News: CJ Exclusives

McCrory, NCGA leaders insist special Matthew session unneeded

House Speaker Moore says enough money available to deal with emergencies until full session convenes in January

Flooding from 1999's Hurricane Floyd inundated the campus of East Carolina University. (Photo courtesy East Carolina University)
Flooding from 1999's Hurricane Floyd inundated the campus of East Carolina University. (Photo courtesy East Carolina University)

While some Democratic legislators are calling for a special session to deal with recovery efforts for Hurricane Matthew, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and GOP leaders in the General Assembly say a special session is unnecessary.

McCrory, House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, say there’s enough money to handle the state’s emergency efforts dealing with the havoc caused by Matthew until January 2017, when lawmakers return to Raleigh.

“I’ve seen nothing thus far that would indicate that we need to act on it right now,” Moore said. “The governor has handled this situation really well. He is on top of it.”

Earlier this week, Moore joined Berger in a statement supporting McCrory’s decision not to immediately call the General Assembly back into session.

“Because of the governor’s swift action, state and federal resources are currently being disbursed to those impacted by the storm and are projected to fully cover our recovery needs until next year,” Berger and Moore said in a joint statement. “Gov. McCrory has already announced that if additional funds are needed he will call the legislature back to a special session, but — as previous state leaders recognized during similar disasters like Hurricane Floyd — it would be imprudent to try to determine long-term needs until floodwaters recede and immediate threats to safety are controlled.”

“The governor and his [Cabinet] secretaries have kept us in the loop,” Moore said. “I think it’s important to remember that we’re actually dealing with it. Waters are still up. This is still a real-time incident.”

Moore said the General Assembly will have to authorize use of money from the state’s rainy day fund before it can be used. Currently, the rainy day fund has a balance of $1.6 billion.

State Rep. Billy Richardson, D-Cumberland, on Monday urged McCrory to call a special session of to move money from the state’s rainy day fund into a relief program for people affected by Matthew.

On Wednesday, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, D-Wake, called for a special session. On Thursday, Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond, asked for a special session, saying lawmakers needed to address flood relief plans and provide direction and flexibility for make-up days for local school boards and superintendents.

“I’ve got people in my county that are absolutely devastated and they need to know their government cares about them and if they’re going to help them,” Richardson said. “They don’t need it four months from now. They need it now.”

Richardson said it is better to have programs in place and the money available and not need it than not to have the money in place and need it.

“I’m from North Carolina,” Richardson said. “I don’t wait on the federal government to help us.”

Mark Trogdon, director of the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division, said state law gives the governor broad authority to deal with emergencies.

“He’s got some latitude under those conditions to move money around to meet immediate needs,” Trogdon said.

“At this point, we don’t know what the costs are,” Moore said. Moore added that the fiscal discipline the General Assembly has shown in recent years has paid off with an ample rainy day fund.

The flooding left by Hurricane Matthew brings back memories of the damage from Hurricane Floyd. Floyd struck the state on Sept. 16, 1999, and left much of eastern North Carolina under flood waters. The storm was blamed for 51 fatalities.

Matthew, which hit the state last weekend, also flooded many areas of eastern North Carolina. So far, 22 fatalities have resulted from the storm.

Then-Gov. Jim Hunt called the General Assembly into a special session on Dec. 15, 1999, nearly three months after the hurricane hit the state. Lawmakers set up a Hurricane Floyd Reserve Fund of $836.6 million, with $285.9 million coming from the rainy day fund.

Another $226.5 million same from unspent money that had been allocated to state agencies, universities, and community colleges, known as reversions. Lawmakers diverted $146.5 from capital improvement programs. The rest came from other parts of state government, including $6.7 million that had been set aside to renovate legislative chambers and buildings.