NC House votes to fire more than 100 commission members

lbonner@newsobserver.comMarch 4, 2013 

House Republicans on Monday approved its version of a plan that would fire more than 100 members of state regulatory boards and commissions, setting up a clash with Senate Republicans who wanted more people removed.

Democrats characterized the stripping of regulatory boards as a partisan power grab, while Republicans called it an important reform.

The House passed the measure by a vote of 71-43, with all but three Republicans present voting for it. All Democrats present voted against it.

Groups such as the Coastal Resources Advisory Council, the Lottery Commission and the Wildlife Resources Commission would all be emptied out to make way for appointments from new Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and GOP legislative leaders. The number of members on some boards would be cut.

“What we’re attempting to do with the bill is bring stronger qualifications to the people as they’re being appointed,” said Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican. Some of the appointees of former Democratic Govs. Bev Perdue and Mike Easley were not qualified, he said.

“I have never seen a scenario where we’ve said we’re going to lower the number of patronage positions,” Dollar said. “I think that’s historic. I think it’s reform.”

Rep. Deborah Ross, a Raleigh Democrat, said the positions being cut are those focused on consumer and environmental protection.

“Just look at the positions that are being eliminated,” she said. “They are the ones who are looking out for the people.”

The House rejected an amendment to add a consumer advocate to the Utilities Commission. Critics of the proposal said the Public Staff of the Utilities Commission already represents consumers.

Republicans used a procedural maneuver to avoid voting on a change offered by Minority Leader Larry Hall of Durham, who wanted to cut by 15 percent or 35 percent the salaries of members of three boards and commissions who make $93,000 or more. For example, Hall proposed reducing Industrial commissioners’ salaries from $120,000 to $78,000.

Dollar called the amendment a political ploy because Democrats didn’t propose cutting salaries when they were in charge.

The House and Senate versions of the bill don’t match, so members from both chambers will meet to work out a compromise, said Sen. Tom Apodaca, the bill’s sponsor.

Apodaca, a Hendersonville Republican, criticized the House for not going far enough. The Senate version included firing 12 special Superior Court judges who are appointed by governors. The Senate voted to get rid of incumbents on the Utilities Commission, while the House would shorten members’ terms.

“I thought it was time to do a clean sweep,” Apodaca said. “If we’re going to hold the governor accountable, let him have his people in there.”

Bonner: 919-829-4821

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