After months of watching the action from the sidelines Gov. Bev Perdue is back at center stage.
Three weighty issues are on her desk, and state employees, natural gas companies, environmentalists, prosecutors and teachers are watching to see if she will get out her veto stamp.
Some of the most intense scrutiny is over the $20.2 billion budget the Republican-led legislature approved Thursday. But legislators also gave a final OK to drilling into North Carolinas shale basin for natural gas. That followed Wednesdays vote unraveling a 2009 law that allows death row inmates to use statistics to show their sentences were rooted in racial bias. Both bills had vocal opponents.
So far Perdue hasnt shown her hand, but she is under pressure to veto each and has a track record on all three.
Last year, she vetoed the state budget, but the legislature was able to make it law over her objections.
She has put out a statement criticizing the new plan, but did not say if she would veto it.
My top priority is increasing our investment in education so that we can prepare our children to compete in the 21st century economy, she said. The budget passed today does not go far enough in restoring funding for public schools in North Carolina. I will continue to review the proposal, but it is my sincere hope that the General Assembly will find a way to do better in the days ahead.
Last year, she also vetoed a bill that would have allowed fracking, but because of an unrelated issue in the legislation. After a March trip to Pennsylvania to see fracking rigs, Perdue said she thought natural gas drilling possible in North Carolina.
She also rejected a measure last year that would have repealed the Racial Justice Act. But as with the other legislation, has not said what she will do now. Both chambers appear to have enough votes to override a veto of the Racial Justice Act rewrite.
She has 10 days after receiving a bill to decide what she wants to do: sign it, veto it or let it become law without her signature.
So for now, its a matter or waiting and wooing.
Leading House Democrats said they hope Perdue once again smacks the budget with her veto stamp.
They said the budget undermines K-12 schools, community colleges and public universities, the institutions at the root of the states economic development.
Public schools will have $190 million less to spend next year, the equivalent of 3,400 teacher salaries.
In this state, I think thats reprehensible, Hackney said.
The new budget proposal is about 2.5 percent more than the legislature planned to spend next year. Although Democratic lawmakers criticized it for not doing enough for education, the budget includes popular items the first raises that state employees and teachers have seen in four years, and a gas tax cap. Those measures might make it harder for her to veto it this time.
The budget passed 30-15 in the Senate along party lines, and by a vote of 71-45 in the House, where five Democrats joined Republicans in supporting it. The votes indicated that any veto would be overridden again.
The veto pressure on fracking is most obvious so far, with opponents demonstrating in Raleigh this week, running newspaper ads and sending Perdue email.
More than 10,000 residents have contacted the governors office this spring, mostly in opposition to fracking.
Weve received 7,641 emails since June 8 and 2,824 calls since this issue started getting attention several months ago, said Perdue spokesman Mark Johnson. The contacts are overwhelmingly opposed to fracking with very few supportive comments.
The legislation would begin the process of creating regulations and standards for natural gas exploration by creating a special commission to oversee the process. The state legislature would have to take a separate vote, at least two years from now, to approve the final rules and allow energy companies to pull drilling permits.
The bill passed the Senate with little debate on a vote of 29-15.
Two Wake County Republicans Neal Hunt and Richard Stevens voted against legalizing fracking. Wake County lies on the northeastern rim of the area thats believed to be rich in natural gas.
The House passed the fracking bill last week but the vote was close enough to suggest that supporters may not have enough votes to override Perdues veto.
Then the spotlight shifts again.
Staff writers Craig Jarvis, John Frank and John Murawski contributed.