North Carolina Gov. Wants $200M From Legislature for Matthew, Wildfires

By GARY D. ROBERTSON | December 14, 2016

On the eve of a special session for disaster relief, Gov. Pat McCrory asked the North Carolina legislature to approve $200 million to help with short-term recovery and long-term rebuilding after Hurricane Matthew and mountain wildfires this fall.

In a video message Monday, the governor laid out what he wants from the General Assembly when it returns Tuesday for the session to address the destruction caused by flooding and flames. McCrory made no mention of legislation on other topics. Critics are worried other bills could be considered during the short time legislators are expected in Raleigh.

“As we work to make sure North Carolina recovers stronger than before, we are committed to addressing unmet needs of our citizens still suffering, and we must do it now, especially during these Christmas holidays and as the cold weather approaches,” McCrory said in the video.

Matthew’s destruction hurt an estimated 30,000 businesses and caused more than $400 million in crop losses in eastern North Carolina. There were 28 storm-related deaths and the economic damage could exceed $2 billion, according to the McCrory administration. Although federal money already has been coming into North Carolina for disaster relief, the state must fill gaps and provide matching funds.

McCrory said the immediate priority is housing for people who aren’t covered by federal assistance and who need help paying rent. He also wants grant money to build rental units in flood-affected areas and funds for local governments, business recovery and long-range planning.

Republican legislative leaders have sounded eager to work with McCrory this week on a state recovery plan, which can be paid for comfortably from nearly $1.6 billion in the state’s savings reserves.

Money is already coming into North Carolina to help with the hurricane recovery. The Federal Emergency Management Agency has distributed direct aid to displaced residents and approved government loans to small businesses.

President Barack Obama signed a stopgap spending measure for the federal government last weekend that also should provide $300 million toward the state’s hurricane recovery. And FEMA last month approved access for North Carolina infrastructure repair and cleanup funds that didn’t require separate congressional approval.

McCrory’s special session proclamation last week also included a catchall for other legislative business that some worry sets the stage for mischief by the GOP-led legislature. House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said late last week some additional issues may be debated during the session.

Atop the list worrying Democrats and their allies is legislation that could add two new justices to the state Supreme Court as a way to preserve the GOP’s majority after Democrats begin a 4-3 advantage on the court next month.

Republicans have said it is unlikely such “court-packing” legislation would be considered. Still, the election reform group Common Cause North Carolina unveiled Monday a $200,000 TV ad buy with a commercial urging viewers to call the General Assembly and oppose such legislation.

Democrats also are worried about attempts to limit the powers of Democrat Roy Cooper when he becomes governor Jan. 1. Cooper narrowly defeated McCrory in an election that the Republican incumbent conceded just last week.

The special session marks the first time legislators will convene since the regular work session ended in early July. Legislators are arriving to a construction site – copper and granite roofs atop the Legislative Building are being replaced and redone. Interior work to remove asbestos from the rotunda’s ceiling and fix a recurring leak near the front doors of the House gallery is complete.

‘We’re ready for them to come back,” said Paul Coble, the legislative services officer.

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