The General Assembly will convene Tuesday to consider Gov. Pat McCrory’s simple request for money to help flood and wildfire victims.
That’s about all that is certain in a week that finds the lame-duck governor’s relief package arriving at the General Assembly laden with rumors about what else Republican lawmakers might try to accomplish in advance of Democrat Roy Cooper taking charge in January.
While McCrory’s extra-session proclamation specified he was convening the legislature to take up disaster relief, he also left the door open for lawmakers to take up other topics. Or not.
The only thing that’s clear so far is that disaster recovery funding will be the foremost topic.
On Monday, McCrory released an outline of the funding he thinks is needed to offer immediate help for Hurricane Matthew-related flooding and western wildfires. That amount is approximately $200 million.
The money would be spent on:
▪ Short-term housing for areas not covered by federal emergency management funding, and grants for help with rent, building new rental units and repairs.
▪ Adjusting school calendars in hard-hit areas that were closed for extended periods, and helping pay for repairs to infrastructure, trash pick-up, river maintenance and other local needs.
▪ Helping businesses recover.
▪ Rebuilding communities to make them less vulnerable to flooding and other disasters.
▪ Funding the state’s share of federal and state disaster relief.
McCrory outlined his plan in a video posted online and in a news release emailed to reporters.
In the last three months, North Carolina has experienced some of the worst natural disasters in state history.
Gov. Pat McCrory
“In the last three months, North Carolina has experienced some of the worst natural disasters in state history,” McCrory said in a statement his office released. “As we work to make sure North Carolina recovers stronger than before, we are committed to addressing the unmet needs of our citizens still suffering, and we must do it now, especially during the Christmas holidays and as cold weather approaches.”
McCrory in the video also credited the state’s large rainy day fund for avoiding the need for a tax increase to pay for the new spending.
President Barack Obama signed legislation over the weekend that should provide $300 million in federal funds for the state’s hurricane recovery.
Many Democrats and their allies remain wary that the GOP-dominated legislature won’t resist passing legislation that could help Republicans politically or vex the new governor. Expanding the state Supreme Court by two Republican justices who would be appointed by McCrory has been the most persistent rumor.
That would offset the new Democratic majority on the seven-member court that was created by the election of Wake County Superior Court Judge Mike Morgan last month.
Common Cause N.C. hit TV markets in Raleigh, Greensboro and Charlotte on Monday with an ad rallying opposition to expanding the court. The nonpartisan organization reports it is spending $200,000 on the 30-section TV spot, which urges viewers to contact legislative leaders to oppose any such plan.
It would be outrageous if the legislature uses what is supposed to be a special session intended to help victims of natural disasters to instead cynically play partisan games with our state's highest court.
Bob Phillips, Common Cause NC
“It would be outrageous if the legislature uses what is supposed to be a special session intended to help victims of natural disasters to instead cynically play partisan games with our state’s highest court,” Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause N.C., said in a statement. “Such a move would threaten the independence of the judiciary, undermine the integrity of the legislature and it would be an attack on the right of North Carolina voters to directly elect our state’s Supreme Court justices.”
The NAACP, Progress N.C. Action and Voters for Clean Elections will hold a news conference ahead of session to ask lawmakers not to increase the size of the court.
Senate and House leaders haven’t said what, other than disaster relief, the legislature might take up this week.
Liberal advocacy groups and Democrats began warning of a possible “court-packing scheme” within days of the general election following Morgan’s victory over incumbent Justice Bob Edmunds. Since then the issue has been widely discussed in online political forums and at voting-rights rallies, but no Republican has said publicly it is under consideration.
On Monday morning, Dallas Woodhouse, the N.C. GOP executive director, tweeted that expanding the Supreme Court is not on the horizon this week.
“The press has invented a story line here, about things that are not going to happen,” Woodhouse tweeted.
“I have seen nothing, zero to indicate it,” he continued. “I believe we would know.”