RALEIGH — State House Republicans on Wednesday came up with another shot at breaking their stalemate with the governor that has kept about 42,000 unemployed people in North Carolina from receiving extended jobless benefits since the middle of April.
But they continue to tie the payments to a requirement that the governor temporarily sign off on whatever budget the General Assembly approves. Gov. Bev Perdue vetoed an earlier bill because of that very provision, and on Wednesday called on legislators to come up with a bill that doesn't mix jobless benefits with the budget.
"Here they go again," Perdue said in a statement, adding that if the bill were to become law "thousands of teachers, teaching assistants and students would be held hostage by the legislature's political games."
This new version would tie the governor's hands for three months instead of a full year, as the original attempt did, if the budget is not enacted by June 30.
Republican lawmakers insisted that the difference between the two budgets is not that great, and so Perdue shouldn't take a stand by blocking the jobless benefits. The governor proposed a budget of $19.9 billion; the Senate on Tuesday proposed a $19.4 billion budget, and the House has proposed a $19.3 billion budget.
"It's barely discernible, the difference," House Majority Leader Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam of Apex said in a rules committee meeting Wednesday afternoon, where the new bill was unveiled.
But Democrats on the committee rejected the GOP compromise, which came in the form of a continuing resolution to keep state government running through September. Both sides accused the other of political gamesmanship.
"I don't know why you think the governor would sign this one any more than she would the last one," said House Minority Leader Rep. Joe Hackney, a Democrat from Chapel Hill. "... You are not going to run over this governor - you can try, you can try, you can try - but you're not going to be able to do it."
Rep. Jonathan Rhyne, a Republican member of the committee from Lincoln County, said it would be irresponsible not to put a continuing resolution in place.
"The General Assembly is responsible for passing the budget," Rhyne said. "That's what this is all about."
House Speaker Rep. Thom Tillis, a Mecklenburg County Republican, said at a morning news conference that he thought this proposed compromise would be more likely to lead to an agreement between the governor and the GOP leadership.
"What I've asked the staff to do is craft a continuing resolution that is roughly within the margins of what the governor sought for spending next year and what we sought," Tillis said. "Some sort of middle ground, a logical basis for a compromise."
Tillis said this plan would let counties, cities, school systems and state agencies know about how much money they can expect in the first quarter of the fiscal year. "We want to provide some level of certainty to folks while we deal with the uncertainty of the budget negotiations," he said.
Affected are unemployed people who have already exhausted 79 weeks of unemployment checks. The bill would pay them retroactively to April 16, and extend benefits for another 20 weeks. The full House is scheduled to vote on the bill today.
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