by Bob Geary
The Republicans have tried to tie Perdue's hands in the budget fight — the subject of our cover story this week — by linking the jobless benefits bill to their budget bill — Either you agree to our budget, they've told Perdue, or we'll make the jobless suffer.
Today, she told them — again — where to put that stuff.
[UPDATE, 3 P.M.: If you wondered why a handful of House Democrats may abandon Perdue on the budget and side with the Republicans, here's a hint: The Republicans can redistrict them right out of office. As GOP Minority Leader Paul (Skip) Stam was heard to say today by, among others, the Greensboro News & Record.]
[UPDATE, 4:30 P.M.: Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger responds for the GOP: “We have directed our nonpartisan staff to study whether the governor’s act is legal. We hope that, in a desperate effort to claim credit for what’s going to occur because of the bipartisan budget, she is not putting the benefits of tens of thousands of unemployed North Carolinians at risk by using a questionable legal gimmick. If she really thinks this is appropriate, she shamefully did nothing for seven weeks.]
[UPDATE, 5:15 P.M.: The N&O writeup about the GOP's screwup with their microphone — and Perdue's response to it — is a must-read.]
I have no idea if the governor has the actual legal authority to do what she did. But until a court tells her she doesn't, the jobless benefits will go out — as they should. Or wait, will the Republicans really go to court to argue that people entitled to unemployment benefits shouldn't get them until the budget fight is settled?
Is Perdue's action legal? Who knows.
Is it the right thing? Yes.
Here's Perdue's statement (a copy of the executive order follows below):
“For weeks, I have been trying to work with the Republican legislative leaders to get them to do the right thing: send me a clean bill to extend the unemployment benefits for 47,000 North Carolinians who have lost their jobs. But instead of acting responsibly on this matter, the Republican legislature has repeatedly refused to send me such a bill. Instead, they have persistently attempted to use our unemployed workers as hostages by tying the extension of their benefits to my acceptance of budget bills that would inflict severe and unnecessary cuts to our schools and other essential programs.
Meanwhile, thousands of North Carolina families are running out of money and options. I hear from them all over the state. They visit my website and Facebook page to beg for help.
One woman called my office recently. She has a background in accounting and has been looking for work for months. Because she lost her benefits she and her daughter can no longer stay in their apartment. They have nowhere to put their belongings so they will also lose everything that they can’t carry to the homeless shelter.
Sadly, this story is not unique. The people I hear from say they can’t keep the lights on. Banks are ready to foreclose.
And yet, the Republicans in the legislature stubbornly cling to their political games. Just yesterday, they voted down a measure to separate this issue from their budget. Enough is enough. They continue to use desperate people as leverage to extort my support for an ideologically-driven budget that needlessly cuts millions from our public schools and inflicts millions of dollars more in damage to our universities, pre-school programs, community colleges, job creation efforts and vital health care services. I will not stand for it and I will not sit by idly as the legislature continues to play these games and deny the jobless the unemployment benefits they need.
Let me remind you that the extension of unemployment benefits for the unemployed costs the state of North Carolina nothing; the benefits are paid for entirely with federal funds.
Every week we deny these benefits is another week that we keep $11 million of federal funds from flowing into our economy. This money would pay for things like groceries, rent and clothing and help small businesses who sell these items or collect that rent.
North Carolina cannot wait any longer for the legislature to do what they should have done more than a month ago. Today, I am issuing an executive order extending federal unemployment benefits to these 47,000 North Carolinians. Republican leaders in the General Assembly have been unwilling to take the necessary steps to extend these benefits, and no doubt they will attempt to interfere with this action. But I, for one, believe these people are entitled to and need these federal funds, and the Republican-controlled legislature needs to stop using the unemployed as pawns.”
Here's the executive order: