RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina lawmakers return Wednesday for a budget-adjustment session that also will likely cover topics such as gambling, hydraulic fracturing and a proposed public education overhaul.
The General Assembly's main job for the roughly six-week "short session" is to change parts of the second year of the two-year budget approved last year. Republicans, who took control of the Legislature after the 2010 elections, insist the final product of House and Senate negotiators won't include the higher temporary sales tax that Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue proposed last week.
If neither Republicans nor Perdue blink on the issue of taxes, there's a good chance of a showdown similar to last year, when Perdue vetoed the budget bill. House Speaker Thom Tillis found five Democrats in his chamber to side with the GOP and override the veto.
House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, is skeptical that common ground can be found this election year with Perdue, who staked out a position months ago in favor of a three-quarter cent sales tax rate increase. It would generate $760 million, which she wants used to restore public education cuts.
"The governor will veto whatever we pass," Stam said Tuesday. He said Republicans have a leg up on Perdue this year because the two-year budget to state government is already in place. Conceivably, Republicans could go home without adjusting the budget.
"There'll be no shutdown so the governor's leverage is gone," Stam said.
Perdue, who is not seeking re-election this year, warned legislators last week not to consider her $20.9 billion budget plan dead on arrival and suggested legislators would be turning their backs on citizens and students if they didn't restore cuts made last year. "The budget that was passed by last year's Republican-led General Assembly was short-sighted," she said.
Perdue's strategy of more spending to solve problems doesn't jibe with Republican views on government, GOP leaders argue.
"We've heard the people of North Carolina tell us that we want a leaner, meaner state government ... and that's what we're going to look at in this budget," said Rep. Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, senior co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. He said the House version of the budget could be on the floor next week.
Rep. Tim Spear, D-Washington, one of the five House Democrats who voted to override Perdue's 2011 veto, said he hopes negotiators are flexible and don't draw lines in the sand: "If we have that, I don't know if we'll have a short session or an extremely long session," Spear said.
Republicans in both chambers and Perdue both are interested in lowering the state gas tax and placing a temporary cap on the rate. The current tax of 38.9 cents per gallon was already expected to fall automatically July 1 by more than a penny.
Stam said he expects more money to be spent on public education this year because there's a little more money -- the state has a revenue surplus of more than $230 million for the fiscal year that ends June 30.
Berger said he anticipates Senate leaders will look for a way to eliminate an anticipated $74 million increase in cuts that the budget directs local school districts to make.
The $74 million would bring to $503 million the size of mandated "discretionary" cuts begun in 2009 and required of school districts. Perdue's budget would wipe out all of those cuts.
Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt, D-Buncombe, said he believes Democrats could come on board with a Republican budget even if doesn't raise significant new revenue.
If Republicans "take the money and do good with it and make the situation better than it would have been without it ... then I think they can get support," Nesbitt said.
Berger and his lieutenants also want to pass a package of education initiatives that would eliminate tenure for public school teachers, offer performance bonuses and merit pay for teachers and expand early reading skills for students. Stam said he likes most of the components but said they may be too much to complete in the "short" session.
The General Assembly has other issues that legislators want to resolve before going home, probably in early July.
Lawmakers are expected to consider changing state gambling laws needed for an updated gambling compact reached in November between Perdue and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to be carried out.
The tribe would be permitted to offer live dealer gambling at its western North Carolina casino. The state's school districts would get a share of revenue from the new games, which Perdue said could also create hundreds of new jobs. A coalition of social conservatives and liberal Democrats opposed to gambling could refuse to pass the gambling law changes.
Lawmakers will also consider whether to change new involuntary annexation laws to respond to a court decision that rejected a new method the Legislature approved in 2011.
That method allowed landowners to petition to block a municipality's efforts