When it comes to the treatment of Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration, the Senate is the strict parent, while the House is more lenient.
In a system of checks and balances, nothing is necessarily wrong with the Senate approach, but it has led to much discussion about the relationship between the Republican McCrory and the Republican Senate leadership, particularly Senate leader Phil Berger of Eden. Berger has chalked up any perceived tension between himself and the governor to the political process.
But questions persist. In a span of a couple of hours recently, two Republican senators publicly accused cabinet departments in McCrory’s administration of ignoring state laws.
They were the latest criticisms of executive branch agencies by senators, who routinely called out the Department of Health and Human Services for numerous problems earlier in McCrory’s first term.
The first new criticism came during a Senate Transportation Committee meeting. Sen. Bill Rabon, a Southport Republican, accused the Transportation Department of failing to comply with a provision in last year’s budget directing the agency to lay off employees and outsource more work to private companies. Rabon, a key Senate transportation leader, sponsored a bill this year that would force the DOT to lay off workers if it didn’t quickly comply with last year’s directive.
As of the latest update, the DOT soon will lay off 81 workers, and Rabon is dropping his bill.
A similar situation unfolded later that day in the Finance Committee. Sen. Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican, accused the Commerce Department of creating its own rules – which differ from state law – on how many jobs a company must create to be eligible for incentives through the state’s widely used Job Development Investment Grants, or JDIG, program.
McCrory and Commerce Secretary John Skvarla are pushing the Legislature to approve more JDIG money to help lure companies to the state. But skeptical senators have pointed to figures showing the majority of JDIG dollars have gone to projects in three urban counties – Mecklenburg, Wake and Durham – with fewer dollars going to rural areas.
Brown said he believed the department’s decision to require more jobs be created to qualify for a JDIG grant helped lead to the rural/urban disparity in JDIG grants because larger projects are more likely to go to larger areas.
“I think that they did ignore the law and that might be why there is so much money going to certain areas and not others,” Brown said.
A Commerce Department representative clarified that the Economic Investment Committee, which makes recommendations on JDIG grants, decided to increase the job-creation requirement to save JDIG money for projects with the greatest impact.
At some point you have to wonder why senators are so intent on raising very public questions about how the governor’s top appointees are doing their jobs. Maybe they’ve tried privately and it didn’t work? Maybe it’s simply their way of getting things done?
Or perhaps it’s something else.
Patrick Gannon writes about state government and politics.