RALEIGH — Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue on Sunday vetoed the GOP-written $19.7 billion budget, an act Republican leaders said they will quickly override.
Speaking in the Capitol's old Senate chamber, Perdue said the legislature has turned its back on schools, young children, the environment, public safety, and services for the needy.
"I will not put my name on a plan that so blatantly ignores the values of North Carolina's people," she said. "I cannot support a budget that sends the message that North Carolina is moving backwards, when we have always been a state that led the nation."
This is Perdue's sixth veto of the legislative session, and the most significant. No North Carolina governor has ever vetoed a budget. The legislature has not been able to muster enough votes to override any of Perdue's vetoes so far, but this time Republican legislative leaders are confident they can do it.
Five House Democrats are voting with House Republicans, giving them enough support for an override. The Senate has more than enough Republican members to override without Democrats' help.
Rep. Jim Crawford, an Oxford Democrat who voted for the budget, said he did not know of anyone changing his mind.
"It would cause a horrible mess," he said. "Government would shut down."
The five Democrats said they decided to support the GOP-written budget to avoid a prolonged impasse between Perdue and Republican legislators.
An override would mark a significant change in a state where Democrats have had the upper hand in shaping state priorities and spending for most of the past century. Perdue said she held out hope that at least two of the 73 House members who voted for the budget will change their minds and help sustain her veto.
At the state GOP convention this month, Senate leader Phil Berger said that Perdue was making herself "irrelevant to what's happening in North Carolina" and that her veto wouldn't matter.
In response to questions Sunday, Perdue said her veto was not about power or relevance.
"It's about the future of the state of North Carolina," she said. "This is the wrong decision for North Carolina. It's the wrong direction for our state. Let them say what they want to say. But they are taking North Carolina backwards."
The veto met with support from most fellow Democrats and denunciations from Republicans.
House Speaker Thom Tillis said in a statement that Perdue should have acted sooner. The legislature passed the budget a little more than a week ago. She had until Tuesday to sign or veto it.
"She has shown no leadership on this issue and no willingness to work with the legislature, choosing instead to veto a budget that protects education and creates jobs," the Mecklenburg County Republican said. "We look forward to overriding the governor's last-minute veto very soon."
The House is expected to take an override vote within a few days. The Senate would vote next. There is no time limit, so Republicans can hold a vote when they're sure they have enough to override.
What she objects to
Perdue has been campaigning against the budget for weeks, focusing mainly on education spending.
She expanded her focus Sunday, saying that the cuts to early childhood programs Smart Start and More at Four will hinder the educational progress of at-risk preschool children, "leaving these kids behind before they've even started kindergarten."
She said she made up her mind to veto the budget Friday, while in Boone, when she heard a teacher tell a student interested in teaching that it would be better to plan on working in another state.
The disagreement between Perdue and the GOP-led legislature has pivoted largely on whether to extend part of a temporary 1-cent sales tax increase. Perdue proposed keeping part of it, while the legislature's budget allows it to expire.
Perdue released a letter Friday signed by 27 business people and politicians, saying the proposed spending plan could keep the state from fulfilling its constitutional obligation to educate all the state's children.
A nonprofit group, N.C. Citizens for Protecting our Schools, began running television ads in support of keeping the 1-cent tax increase, and the N.C. Association of Educators sent mail to voters in districts of Democrats voting for the budget, that said Raleigh politicians are hurting schools.
Seeing political motive
Republicans in recent weeks have emphasized how close their education budget is to Perdue's. Berger's office distributed a document showing that the difference in education spending next year between the Perdue and GOP budgets is 1.6 percent.
In an interview, Berger, an Eden Republican, said Perdue is fighting the budget to help her poll numbers.
"She's apparently been given some political advice from a consultant that the way to bump up her poll numbers is to pick a fight with the legislature," Berger said. "She has to shore up her Democratic base. That's what it looks like she's doing."
David Parker, chairman of the state Democratic Party, said Perdue did the right thing, even if Republicans are able to turn back the veto.
"Taking a stand for something in which you believe is always risky," he said.
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