UPDATED: Republican legislative leaders on Wednesday urged Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue to sign the state's $20.2 billion budget, saying her quibbling about $100 million in money for education doesn't outweigh the other spending priorities.
"$100 million in a $20.2 billion budget, it seems to me, is not the difference between nirvana and devastation," said Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.
"The governor is literally willing to oppose this budget over a fraction and put all of this funding at risk over a fraction ... less than a percent," House Speaker Thom Tillis added.
Perdue met with legislative leaders last week and asked them to reopen the budget while they were still in town to add money to education, taking it from the $100 million set aside in a contingency fund for Medicaid payments.
She reiterated her call Tuesday in a press conference at the capitol that highlighted how the $190 million reduction in education funding will hurt schools.
The GOP leaders blamed Perdue's administration for ballooning costs in the Medicaid budget, saying if she kept them under control they could spend more money on education. "It's not all new enrollment. Much of it is a failure to hit targets and a failure to manage," Berger said.
Regardless of whether Perdue signs or vetoes the budget -- or lets it become law without her signature -- the GOP leaders asked her to make a decision soon, saying local governments and school districts need to know "what direction we are going in."
"It's not as much as some people would like to see us spend. But the reality is we don't have the additional money to spend. And the place that she is suggesting we get additional money is something that creates other problems," Berger said.
Tillis gave her credit for reaching out for a compromise -- but didn't like where she wants to take the money from. "We are razor thin on reserves and the last thing we would want to do is raid those reserves to go after what the governor suggested as a compromise," Tillis said.
The GOP leaders expressed caution about letting the two-year budget they wrote last year stand for the second year. "You're talking about some real problems," Berger said, if budget is not enacted. "It's pretty much in her hands at this point. We would urge her to sign this budget."
But they are not willing to reconfigure the spending plan if she vetoes and they are not able to override. "Make no mistake about it. We are going home next week," Tillis said.
Asked whether the budget will lead to teacher layoffs, Tillis suggested it is possible because the Republicans didn't fully replace the loss of federal money meant to pay roughly 3,400 salaries in the school system. But he said "there is no way to be certain of that with 115 school districts."
And the amended budget on Perdue's desk, he said, is better than the education cuts built into the existing budget.