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North Carolina lawmakers override historic Perdue budget veto

RALEIGH — North Carolina’s General Assembly completed its override of Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue’s historic budget veto today, and a state spending plan that cuts sales taxes — and, the governor argues, could lead to thousands of lost education jobs — became law.

The Republican-led Senate agreed to overturn the veto on a party-line vote of 31-19. Earlier, in a vote taken just after midnight, the House mustered a three-fifths majority required to cancel the first-ever veto of the state budget by a North Carolina governor.

The override means the two-year budget that spends $19.7 billion next year will take effect. It lets temporary taxes expire, meaning the base sales tax consumers pay will be cut by a penny, from 7.75 percent to 6.75 percent. Additional taxes for the highest wage earners and corporations, approved in 2009 by Democrats during the depths of the Great Recession, also won’t be renewed.

Eliminating the temporary taxes was a top priority of the first Republican majority in 140 years. Their insistence on ending the taxes became a key reason why enough House Democrats agreed to cut a deal and the GOP won a significant victory over Perdue in what’s become a divided state government.

“I don’t think we’ve done any more than what we promised the people of the state we would do,” said Sen. Don East, R-Surry, during the override debate.

But Perdue, fellow Democrats and a chorus of allied groups argued that extending the sales tax would have prevented all the deep spending cuts in the Republican budget. State education officials said the budget would lead to the elimination to 13,000 public education jobs. Perdue said in her veto message Sunday the bill will do untold damage to the public schools and higher education, damage the environment and make people less safe because fewer state troopers and police officers will be on their beats.

“Someday we’re going to be looking at some of these cuts and we’re going to say this is the time where we turned away” from education, said Sen. Linda Garrou, D-Forsyth, former budget-writing chief under Democratic rule. “I never thought I’d see the day when it would come to this.”

The Senate override vote came a few hours after a midday rally by the North Carolina Association of Educators, whose members brought jars of pennies, a symbolic gesture of what they see is a small price to pay to preserve education.

Republicans argue their opponents overstate job losses and don’t take into account more than $250 million in federal funds the local districts have yet to spend for preserving education positions. The tax breaks alone in the budget will generate nearly 15,000 jobs, the GOP has said.

“A lot of the rhetoric has gotten to be overblown,” said Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.

The spending plan for the next two years will be in place two weeks before the fiscal year begins July 1, the earliest date for its enactment since 1979, according to General Assembly records. It also clears the way for the General Assembly to complete its regular annual session by this weekend.

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