Perdue: Let's depoliticize redistricting - GOP legislators: Thanks for advice. Now cut budget more.

Rob Christensen
The Charlotte Observer
December 16, 2010

RALEIGH Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue on Wednesday urged the incoming Republican legislature to create an independent bipartisan redistricting commission, pass session time limits, and make the workings of the legislature more transparent.

But the Republican lawmakers had their own message for the governor: Thanks for the advice. Now start making some deeper budget cuts in preparation for next year's projected $3.7 billion shortfall.

The political theater was played out in the first public meeting between the governor and members of the Republican-majority legislature, which will take office next month.

Having lost her Democratic legislative majority in November, Perdue has moved aggressively in recent days to outline a sweeping government restructuring and other economies. Appearing before the House GOP caucus, Perdue said she thought the legislature should be part of the change.

In perhaps her most provocative move, Perdue urged the new Republican majority to adopt an independent redistricting commission. Perdue had not called for an independent commission while the Democrats were drawing the legislative and congressional district lines - one of the coveted tools in politics. It was a popular idea among many Republican lawmakers while they were out of power.

Now the roles are reversed.

Appearing before the caucus - and batteries of TV cameras - Perdue said an independent redistricting commission would "protect the rights of all our people" and end the "unfair partisan politics that has plagued North Carolina redistricting in the past."

House Speaker-elect Thom Tillis of Mecklenburg County said the Republicans would form a panel to consider setting up an independent redistricting commission for 2020. But Tillis said he didn't think there was time to set up such a commission for next year's redistricting effort - the first time the state GOP will ever have such power.

"We are glad to hear the majority (Democrats), and perhaps the prior leadership in the legislature, are prepared for the first time in decades to work to produce fair and legal districts," Tillis said. "We have seen both unfair and illegal districts in the past couple of years I have been here. It is my intention not to repeat the mistakes of the past."

GOP focuses on budget

The Republicans seemed initially taken aback by Perdue's tack, and they quickly huddled after she left the Legislative Office Building to frame a response. They later said they welcomed her advice and wanted to return the favor.

"What I appreciated the most about Gov. Perdue's comments was the openness with which she presented it and the sincerity," Tillis told the House caucus. "If she would like to give us some advice, we would like to do the same for her."

The GOP chiefly wants Perdue to cut more deeply as the state prepares for the $3.7 billion budget shortfall.

Charles Perusse, the state budget director, told the caucus that the state was on target to have $200 million in "reversions" - unspent money - saved to help the shortfall.

Tillis said the state should aim for $750 million in reversions through budget cuts or a hiring freeze that should take immediate effect. The Perdue administration has already asked agencies under her control to identify cuts of 5 percent, 10 percent and 15 percent.

"The sooner the better, the deeper the better," Tillis said of the cuts.

"It would help us eliminate the risk of cuts in teachers and other core services that we are all trying to do our best to protect," Tillis said.

Chrissy Pearson, an aide to the governor, said Perdue has been moving aggressively to put the state in a position to deal with the budget shortfall - from identifying budget cuts up to 15 percent, to implementing a hiring freeze, to announcing a reorganization.

"Her budget will not shy away from those deep cuts," Pearson said. But she stopped short of saying whether the governor would take the immediate steps that the GOP was suggesting.

Special session for cutting

Tillis said lawmakers would be willing to meet in special session as early as Jan. 3 if necessary to grant Perdue emergency budget powers to allow her to order cuts or hiring freezes in state agencies not under her direct control. He said lawmakers were also willing to grant her retroactive powers when it convenes Jan. 26 for ordering cuts or hiring freezes.

He is also asking that she put forth the budget earlier, by the second week in February, and that her budget proposal not include any tax increases, and that the $1.3 billion in temporary tax increases passed in 2009 not be continued.