Under the Dome

NC House Speaker Tim Moore on split votes: ‘We have to govern’

House Speaker Tim Moore, with colleagues as the session began, tells Dome: “We have to make tough choices.”
House Speaker Tim Moore, with colleagues as the session began, tells Dome: “We have to make tough choices.” cseward@newsobserver.com

The state House cast a series of votes last week that, by the end of Thursday, had advanced two pieces of significant legislation and helped clarify more about the approach of new House Speaker Tim Moore.

The House passed a major jobs incentives and tax-break package, much of it also sought by the governor. The key votes to send it to the Senate were 87-32 and then 88-29.

The House also approved an effort to prop up the sales tax collected from each gallon of gas that motorists pump. House members voted to keep the gas tax from dropping by roughly 7 cents per gallon as scheduled in July. Supporters say that source of money should be “stabilized” and is needed for roads projects.

Others say it amounts to an unneeded tax hike. The votes were 70-47 and 72-42 to move the legislation back to the Senate, where it began in a different form. Republicans and Democrats were both for and against the bills. Both votes were rightly described as bipartisan.

They were more than that.

In three of the four key votes, Republicans could not have passed the bills on their own. The same would have been true on the fourth vote but for the absences of several lawmakers.

In the House, the GOP caucus includes 75 of the 120 members.

That is a comfortable margin when 61 votes are needed to pass legislation, which is advanced only after two major votes known as “second” and “third” readings. The third reading is the final vote. (With absences, the number needed to pass a bill can fluctuate below 61.)

Consider how the votes broke last week on the two major bills:

House Bill 117: The jobs incentives bill

Total House members voting on second reading: 119

▪ Yes votes needed to pass: 60

▪ Republicans for it: 54

▪ Democrats for it: 33

Total House members voting on third reading: 117

▪ Yes votes needed to pass: 59

▪ Republicans for it: 55

▪ Democrats for it: 33

Senate Bill 20: The gas tax bill

Total House members voting on second reading: 117

▪ Yes votes needed to pass: 59

▪ Republicans for it: 58

▪ Democrats for it: 12

Total House members voting on third reading: 114

▪ Yes votes needed to pass: 58

▪ Republicans for it: 58

▪ Democrats for it: 14

‘Independent’ caucus

Much has been said about how much control Republicans now have in the state’s legislative chambers. Former Speaker Thom Tillis liked to highlight “bipartisan” votes on key issues, like voter ID or the state budget, but they often had only a handful of Democrats joining a large Republican majority.

The two major votes last week required true support from members of both parties.

Separate from those votes, Republicans also bucked their own majority leader, Rep. Mike Hager, after he presented an amendment related to natural gas fracking amid debate on an unrelated funding bill. He expected the amendment to pass with ease. When it didn’t, the caucus immediately had a closed-door meeting. Later, Hager told reporters: “You never know where the caucus goes.”

“I think we have a very independent caucus,” he said, “which I think has worked well in the past and will continue to work well in the future.”

The House Democratic leader, Larry Hall, could not be reached.

‘A very different environment’

Moore, who was elected speaker in January, told Dome he would not have brought the bills to the floor for final votes if there had been any question about their passage. The substance of the bills that passed – taxes and incentives – always generates fierce discussion on both sides of the aisle, he said.

Still, he contrasted last week’s jobs bill vote with a major effort to pass an incentives bill at the close of last year’s lawmaking session. Then, Moore and Tillis watched many fellow Republicans revolt and sink an incentives plan also pushed by Gov. Pat McCrory.

“That bill had a lot of problems to it,” Moore said. “It got hyperpartisan, and not enough Republicans supported it, and then all the Democrats bloc voted against it. That’s the bad scenario you never want to be in, because then nothing gets done.”

Moore said he was glad to see deeper Democratic support last week. “I feel good with the vote margin, regardless of how we got there,” he said. “This shows it is a very different environment.”

He acknowledged there will be times that isn’t the case and “issues become just very partisan.”

“But I think we ought to try to keep those occasions to an absolute minimum,” the speaker said. “Those who supported these bills, I think, acknowledged that we have to govern. We have to make tough choices. And there were things that were politically great about these bills and some things not so great.”

Moore did something else last week he expects to continue: He put his own “yes” vote on the bills. Traditionally, House speakers have rarely voted on specific legislation.

“I like to make my position known,” the speaker said.

By J. Andrew Curliss

How they voted

N.C. House Bill 117

House Bill 117, the “NC Competes Act,” modifies the Job Development Investment Grant program to make $22.5 million available for new commitments to companies growing jobs in North Carolina by making $7.5 million available now that otherwise would be available after July 1 and by adding $15 million in additional funds through 2015. The total pool available would be $45 million. Currently, the fund is depleted. The program would be renamed Job Growth Reimbursement Opportunities or Job GRO. Commitments for funding would extend to Jan. 1, 2020, instead of the current Jan. 1, 2016, expiration.

Adopted 88-29 and sent to Senate

Triangle area Republicans voting yes: Jeff Collins, Leo Daughtry, Nelson Dollar, James Langdon Jr., David Lewis, Chris Malone, Larry Yarborough.

Triangle area Republicans voting no: Marilyn Avila, Gary Pendleton, Paul Stam.

Triangle area Democrats voting yes: Gale Adcock, William Brisson, Duane Hall, Yvonne Holley, Graig Meyer.

Triangle area Democrats voting no: Rosa Gill, Larry Hall, Verla Insko, Darren Jackson, Paul Luebke.

Triangle area not voting/excused absence: Grier Martin (D), Mickey Michaux Jr. (D).

For full statewide breakdown of final vote, click here. For second reading vote, click here.

N.C. Senate Bill 20 (House version)

The House version of Senate Bill 20, “Internal Revenue Code Update/Motor Fuel Tax Changes,” updates references to the Internal Revenue Code; modifies the motor fuels sales tax rate by setting it at 36 cents for the rest of 2015, preventing it from a likely drop to at or below 30 cents from the current 37.5 cents; and makes certain reductions within the Department of Transportation for the 2014-2015 fiscal year.

Adopted 72-42 and returned to Senate

Triangle area Republicans voting yes: Marilyn Avila, Leo Daughtry, Nelson Dollar, James Langdon Jr., David Lewis, Chris Malone, Paul Stam, Larry Yarborough.

Triangle area Republicans voting no: Jeff Collins, Gary Pendleton.

Triangle area Democrats voting yes: Gale Adcock, William Brisson.

Triangle area Democrats voting no: Rosa Gill, Duane Hall, Larry Hall, Yvonne Holley, Verla Insko, Darren Jackson, Paul Luebke, Graig Meyer.

Triangle area not voting/excused absence: Grier Martin (D), Mickey Michaux Jr. (D).

For full statewide breakdown of final vote, click here. For second reading vote, click here.

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