Despite veto override, McCrory says he won't carry out welfare drug testing

Tasting the defeat of overrides on his first two vetoes, a defiant Gov. Pat McCrory said Wednesday that he still won't implement one of the bills the General Assembly passed because lawmakers didn't give him enough money to do so.

Barely an hour after the Senate completed the overrides first started by the House late Tuesday, McCrory used a State Board of Education meeting to criticize fellow Republicans for passing a bill requiring drug-testing for certain welfare recipients.

Legislators set aside $145,000 in the state budget to carry out the drug-testing law. But McCrory's health and human services agency said the law required an additional $300,000 to make computer changes, not including expenses incurred by all 100 counties.

"The executive branch will not take any action on the new law's implementation until sufficient funds with this unfunded mandate are provided," the governor said in a statement.

Legislative leaders were taken aback by McCrory's announcement and wondered aloud how he could avoid carrying out a new law that was approved in July and whose veto was overridden by wide margins. The drug testing of Work First applicants and recipients wouldn't begin until next summer.

"It seems like a little instrument called the state constitution has been forgotten, and the powers of the three branches of government," Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, the Senate Rules Committee chairman, told reporters. The North Carolina constitution says the governor "shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

"All governors, without regard to party, swear an oath to uphold the constitution," Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said in a statement. "We expect Gov. McCrory to perform his constitutional duty to enforce the law."

Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, added the governor is "trying to pass the blame for the budget he signed and put himself above the law."

It took senators less than 10 minutes of floor debate to override the drug-testing veto and the veto of another bill that allows employers to create a new definition of a temporary worker that could help them avoid participating in the federal E-Verify program, a system that electronically verifies workers' legal status.

McCrory claimed the second veto override would create a loophole that would allow all sorts of industries — not just the agricultural interests that had sought the change — to hire immigrants who are in the country illegally.

The governor said he would "explore all legal and executive authority to ensure that the letter and spirit of our nation's immigration law is followed."

Potentially setting up a new confrontation with lawmakers, the governor also blamed Republican legislative leaders for putting too much education policy into the state budget bill, which he signed into law, rather than dealing with it in separate legislation.

One such provision will prevent teachers from receiving salary increases for completing an advanced degree starting in the 2014-15 school year if they weren't paid at the higher level before then. McCrory said the provision would mean many teachers getting advanced degrees won't obtain additional pay because they won't finish before next spring.

"I don't think that's fair," the governor told the education board. The supplement equates to a 10 percent increase for a master's degree and another $253 per month for teachers with doctoral degrees.

McCrory said his state budget office had located money — an investment of more than $10 million — so that all of the more than 3,000 teachers currently seeking advanced degrees will get the salary bump even if they don't finish before the next spring. The governor plans to propose the spending in next year's budget, spokeswoman Kim Genardo said late Wednesday.

Apodaca said legislators worked hard to try to find the right balance between ending the advanced pay supplement and giving teachers the time to complete their degree and still qualify for higher pay.

"We didn't hear any suggestions at that time (from McCrory) on how we could do it," he said.

McCrory said he wants to talk more with legislators about whether ending the advanced-degree salary policy is sound. Eric Guckian, the governor's senior education adviser, said there is conflicting evidence about whether student outcomes improve when a teacher gets a master's degree. But McCrory is responding to feedback from teachers about the end of higher pay for advanced degrees, Guckian said.

Teachers are "feeling insulted by this ... pay issue and they're feeling disrespected, and we honor and respect our teachers," he said. McCrory asked board members to vote Thursday for a policy change that will help teachers earning advanced degrees by this spring qualify for the higher pay.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, didn't comment on McCrory's plans Wednesday. Two key House Republicans said last week they didn't mean to cut off pay for teachers already enrolled in graduate school.

The motion to override the veto of the drug-test bill passed 34-10. The motion to cancel the veto on changes to how a temporary employee is defined was approved 39-5.

Barring the call of a special session, the General Assembly isn't expected to reconvene until next May.