News: CJ Exclusives

Republicans Contest First Two Perdue Vetoes

Tillis, Berger vow to buck every bill governor rejects

Any honeymoon between Gov. Bev Perdue and legislative Republicans ended this week when the governor vetoed two bills that were priorities for the GOP — and legislative leaders responded with a vow to fight those vetoes and any other Perdue might issue.

House Bill 2 and Senate Bill 13 may have been presumed dead when Perdue vetoed them, as under normal circumstances Republicans lack enough votes to override vetoes without some Democratic support. But the GOP revived both measures, and said they also would keep a close watch on other contentious legislation, including bills ending the cap on charter schools, declaring a moratorium on involuntary annexations, and streamlining state regulations.

First two vetoes

Perdue vetoed S.B. 13 — Balanced Budget Act of 2011 — Feb. 22. The bill gave Perdue the authority to reduce the current year’s spending by an additional $400 million and diverted funds from business incentive programs like Golden LEAF, the Tobacco Trust Fund, the One North Carolina Fund, and Job Development Investment Grants in order to reduce the state’s estimated $2.4 billion deficit.

Perdue agreed to the $400 million in spending authority but balked at the economic development cuts, saying the programs were necessary for job creation and corporate recruitment. She came up with an alternative plan to shift funds from the Employment Security Commission, school construction, and other sources and repay them when cash flow improved.

On March 9, her veto was overridden in the Senate. Republicans argued that Perdue’s planned diversions would be illegal. They cited a state Court of Appeals decision stating that government revenues originating from a tax that is dedicated to a specific purpose (such as paying unemployment insurance benefits) cannot be used for a completely different purpose.

The House did not take up the override immediately, as Republicans have 68 members and need 72 votes to override a veto if all members are present.

That’s a big “if,” as the revival of a second measure, H.B. 2, Protect Healthcare Freedom, showed.

Perdue vetoed H.B. 2 — which would exempt North Carolinians from the federal mandate forcing them to buy health insurance — March 5. House Republicans initially were unable to override the veto March 9. (Veto overrides must originate in the house where a bill was first introduced.)

March 10, House Republicans made a motion to reconsider the veto after seven Democrats had headed home for the week. Without those seven Democratic votes, Republicans would have had more than three-fifths of the members present and could have staged a successful override that day.

Instead, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said he would take the high ground and not “play politics as usual.” Under the speakership of Democrat Jim Black, such procedural gimmicks were used to pass several controversial bills. In this case, though, Tillis made a deal with former Speaker Joe Hackney, D-Orange, who’s now the House minority leader, to suspend a rule, making it possible for a second vote to override the veto to occur anytime this session.

Tillis hopes that four Democrats might change their minds on the bill before the 2011 ends, giving Republicans the 72 votes needed. He also suggested that if Perdue does not abandon her plans to divert funds in ways Republicans believe are illegal, Tillis is likely to revive his override plans for S.B. 13 as well. Tillis could wait for another time several Democrats are absent and schedule an override vote on short notice.

“My office’s policy is that every veto the governor sends our way this session will be … reconsidered,” Tillis said at a press conference March 10. “All of them will be available for a second vote any day of the session for as long as we’re here.”

Regulatory reform

Senate Bill 22, APA Rules: Limit Additional Costs, is also on its way to the governor’s desk. It passed the Senate and House. The bill essentially would put a moratorium on new regulations on business and individuals in an attempt to spur job creation.

Charter schools

Debate heated over Senate Bill 8, No Cap on Charter Schools, this week. Democrats, school administrators and teachers unions called the bill racist and elitist and claimed it would bankrupt traditional public schools. Republicans and charter school supporters say the bill would only give charter public schools their fair share of funding, would help low-income and minority students, would give parents choice and would breed competition in the public school system.

After the bill passed the Senate two weeks ago, Republicans offered a committee substitute in the House Education Committee March 8. In it, Republicans compromised on funding, minimum enrollment requirements, and the number of new charter schools that could open per year. On March 15, Democrats will offer further amendments and the committee will take a vote.

There has been talk the governor may veto this bill as well.

Annexation reform

Senate Bill 27, Involuntary Annexation Moratorium, has passed the Senate and its first reading in the House. It was referred to the House Rules Committee March 9. The bill would put a hold on all new involuntary annexations until July 1, 2012, giving the General Assembly time to reform or possibly repeal a state law that allows cities to forcibly annex county dwellers into their borders.

Since the statewide moratorium bill has been introduced, dozens of local bills have been introduced that would repeal specific annexations underway across the state.

Other bills that moved this week

Senate Bill 110, Permit Terminal Groins, passed its second reading in the Senate March 10. The bill would repeal the state’s 25-year ban on coastal erosion control structures, similar to jetties, called groins. Debate is brewing over who would pay for the multimillion-dollar structures and their maintenance, which could cost $2 million a year per structure.

House Bill 240, The Intrastate Commerce Act, passed its first reading in the House and was referred to the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development March 8. The bill attempts to keep the federal government from regulating trade occurring within North Carolina’s borders.

House Bill 241, North Carolina Firearms Freedom Act, passed its first reading in the House and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee March 8. Similar to H.B. 240, this bill would exempt firearms manufactured, sold and kept within state borders from federal regulation.

House Bill 32, Electoral Freedom Act, was debated in the House Elections Committee March 9. The committee likely will vote on the bill March 16. The bill would make it easier for third parties to get on the ballot in North Carolina.

House Bill 92, Repeal Land Transfer Tax, passed the House and was referred to the Senate Committee on Finance March 9. The bill would prevent municipalities from placing land-transfer tax initiative on local ballots. It passed the House 78-38, with 12 Democrats joining a unanimous Republican caucus.

Sara Burrows is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.