The state Senate brings the pettiness of Washington to Raleigh

By: - March 19, 2015 1:58 pm


It may sound a like a story you have heard before, sharp pointed exchanges in public between top lawmakers and executive branch officials, Senate leaders refusing to confirm administrative appointments, and pundits wondering how the feud will affect the next election.

But in this case it’s not Congress fighting the president, it’s the state House and Senate—mostly the Senate—publicly bickering with the governor and refusing to take up even routine appointments out of petty resentment over a recent court ruling that sided with the governor.

And in this case it’s also not a feud fueled by desperate attempts to gain partisan advantage. Legislative leaders and the governor are all Republicans that used to claim they were on the same page.

Not anymore. Not this week.

After Senate leaders released their version of economic incentive legislation Wednesday, Governor Pat McCrory said he was disappointed and that the Senate plan “breaks the bank” and breaks promises, doesn’t provide any long-term solutions, and divides the state.

The Senate plan ignores most of McCrory’ economic development proposals and instead lowers the corporate tax rate, despite state revenues not meeting the triggers required by the 2013 tax reform for any further reductions in the corporate tax. Senate leaders also want to limit the percentages of business incentives that can go to the state’s urban areas where most companies want to locate.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger responded to McCrory’s criticism by basically saying that McCrory didn’t know what he was talking about and that he didn’t understand math.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown said that McCrory needed to “accept responsibility for rapidly draining his jobs incentive fund and directing close to 90 percent of the state’s incentive money to its richest three counties, including his own.”

Ouch. McCrory of course is from Charlotte. Brown’s point about draining the incentive fund is a little puzzling. There’s plenty not to like about incentives, but it’s odd to blast McCrory for using the incentive money under the current law to create jobs.

Would Brown rather McCrory abandon job recruitment efforts to preserve the funds in the incentive program?

Reportedly the public comments reflect even deeper antagonism behind the scenes and not just on the differing incentive programs.

McCrory also has been pushing hard to restore the state historic tax credit, appearing frequently at events across the state, and his Secretary of Cultural Resources Susan Klutz has repeatedly called the expiration of the credits a crisis in the state.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger doesn’t seem to care and told a group of local officials this week that he doesn’t support restoring the tax credit and that the Senate will try to find some money to replace it part of it with a grant program. So much for the crisis.

The Senate leadership also made headlines this week by cancelling a committee meeting scheduled to consider McCrory’s appointments for director of the State Bureau of Investigation and Commissioner of Banks and other posts.

That was in retaliation to a ruling by a three-judge panel in favor of a lawsuit by McCrory that alleges that the legislature overstepped its authority by creating a coal ash commission and two other panels and giving themselves the majority of the appointments.

Confirmation of the head of the SBI or the Commissioner of Banks has nothing to do with the lawsuit. Senate leaders are simply reacting the way their Washington counterparts do, acting out of pettiness and resentment, even if it means the state’s top law enforcement agency doesn’t have a director.

Flexing their power and showing the governor who is boss is apparently more important to them.

We need a thorough debate about business incentives and economic development and the historic tax credit. The people of the state deserve that.

What we don’t need is for the leaders of the state Senate to behave like the folks in charge at the Capitol in Washington, but that is what’s happening now at the General Assembly in Raleigh.

It is going to be a long legislative session.

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Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066