Under the Dome

Dome: Is Art Pope an official legislative liaison for Gov. McCrory?

Staff writersJuly 9, 2013 

MCCRORY03.122012.TI

Governor-elect Pat McCrory, right, introduces Art Pope after he announced that he is naming Pope as his deputy budget director.

TAKAAKI IWABU — tiwabu@newsobserver.com

State Budget Director Art Pope is becoming a frequent face at the N.C. General Assembly, especially as spending and tax issues dominate the final weeks.

At Gov. Pat McCrory’s direction, Pope crafted a compromise tax scenario in June that combined House and Senate ideas and presented it to a few House lawmakers. He worked the legislative halls and attended various meetings and a Senate committee meeting June 30 when President Pro Tem Phil Berger debuted the latest bill to overhaul the tax code.

His actions raise questions about whether Pope should register as a McCrory administration legislative liaison.

Pope is not registered with the secretary of state as a liaison – a move that would require him to report lobbying expenditures and would make him subject to the gift ban.

A McCrory spokeswoman said Pope is exempt under the law because his “principal duties” do not include lobbying. The law also exempts appointed officials “acting solely in connection with matters pertaining to their office and public duties.”

“It is not unusual for a budget director to answer legislator questions; it is part of his job,” McCrory spokeswoman Kim Genardo said in response to questions. “There are plenty of statutes to cite that clearly state Mr. Pope is exempt from registering as a legislative liaison.”

Under Gov. Bev Perdue, then-State Budget Director Andy Willis did not register either, Genardo said. He was registered in 2010 and 2011 when he was the governor’s lobbyist and monitored taxation, state budget and other matters, according to disclosures filed with the secretary of state. He resigned as a liaison in March 2011.

State law requires agencies to designate no more than two liaisons to lobby on their behalf.

The legislative liaisons for McCrory’s office are Fred Steen, a former state representative who lost a 2012 bid for Congress, and Nicole Hines, a former Senate staffer, records show.

At the General Assembly, Pope is seen as McCrory’s chief negotiator on taxes and the budget.

State Rep. David Lewis, who is leading the House tax efforts, said he has worked often with Pope on the tax bill. And Sen. Pete Brunstetter, the Senate’s top budget writer, said he has talked with Pope about the budget, too.

“I think he’s very active over there, but not as active over here” in the Senate, said Brunstetter, a Winston-Salem Republican.

Senate slows McCrory measure

Senate leaders are expressing concerns about one of Gov. Pat McCrory’s top legislative priorities, a reorganization of the state’s job-recruiting efforts.

President Pro Tem Phil Berger said Tuesday of the measure, Senate Bill 127, “we just think it needs a little more examination.”

The House approved the measure to privatize much of the state’s current economic development functions in June by an 86-27 vote.

Berger did not discuss in his concerns with the bill but said his member are “just curious as to some of the impacts, how it’s going to work, (and) how other states have implemented similar programs.”

McCrory needs to find his pen

The House gave final approval to 20 bills Tuesday and sent them on to Gov. Pat McCrory. They include:

• Under House Bill 250, charter schools will no longer need to ask permission from the State Board of Education to expand by adding one grade.

• House Bill 492 allows Medicaid recipients who have Alzheimer’s disease to receive up to 130 hours of personal care services per month, up from 80 hours.

• House Bill 683 aka the “Big Gulp Bill,” prohibits cities and towns from banning sales of big sodas.

Staff writers John Frank and Lynn Bonner

Send tips to dome@newsobserver.com.

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