Under the Dome

GOP agrees to trim inauguration fund

jfrank@newsobserver.comJune 28, 2012 

House Republicans reversed course Thursday, allowing a Democratic-sponsored amendment that takes money from a gubernatorial inauguration fund to get a federal grant designed to ensure the integrity of the 2012 election. The chamber had blocked the same amendment Wednesday.

The amendment to a bill tweaking the recently approved state budget won by a large bipartisan margin – 90 to 21. It’s unclear why the GOP blocked Democratic Rep. Deborah Ross’ attempt Wednesday but allowed Rep. Mickey Michaux’s amendment Thursday.

House Speaker Thom Tillis even went so far as to defend the House’s use of the obscure rule that kept the amendment from being considered. “The rules are there for a reason,” Tillis said, noting that the chamber already had a lengthy debate on the Help America Vote Act money.

Local election officials will use the HAVA money to open more early voting sites or test voting machines. The Democrats had attacked the extra $330,000 for the next governor’s inauguration and transition as a “slush fund.”

Democrat Walter Dalton’s campaign first raised the issue, and his spokesman Schorr Johnson took credit for the campaign for helping prompt the change: “Walter Dalton is leading by example by saying that in tough budget times, we cannot afford an extravagant gubernatorial transition and inauguration. An overwhelming majority of members of the House, when allowed to vote their conscience, agreed.”

Early voting has started

Early voting for the state’s July runoff election has started.

The one-stop voting option continues until July 14, with election day July 17. Voters will decide the winners of three congressional races, five statewide contests, four state Senate seats, and three state House races. All but three of those will be between Republicans, whose many hotly contested races are the reason for the unusually high number of primaries this year.

The statewide contests involve Republicans deciding their candidates for lieutenant governor, insurance commissioner, secretary of state, and superintendent of public instruction. Democrats must pick their candidate for labor commissioner.

DOT lettergate sent to Ethics

The state Senate Rules Committee has voted to refer the results of its inquiry into altered Department of Transportation letters to the state Ethics Commission, which probes ethical matters in North Carolina.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Tom Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican, said the commission must review the actions of state employees who took steps to change letters sent to lawmakers that altered the position of a top DOT official on a roads funding issue.

Empowering real estate agents

The N.C. Senate voted 47-1 Wednesday to approve a bill that expands real estate agents’ ability to perform market analyses of properties.

The House had earlier approved the bill, which many appraisers opposed. The legislation allows brokers to perform broker price opinions, also known as comparative market analyses, for a fee for clients and third-party lien holders. Under current North Carolina law, brokers can perform BPOs only when they have a reasonable expectation of getting a listing.

The N.C. Association of Realtors lobbied for the legislation, saying it is needed to assist banks in dealing with the wave of foreclosures they’ve taken back in recent years.

Many appraisers fear it will blur the lines between what they do and a product that is less rigorous and less expensive.

Several appraisers have been critical of the state chapter of the Appraisal Institute for not opposing the legislation in the House.

Joel Tate, a Raleigh appraiser who is the government relations co-chair for the state chapter, said the chapter made a deal with the Realtors Association that it wouldn’t oppose the bill on second reading in the House in exchange for getting a number of amendments added.

The amendments call for the state’s Real Estate Commission to come up with a set of standards for BPOs and CMAs, and it would increase the amount of education required of brokers who perform BPOs. Appraisers would be permitted also to perform CMAs, something they cannot do under current state law.

Tate said once the legislation moved to the Senate, the chapter made clear to legislators that it was not in favor of the overall bill.

“I guess at the end of the day we didn’t articulate our position well enough,” he said.

Staff writers John Frank and David Bracken

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