Commentary

Drop dead: Is that the GOP’s message to Raleigh?

rchristensen@newsobserver.comMarch 30, 2013 

“Ford to City: Drop Dead”

That was the famous New York Daily News headline that was published when President Gerald Ford vowed to veto a bailout to a bankrupt New York City in 1975.

Democratic blogger Gary Pearce resurrected the old headline in regard to the Dix Hospital controversy, suggesting that the new headline might read: “GOP to Raleigh: Drop Dead.”

That was the line of argument taken up last week by Sen. Josh Stein of Raleigh, who accused the Senate Republicans of Raleigh bashing.

“This is about a lease you didn’t like because it was signed by a governor you didn’t like, with a city you don’t like,” Stein said.

Do Republican lawmakers really hate Raleigh? If so, they have a funny way of showing it, spending millions of dollars of campaign money to get here.

But Stein is partly right. This does have the smell of power politics, not to mention an old-fashioned executive-legislative feud.

Perdue defied Berger

Republican Senate leader Phil Berger told outgoing Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue not to sign a lease in December that turns more than 200 acres of the old Dix psychiatric hospital property over to Raleigh for a destination park. The city would pay the state $500,000 a year, plus 1.5 percent annual increases in a deal worth $68 million over 75 years.

Republicans point to an $84 million appraisal done in 2011 as the land’s true value and say they are exercising their authority to take back the lease.

Berger makes no bones about it. He warned Perdue not to make the deal. She did it anyway. Now he is voiding the lease.

But all this talk about illegal leases is so much political spin. Below-fair-market leases are commonly done between government agencies.

In fact, the chief sponsor of the Dix bill, Republican Sen. Ralph Hise, engineered one himself in 2011, selling an old abandoned state prison valued at $2.01 million to Mayland Community College, where he works, for $1.

Long history of squabbles

Back in 1984, no money seems to have changed hands when lame-duck Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt turned 780 acres of the Dix property over to N.C. State University in what became the Centennial Campus. At the time, Raleigh Mayor Avery Upchurch sought private development on the land to help with the city’s private tax base.

Republican Gov. Jim Martin signed off on the NCSU deal.

Squabbling over land deals has a long history. It has more to do with governors versus legislature than Democrats versus Republicans.

Back in 2005, Democratic Gov. Mike Easley blocked the sale of 300 acres in Currituck County for an industrial park and a five-story building in downtown Charlotte to Johnson & Wales University, a culinary and hospitality school. Both sales were for $1.

Democratic Senate leader Marc Basnight pushed the Currituck deal, and Democratic House Speaker Jim Black backed the cooking school.

After the bills passed with overwhelming support, Easley reluctantly signed the bills. Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory took credit for recruiting the cooking school.

Easley also signed a bill selling a block in downtown Raleigh for $1 to the State Employees Credit Union for construction of the building that also houses a science research center for the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.

The Legislative Building now sits in the shadow of that $1 deal. It would be a real mess if the legislature tries to renege on that deal as well.

Christensen: 919-829-4532

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