Gov. Pat McCrory appeared before state lawmakers meeting in special session on Tuesday to steer home the final initiative of his four years in office: asking the General Assembly to approve more than $200 million in disaster relief.
Battered by a string of natural disasters this year, capped by widespread flooding from Hurricane Matthew in the east and devastating wildfires in the west, McCrory launched a task force to assess the best way to help disaster victims both immediately and in the long run, and rebuild communities to be less vulnerable to flooding.
“We have to make the best long-term and short-term decisions, but we have to do it with a sense of urgency because we’re talking about human lives, and it could happen to any of us,” McCrory told the large House budget committee, which gave McCrory standing ovations Tuesday. “There are people who are hurting as we speak. So have a sense of urgency, have a sense of compassion.”
Several Democratic legislators raised concerns that the amount of money proposed to be spent is insufficient. The committee’s Republican chairman, Cary Rep. Nelson Dollar, said the legislature will review unmet needs early next year and authorize additional money.
The Disaster Recovery Act of 2016 targets just more than $100 million from the state’s savings reserve account and another $100 million from the state’s main budget fund. Dollar said the state’s surplus has increased due to revenue growth and unspent money from state departments.
The proposal was worked out among the governor’s office and the Senate and House, and sailed through the House with a unanimous vote Tuesday. The Senate is expected to approve it Wednesday.
“That bill is a very good bill,” Senate leader Phil Berger told reporters. “It’s entirely consistent with what the governor has been working on for a number of months now, and it’s something that I think provides greatly needed relief to people in both the east and the west of North Carolina, and it’s something that I’m looking forward to us taking up tomorrow.”
Highlights of the bill include:
▪ $20 million for a fund meant to directly help low-income people secure housing.
▪ $66 million as the state’s share of federal assistance.
▪ $11.5 million for “resilient development planning” in the 49 counties declared by the president as major disaster areas.
▪ $45 million for grants to encourage loans to small businesses harmed by one of the disasters, to help local government build infrastructure outside 100-year flood plains, repair existing infrastructure, and repair wastewater and drinking water systems.
▪ $38 million to the state agriculture department for timber restoration, stream debris removal and farm pond and dam repairs.
The measure also allows school districts to fulfill their required classroom hours by completing at least two consecutive makeup days, excusing any beyond that number.