Under the Dome

NC Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget makes small cut in contracts

The proliferation of personal services contracts that allow state agencies to offer big pay to people who don’t have to formally apply for jobs is a ripe issue in the legislature.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget proposes to take a small chunk out of personal services contracts at the state Department of Health and Human Services with a $1.2 million reduction across the agency.

DHHS contractors have gained public notice. An executive from DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos’s husband’s firm was paid $310,000 over 10 months to be her senior adviser. Former state auditor Les Merritt made $312,000 in year acting as chief financial officer for the mental health division.

State budget director Lee Roberts said in an interview that McCrory’s budget bill will include language that defines when personal services contracts are appropriate.

“There is a significant focus on reducing the use of personal services contracts across state government,” Roberts said. “They’re too often used to get around the hiring and compensation processes that we have in place, and they’re susceptible to abuse for that reason. At the same time, we don’t think they can be eliminated entirely.”

It makes more sense to hire certain experts under contract, Roberts said, giving as examples expert witnesses and real estate appraisers.

A report by the legislature’s Program Evaluation Division calls them “misused and abused.” Some contractors make more than the highest-paid executives in state government, it said.

The Program Evaluation review found contracts used throughout state government – from executive branch agencies, to universities, to hospitals.

Legislators in a subcommittee are meeting Monday afternoon to discuss personal services contracts.

In fiscal year 2012-13, which straddles Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s and McCrory’s administrations, agencies reported 462 personal services contracts to the Office of State Budget and Management. Those were only the contracts that had to be reported. Another 14,157 contracts did not have to be reported because they did not meet the $25,000 threshold.

McCrory’s message: Share, donate

“The Carolina Comeback is real.” Those words start an email fundraising message from McCrory’s campaign that went out to supporters a couple of hours after he unveiled his proposed budget on Thursday morning.

The email includes an infographic, titled “Continuing the Carolina Comeback,” which identifies what McCrory sees as the most important parts of his spending plan.

“To keep the Carolina Comeback going strong, we must continue to make the tough choices to control government spending, invest in our kids’ education and create an environment that will grow jobs,” the email says. “That’s why this morning, I introduced a fiscally responsible budget plan that is balanced and does not raise taxes on the hard-working people of North Carolina.”

“Help me continue the Carolina Comeback by showing your support for my proposed budget,” he continues, asking supporters to share the graphic on social media. The bottom of the message includes a “Donate” button, to help McCrory come back for four more years in 2016.

Blast from the past

The Equal Rights Amendment fell three states short of ratification in the 1970s, but an attempt to revive it has come to North Carolina.

A search for three states to support the amendment is back on, though whether any action would make a difference so many years after the original ratification deadline is in serious dispute.

Marena Groll of Durham, part of NC4ERA, said equal pay has become more urgent as women struggle in low-wage jobs.

“Women are thirsting to be equal, especially economically,” she said.

Senate Bill 184 filed last week would have the state ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. North Carolina failed to ratify the amendment in 1977, and that was when Democrats were in charge.

The bill was sent to the Senate Rules Committee, one of the places where proposals go to die.

Groll said she still has hope for a debate.

Lynn Bonner and The Insider, a state-government news service