GOP leaders mull veto override while negotiating with Perdue
RALEIGH — Republican leaders in the General Assembly say they’re working with Gov. Bev Perdue to resolve a cutoff in unemployment benefits after the governor vetoed a bill extending them this weekend. Benefits for some 37,000 North Carolinians who already had been collecting unemployment insurance for 79 weeks expired Saturday. Their extension remains on hold for now.
Perdue used the red ink on House Bill 383 late Saturday after deadly tornadoes tore through the state. The bill would have changed the equation the state uses to extend unemployment benefits to a maximum of 99 weeks. It also would have given the General Assembly greater leverage if Perdue chose to veto the budget near the end of the current fiscal year.
Whether the General Assembly will attempt to overcome Perdue’s veto, or split the provisions of H.B. 383 into separate measures, is unclear. Jordan Shaw, spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said, “We’re consulting with the Senate, and we’ll continue to do the same with the governor’s office.” Amy Auth, spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said no decision has been made on whether to attempt a veto override.
The state must have a budget in place by July 1 every year. In the past when budget negotiations stalled, the legislature passed short continuing resolutions to keep government operating. H.B. 383 would have circumvented that concern by implementing a continuing resolution that kept state government running at 87 percent of the spending in the governor’s recommended base budget. The resolution would have remained in effect until July 1, 2012, or the passage of an official budget, whichever happened first.
Extending the benefits would not cost the state any money immediately, but it could require additional funding from state taxpayers next year. The state’s unemployment trust fund — which already is more than $2.6 billion in the red — pays the first 26 weeks of unemployment benefits. Uncle Sam fully covers the next 53 weeks of benefits.
Some states, including North Carolina, allow unemployed workers an additional 20 weeks of benefits, with the payments split 50/50 between state and federal funds. But the federal stimulus law has the federal government covering 100 percent of extended benefits for those final 20 weeks. Stimulus money runs out on Jan. 1, 2012, according the Employment Security Commission.
Republicans have enough votes in the Senate to override a veto. They fall four votes short of the three-fifths majority needed in the House. Any attempt to override Perdue’s veto would start in the House, because the bill originated in the lower chamber.