Perdue’s political fortunes might turn if her prediction comes true

The Associated Press

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RALEIGH — Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue would face a short-term political defeat should the Republican-led legislature overturn her historic veto of the state budget. Her fortunes could turn, though, if her warnings of thousands of job losses in the public schools come true this fall.

Perdue vetoed the two-year spending plan Sunday, saying it would create “generational damage” to public education and other services that residents rely upon and make the state attractive for private job creation. Republicans have said their budget will create jobs and an override vote could come Wednesday.

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said the House may stay in session after midnight Tuesday to take up the override. No decision had been made as of early evening.

The GOP is relying on five N.C. House Democrats to complete the override and enact the budget. They all voted for the final budget June 4, and they’ve all said this week they will or intend to remain with the GOP majority in an override vote.

The Democrat defectors said the deal avoided a potential government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins July 1 and was the best deal that could be reached with Republicans resolute on letting temporary taxes expire.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said N.C. Rep. Bill Brisson, D-Bladen, one of the five. “You’ve got to be willing to work with people to end up on the working side.”

Longtime Democratic consultant Gary Pearce said an override will be a win for the General Assembly’s new Republican majority, regardless of whether Perdue’s predictions about the effects of the $19.7 billion plan come true.

“There are no moral victories in politics,” Pearce said Tuesday. “A win is a win and a loss is a loss, and I think it potentially hurts her that she lost five Democrats.”

Republicans say their plan cuts taxes, reduces spending and retains state funds for public school classroom instructors — items that appeal either to hard-line conservatives and swing voters concerned about their children’s schools. Republican leaders also can argue they shifted $400 million to the public schools and University of North Carolina system combined in an attempt to assuage Perdue into signing the bill.

Most Democrats counter that the proposal passes along cuts to local school districts. When combined with decreased funds for salaries for administrators and janitors, more than 9,000 jobs in the public schools will be lost. Another 3,200 positions will be eliminated in the University of North Carolina system.

Republicans argue the job losses are overstated and don’t take into account private sector positions that will be created by the extra money residents and businesses will have because of lower rates and a small business tax break in the plan.

Perdue’s office kept pressing its case to the public and the five Democrats in hopes of changing their minds Tuesday.

“Perdue’s budget is the only plan that actually protects every single state-funded teacher and teaching assistant position,” her office wrote.

It’s hard to evaluate how many jobs will be lost in the coming year because districts will decide where to cut. And the districts combined have as much as $258 million in special federal funds that must be used by September 2012 to preserve education jobs.

Perdue’s veto endeared her to fellow Democrats and groups historically allied with their candidates, such as the North Carolina Association of Educators, as she begins her re-election bid next year. She’s been traveling around the state criticizing the budget and listening to local educators’ woes.

Democrats hope voters will remember she sounded the warning about the budget and that the Republicans are to blame.

“This budget belongs to the Republican Party,” N.C. Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said Tuesday. “If it goes into effect, they’ll bear the consequences of it.”

Pearce, who worked for former Gov. Jim Hunt, said it may take some time before the governor or the Legislature is the long-term political winner from this budget.

“Right now, I think the public just hears a lot of noise and doesn’t know whether both sides are exaggerating,” Pearce said.