News: CJ Exclusives

Dispute over state employees getting dual compensation returns to General Assembly

North Carolina legislative building
North Carolina legislative building

Gov. Roy Cooper has shot down legislators’ attempts to clarify law allowing one state employee to draw separate paychecks from two state commissions.

But what happens now?

Republicans have a veto-proof majority in the General Assembly and may decide to override Cooper’s veto during the Aug. 18 special session.

Emails to Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, were not answered.

A provision in House Bill 770 would allow any state employee who is also a member of the Property Tax Commission to receive a salary from the commission.

Raleigh attorney Bill Peaslee is the chief deputy commissioner at the North Carolina Industrial Commission, a salaried position. He is also the chairman of the Property Tax Commission. Peaslee uses vacation time from his full time job to work on the tax commission, and gets a salary from the state for the days he works at the tax commission.

Since 1979, state law prohibits employees from receiving multiple paychecks, but an exception was made to allow General Assembly members to get paid while serving on commissions outside of the legislative session.

While under former Gov. Pat McCrory, Peaslee was able to receive compensation for both jobs without a problem, but after Gov. Roy Cooper was elected, the Department of Revenue looked into the matter and brought it to the attention of the Department of Justice. The DOJ weighed in and argued Peaslee should not be paid for his work on the tax commission

“Up until this point it really hasn’t been an issue, but under this new administration it appears to be,” Peaslee said. “I work hard, trying to make sure I get my time in at the Industrial Commission and use my vacation time to work on the Property Tax Commission. I’ll let people come to their own conclusions as to why this is happening now.”

Chapter 138 of the general statutes prohibits state employees from receiving per diem compensation, but according to WRAL, the attorney general’s office interprets this as justification for preventing Peaslee from drawing two paychecks.

Peaslee, on the other hand, argues the rule doesn’t apply to the pay given to people who sit on the Property Tax Commission, only to daily travel and food expenses.

To resolve the conflicting interpretations, Peaslee went to Senate legislators and argued his case. Peaslee used to work as general counsel to the North Carolina Republican Party before working on the Industrial Commission.

“Why would a state employee be treated any differently?” Peaslee asked, per the WRAL report. “What I do on my vacation time is up to me.”

Now a section of H.B. 770 clarifies the issue and allows the Property Tax Commission to pay any state employee serving on the commission. In this case, Peaslee is the only state employee out of five members, and he is the only one who will benefit from the clarification at this time.

During the Aug. 3 special session, H.B. 770 passed along party lines. The bill originally addressed underground storage tank remediation but was stripped and replaced with a catch-all of “various clarifying changes.”

Eleven days later, Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed the legislation.

“This special pay benefit for one employee getting two state salaries is unnecessary and unfair to other state employees,” Cooper said in his veto message.

Peaslee argues the General Assembly isn’t giving him special treatment, but rectifying what has been done to him.

“I just want to be treated like every other member on the Property Tax Commission,” Peaslee argued. “They take time away from their jobs and their business or their families and they are compensated for it. I don’t know why I would be treated differently.”