News: Quick Takes

Lawmakers up Cooper’s ante for first package of hurricane relief

Hurricane Florence floods U.S. 421 in New Hanover and Pender counties. Photo from the N.C. Department of Transportation.
Hurricane Florence floods U.S. 421 in New Hanover and Pender counties. Photo from the N.C. Department of Transportation.

Legislative leaders plan to allocate $794 million for Hurricane Florence disaster relief when they return to special session on Monday, Oct. 15.

Most of the money will come from the $2.1 billion Rainy Day Fund Republicans built up over recent years to prevent tax increases or major budget shuffles during emergencies.

On Wednesday, Gov. Roy Cooper recommended $1.5 billion to cover the state portion of nearly $13 billion in storm losses, $750 million of it immediately. Republican lawmakers acknowledged in a press release issued Saturday, Oct. 13, more than the governor’s initial proposal was needed.

“We understand this damage assessment is an early estimate, and we trust that the administration’s analysis is their best effort to deliver numbers as quickly as possible. This has been an exceptionally fast timeline to approve funding relief for storm victims,” Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said in the joint release.

The lawmakers echoed Cooper’s desire for bipartisan cooperation.

“We appreciate the governor’s ongoing recovery efforts and look forward to working together on the implementation of North Carolina’s fourth emergency response package since 2016,” they said.

“This historic relief package exceeds the governor’s down payment request while allowing for maximum flexibility as on-the-ground damage assessments continue,” said senior Senate Appropriations Chairman Harry Brown, R-Onslow. “I haven’t seen this level of collaboration among state leaders in a long time, and this bill is a continuation of the good faith shown by everybody.”

Senior House Appropriations Chairman Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, said a top priority is immediate help to speed repairs to hard hit schools.

According to the news release:

If approved, the appropriation would increase the amount designated for hurricane recovery to $850 million since Sept. 14, when Florence made landfall. The latest round of funding would boost total hurricane response since 2016 to more than $1.2 billion.

The N.C. Office of State Budget and Management offered lawmakers guiding with their funding plan. State Budget Director Charles Perusse briefed lawmakers and staff Thursday.

OSBM staff said the initial estimate is considered a five-year plan, but it may change. The assessments were made using computer modeling, and the total spending may change once actual data are gathered.

The most recent report on Hurricane Matthew funding says about $124 million has been distributed, $115 million has been awarded, and $121 million remains available from the $360 million set aside since 2016 for disaster recovery.