Under the Dome

It'll be one man, one vote for DOT contracts

February 5, 2009 

For possibly the first time, the state Board of Transportation will not take action at its monthly meeting today on what has always been its bread-and-butter work: awarding highway contracts.

Instead, the board will agree to let Transportation Secretary Gene Conti decide which companies get each of the bridge and road jobs on this month's agenda.

It's the board's first meeting since Gov. Beverly Perdue took office and decreed that transportation board members, who are political appointees from around the state, will get out of the business of awarding DOT contracts.

Conti said the new way of doing business will be worked out in time for the board's next meeting, in March. Meanwhile, he's taking responsibility for major contracts this month -- but not for all of the board's spending decisions. At least not yet.

Perdue's lawyers, Conti and board members are working out the mechanics for this shift of power. The governor might have to seek legislation to make some of the changes legal.

"It's a different way of doing things," Conti said after explaining his plans to a board committee Wednesday. "We don't want to jam things down people's throats without talking to them, and making sure we're doing it in a way that restores public confidence."

Conti should not have a difficult time awarding the contracts on this month's list. In most cases, except in contracts for consulting services, the job goes to the low bidder.

With the recent slowdown in state spending, the DOT is considering only seven bridge replacements, some improvements to a road at the Global Transpark in Kinston, and -- the biggest job on the list -- new pavement for 12 miles of Interstate 40 in McDowell County.

And with road contractors competing more fiercely than ever for work, the low bidders have offered to do the work for a total of $18.4 million -- an average of 18 percent less than what the DOT expected to pay for the jobs.

Time to set up redistricting planning

As the state approaches the 2010 Census, the General Assembly will begin the process of drawing up legislative and congressional districts for the following decade.

Two Republican legislators have suggested alternative methods.

Sen. Pete Brunstetter of Forsyth County has proposed putting that power in the hands of an independent commission, while Rep. Nelson Dollar of Cary has again suggested allowing citizens to submit their own plans.

Brunstetter's plan would create an 11-member commission with four Democrats, four Republicans and three others not affiliated with either party. Leaders of each party would submit a list of names and strike others, as in a jury pool, with the final picks made by a lottery.

It would also restrict commission members and their relatives from running for office or working as a lobbyist for three years.

Dollar, meantime, has again filed a bill that would allow private citizens to turn in their redistricting plans and have an existing state commission designated by the governor score them using an objective point system.

Hagan wants to limit bailout CEOs' pay

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan is co-sponsoring an amendment that would limit the pay of CEOs whose companies are receiving federal bailout money.

Hagan, a Greensboro Democrat, said top executives receiving money from the bailout were receiving an average of $2.6 million in salary and bonuses. The amendment would limit CEO salaries to that of President Barack Obama, who makes $400,000 a year. (On Wednesday, Obama set $500,000 caps on senior executive pay for the most distressed financial institutions receiving federal bailout money. Story, Page 5B).

By co-sponsoring the measure, Hagan said in a statement, she's "joining the chorus of Americans who have said, 'Enough.' "

What is that Thing, Sen. Burr?

Dome has to wonder whether the entertainment Web site TMZ is struggling for news.

Their top story Wednesday morning showed Sen. Richard Burr driving his own car (gasp!) on Capitol Hill.

Their typically clever headline: "Senator's Thing Exposed in Snowstorm."

The notion of a senator driving his own car even pushed a shirtless Tom Cruise into the No. 2 position on the Web site.

A lot of senators have aides to tote them around Washington, but Burr likes to drive his 1974 Volkswagen Thing convertible. The aging vehicle can usually be seen parked outside his office building on Capitol Hill, top down.

On Tuesday, TMZ captured video of Burr driving in the snow. He had the top down again.

ryan.teague.beckwith@newsobserver.com or 919-812-4955

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