 2012 general election.

Lawmakers also overrode vetoes on bills that would tighten the Racial Justice Act and set up a framework for fracking to begin in North Carolina.

The $20.2 billion General Fund budget that became law Monday night comprises less than 40 percent of the state’s overall $52 billion budget.

“This is a sound budget which North Carolina needs to move forward,” Rep. Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, told his fellow representatives.

“This budget is a disappointment, and it sells North Carolina short,” Rep. Deborah Ross. D-Wake retorted.

The vote was 74-45. Republicans, who hold majorities in the House, worked throughout the day to garner enough Democratic support for the bill to attain the three-fifths supermajority needed to override a veto.

In the Senate, the vote to override was 31-10.

Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake, set the tone for the debate during the evening session when he announced he would vote to override the veto. Jackson, who had previously voted against the budget, said that he was going to support it because he feared if he didn’t layoffs would soon begin.

“The alternative is that the layoffs will begin tomorrow,” Jackson said, noting that he had a large number of state employees living in his district. “I don’t represent the Democratic Party. I don’t represent the Republican Party… I represent my constituents.”

Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, who had supported previous versions of the budget, said he would cast his vote to sustain Perdue’s veto.

“There are other options,” Owens said. “We all know we could have done better, like we did in the House.”

In the Senate, Democrats also argued against the override, but to no avail. “This is not a budget in which we can take pride,” said Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake.

“I could understand if you couldn’t do better,” said Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe. “”I don’t understand when you can do better and don’t.”

GOP senators argued that the budget is a good one for tight times.

“Money’s not pouring in, folks,” Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson said, noting that state employees and teachers would get a raise and more money would go into education than previously thought.

Shortly after the veto override, Perdue issued the following statement:

“The General Assembly forced a flawed budget on the people of North Carolina today. Under their budget, schools will receive $190 millionless next year than they received this year; economic development initiatives to help companies create jobs in the biotech and manufacturing sectors will go unfunded; and North Carolina families will be less safe because there won’t be enough probation officers. I tried repeatedly to reach a bipartisan compromise with the leaders of the General Assembly to improve their budget, but they chose confrontation over compromise. This budget doesn’t do enough to invest in our future; it isn’t good enough for North Carolina.”

House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, issued the following statement:

“For the second year in a row, Republicans and Democrats in the House have voted together in a bipartisan manner to pass a common-sense budget over the partisan objections of the governor. This budget builds on the fiscally conservative foundation of last year’s budget, but restores funding in critical areas. Our budget provides more than $250 million in additional funds to public education, including a 1.2 percent pay raise for teachers. It addresses funding problems in the Medicaid system, cuts and caps the gas tax, provides state employees with a pay raise, and gives retirees a cost-of-living increase. It accomplishes all of this without incurring debt or raising taxes. I am proud of the bipartisan majority who stood together to override the veto, and for the second time in two years, we have passed a budget that will benefitevery North Carolinian.”

The General Assembly also overrode two other Perdue vetoes.

They overrode Perdue’s veto of changes to the state’s Racial Justice Act, which seeks to overturn death sentences in which race was a factor. One of the changes approved by lawmakers would limit the use of statistics in seeking to have a sentence overturned.

Lawmakers also override Perdue’s veto of the fracking bill, which would set up regulations to supervise the mining of natural gas through a method known as hydraulic fracturing.

Barry Smith is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.