Deals marked end of legislative session

The pace of deal cutting in the last days of the legislative session rivaled the action on a car lot.

lbonner@newsobserver.comJuly 3, 2012 

Rep. Darren G. Jackson

N.C. GENERAL ASSEMBLY

The pace of deal cutting in the last days of the legislative session rivaled the action on a car lot as millions in tax credits, money for state agencies, and extra days off for state employees won speedy approval as lawmakers worked to pass controversial bills.

The aisle-crossing votes that helped override Gov. Bev Perdue’s vetoes of the state budget and fracking law appeared to be helped by $60 million for the film industry and vacation days for state employees that made it into end-of-session catch-all bills.

In a time of high stakes negotiations, some of the biggest moves came from Democrats who usually didn’t get much attention in the GOP-dominated chamber.

Rep. Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat who cast a surprise vote to cancel Perdue’s budget veto, said he was worried about state employee layoffs starting Tuesday if the budget didn’t pass.

He was also involved, with the State Employees Association of North Carolina and others he would not name, to get the legislature to approve five extra vacation days for state employees.

The vacation time ended up in a bill the Senate approved before dawn Tuesday morning after the House voted to override Perdue’s budget veto.

Jackson, who has a high concentration of state employees in his district, said his override vote was not contingent on getting the bonus vacation days, but it helped. The main reason he voted to override, Jackson said, was he didn’t want state employees and teachers to suffer from political gamesmanship.

The budget was turning into “a huge game of chicken” between the House and Senate, and “teachers and state employees were political pawns,” he said.

Going into the session Monday night, observers knew that overriding Perdue’s fracking veto was going to come down to one or two votes in the state House.

But some were surprised that Rep. Susi Hamilton, a Wilmington Democrat, provided one of them. Hamilton was one of several legislators who had signed a letter asking Perdue to veto the bill.

Hamilton spent part of Tuesday fighting off the suggestion that she traded her vote to get the film industry tax credits. “That’s not true,” Hamilton said in response to questions about her trading her vote. Nonetheless, “It is a win for North Carolina to have the film credit extended,” she said.

She explained away her signature on the letter to Perdue by saying she thought it dealt with another bill unfriendly to the environment.

The House could not override Perdue vetoes without Democrats’ help, and more than a dozen were willing over the course of the session.

House Speaker Thom Tillis said the Democrats siding with Republicans to override Perdue’s vetoes represented bipartisanship. In the course of the two-year session, he said more than a dozen different Democrats sided with Republicans on one bill or another.

“I think close to one-third of the Democratic caucus (voted) with us to override vetoes of a Democratic governor,” he said. “I think that to me is the most extraordinary thing I’ve witnessed this year.”

Tillis denied trading provisions in other bills to lure Democrats to the GOP’s cause. “There was no trading,” he said. “It was part of the negotiating process that ultimately results in a $20 billion budget being passed.”

Tillis said the film credits were part of the negotiations for weeks with the Senate.

Rep. Jim Crawford of Oxford was one of the Democrats who routinely joined the winning side in override votes. Crawford was defeated in a primary last spring, but said he had a successful session, which included getting passed a measure the Henderson police chief wanted that would mean stiffer sentences for habitual thieves, and a successful effort to get $2 million more for the Rural Center, which had been targeted in budget cuts. The center operates programs designed to help the economy in the state’s rural communities.

“It was part of my deal with the Senate, and they were willing to do it for me,” Crawford said. “I didn’t promise anything to anybody, but I’d worked with them all along.”

Crawford said he and the other four Democrats who had been voting with Republicans on the budget floated a deal they thought would help Perdue, freeing up $50 million to put toward her priorities. The group talked about it a lot, Crawford said, but it didn’t go anywhere.

“We tried to get the best deals we could,” Crawford said.

Staff writer John Frank contributed.

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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