RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Republican legislators met in a rare weekend session Saturday to force Gov. Beverly Perdue to choose between halting unemployment benefits for about 37,000 long-term jobless workers or accepting a double-digit budget cut.
A handful of General Assembly members met to mark the final step needed to start the clock on a choice Perdue had to make before authorization for the federally funded jobless benefits later Saturday.
Perdue must sign the combined bill Saturday or the federally funded benefits will stop for workers out of work for up to 99 weeks. But poison-pill language added by Republican lawmakers would force the Democratic governor to also accept a 13 percent cut from the spending plan she proposed as a starting point for negotiations over the budget year starting in July.
GOP leaders said they were ensuring that schools, state agencies and contractors know how much state spending they could count on if budget negotiations drag beyond the start of the new budget year.
"We ratified a bill that appropriates about $18 billion (after July) and provides continuity for teachers, state employees and those on unemployment insurance," House Majority Leader Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said after the four-minute meeting. "If the governor signs it today, there will be no interruption of checks."
Perdue has called the linkage extortion.
"We've got about 37,000 families worried about getting that extension of unemployment — these are real people who need milk and bread and the ability to pay their bills," Perdue said in a statement Friday.
Jobless workers whose payments are stopped could recover the money later if legislators and Perdue later agree to change a formula that determines their eligibility.
North Carolina is one of about three-dozen states in which an extended benefits program of up to 20 weeks of compensation was created as a way to lessen the pain for the long-term unemployed caught in the recession's massive job losses.
The U.S. Labor Department notified North Carolina officials nearly two weeks ago that the extended benefits program has to stop paying out by Saturday because the state's recent three-month average unemployment rate had improved from 2010 and 2009. South Carolina and 13 other states have passed legislation to revise their formula and keep the extended benefits flowing, the ESC said.