By Sam Walker on April 16, 2012An executive order by Gov. Beverly Perdue should be ignored and the state should begin to increase or add tolls on several state-operated ferry routes, the North Carolina attorney general says.
“It is our opinion that the state law as passed by the legislature must be followed. It was the legislature’s decision to collect tolls and the legislature has the authority to remove them,” Chief Deputy Attorney General Grayson Kelley said in a letter Thursday to Rep. Phillip Frye of Spruce Pine.
The state House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, which Frye chairs, gave unanimous approval in March to ask the attorney general for an opinion “on the legal effectiveness” of the governor’s order.
The executive order issued by Perdue in February delays until April 2013 increasing the tolls for the Ocracoke-Swan Quarter, Ocracoke-Cedar Island and Fort Fisher-Southport routes. It also stops plans to begin charging fares on the Bayview-Aurora and Minnesott Beach-Cherry Branch routes.
“The governor exceeded her constitutional authority when she ordered her administration to violate the law. We’re pleased the attorney general reaffirmed the separation of powers and upheld the Constitution,” said Amy Auth, deputy chief of staff for communications and operations for Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger.
“The Governor believes her executive order is both legal and right,” said Chris Mackey, the governor’s press secretary. “The Governor issued her order because she doesn’t think it is right to collect ferry taxes from working families in eastern North Carolina.
“If the Republican leaders of the General Assembly are determined to collect the ferry tax, they can do it when they return to Raleigh in a few days. The Governor’s executive order clearly states that the General Assembly can vote to end the moratorium at any time.”
State lawmakers are slated to return for a brief administrative session April 23.
House and Senate leaders have told members they do not have to attend, however, because no votes are scheduled to be taken.
“Based on the attorney general’s opinion, the ball is in the governor’s court,” Auth said in response to the statement from the governor’s office.
“The General Assembly already voted on this matter when we passed our budget last year and an executive order cannot erase a law,” Auth said. “If Gov. Perdue continues to direct the Department of Transportation to follow her order, then it is clear she has absolutely no regard for North Carolina’s laws and constitution.”
Hyde County manager Mazie Smith, said in a statement Friday that the tolls will cost the county an extra $60,000 in travel costs for government business between the mainland and Ocracoke.
A lobbying group hired by Hyde, Beaufort and Pamlico counties is organizing a protest in Raleigh when the General Assembly opens the “short session” in May.