Fight Goes On For Perdue, Legislature
In private and public, legislative Republicans have been pushing the notion that Gov. Beverly Perdue's ongoing fight over pre-kindergarten education is as much about scoring political points as it is helping 4-year-olds.
The fight follows a ruling from Wake County Superior Court Judge Howard Manning that the cuts to the program, begun by former Gov. Mike Easley as "More at Four," violate an earlier ruling that all children in the state receive a "sound, basic education."
Perdue responded to Manning's ruling by issuing an executive order that essentially tells agency officials to ignore the legislative cuts.
Legislative Republicans, meanwhile, have had Attorney General Roy Cooper file an appeal of Manning's ruling. They've also hired their own lawyer to file a court motion asking that Manning clarify his order.
The Republicans make the point that Perdue, rather than legislators, could have sought clarity from the courts before issuing an executive order that might ultimately be overturned.
In their favor is earlier language from the state Supreme Court that pre-kindergarten could not be mandated by the courts.
Legislative leaders have also produced documents suggesting that the cost of Perdue's executive order could reach $360 million, an amount that would put the state budget out of whack.
The arguments shouldn't be dismissed.
Manning's order might well be overturned; perhaps program costs with fewer restraints on enrollment will soar. (Perdue officials, by the way, project additional costs at about $45 million.)
And maybe Perdue sought to score some political points.
If so, legislative Republicans made themselves an easy target. They did so by requiring a co-payment, based on income, for the poor parents who enroll their children in the pre-kindergarten program.
The argument for the co-payment is that parents already pay a portion for child care under Smart Start, the state's other early childhood initiative.
The difference is that Easley's More at Four program - although it can't be mandated by the courts - was cited as a partial remedy in the state's longstanding court case about getting poor, at-risk children up to academic speed.
Imposing the fee might be seen by the courts as an impediment to the right to a basic education.
Setting aside the arguments, the dispute is largely just one more of many examples of how the legislature and the governor have shown little inclination to work with each other on major policy issues.
Perdue vetoes legislation she doesn't like. Legislative leaders override those vetoes when they can.
She issues executive orders when she believes that she has the legal means to do so, and thereby overrides legislative will.
She's not intimidated by them; they aren't intimidated by her.
The pattern isn't likely to change over the next year.
If Perdue wins another term in office as governor, and if Republicans remain in control of the legislature during that second term, maybe things will be different.
Until then, expect more of the same. And, of course, political advantage will be part of the calculus.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association in Raleigh. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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