N&O fact check: Delay for jobless starts with GOP

Perdue didn't go along with bill

Staff writerMay 17, 2011 

The claim: Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue is denying unemployment benefits for 37,000 North Carolinians by blocking key legislation and failing to negotiate.

Who made it: Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis at a recent news briefing. "The governor, by that behavior, on that particular bill, is holding hostage the people who deserve those benefits extensions, who can get those benefits extensions. ... But those people waiting on those checks need to know, it is the governor's inaction that is preventing them from coming." Other Republican legislative leaders have similarly blamed Perdue.

Is it true? No. It was the Republican legislature, not Perdue, that tied the simple act of extending unemployment benefits to unrelated legislation cutting the budget 13 percent.

A routine bill was introduced on March 16 by Democratic Rep. William Wainwright of Havelock at the request of the Employment Security Commission, renewing a law that extends unemployment benefits for an additional 20 weeks to certain people. Action was needed on the law by April 16 or the benefits - federal money - would be cut off.

Two days before the deadline, Republican legislative leaders combined the bill extending the benefits with a continuing resolution that would temporarily fund state government after the new fiscal year begins July 1 if the governor and the legislature are unable to agree on a budget. The resolution would fund state government at 13 percent less than the current level of funding - the GOP target for budget cuts. By passing the resolution, lawmakers were trying to increase their leverage in budget talks. If they didn't reach an agreement with Perdue, they could always go home and still get the 13 percent reductions they want.

Perdue is opposed to the Republican's proposed 13 percent cuts, arguing that it would do severe damage to education in North Carolina. She vetoed the bill April 16.

Tillis and other Republicans have criticized the governor for failing to come to the negotiating table. They met with her Thursday, but according to Tillis, made no progress. The Republicans want to see Perdue negotiate on the continuing resolution but the governor insists on a separate vote on the unemployment benefits.

Perdue has said she would sign a separate bill extending unemployment benefits on the same day that the legislature enacts it. Senate Democrats have signed a petition to bring a separate bill that would extend the unemployment benefits to the Senate floor. But the Republican leadership has said it will only consider extending the federal unemployment benefits if it is tied with the collateral issue of the continuing resolution on the state budget.

The upshot: Unemployment benefits for 37,000 unemployed have been caught in a budget battle between the Republican legislature and the Democratic governor. Perdue and the Democrats say they would pass the unemployment benefits tomorrow. It is the Republicans who are insisting on tying federal unemployment benefits to state budget negotiations - which is the sticking point.

rob.christensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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