Raleigh, N.C. — Two powerful House committee chairmen deployed a pair of procedural motions against another fellow Republican leader Monday night, sidetracking a bill that would allow taxpayers to sue over budget policies.
The conflict came over House Bill 457, called the Taxpayer Standing Act. It would give any North Carolina taxpayer standing to sue over budget and tax policy decisions. One of the toughest hurdles such lawsuits have to meet is showing that a particular taxpayer has been harmed by a government action. This bill would remove that hurdle.
House lawmakers were scheduled to vote on the measure Monday night until Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, moved to re-refer the measure to the House Finance Committee, which she chairs. That's a fairly standard motion when bills potentially could cost the state money.
What wasn't usual was that Howard made the motion over the express objection of Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, a sponsor of the bill and, as speaker pro tem, the No. 2 leader in the House.
"It doesn't raise revenue," Stam said, noting that it doesn't raise taxes or fees. Rather, he said, it instructs the court system on how to handle certain cases. House rules give the finance chairman the right to claim jurisdiction over a bill only if it raises or costs the state money.
"Rep. Howard is opposed to the bill," Stam said, portraying her motion as a way to kill the measure. Committee chairmen are not obligated to hold hearings or votes on bills assigned to their committee. Howard could simply sit on the bill and never hear it.
Howard defended her motion, saying that Finance Committee staffers have ruled that it could impact state revenue, possibly costing North Carolina money.
Stam battled back, saying that taxpayers could not ever match the financial resources of the government.
"At least they will get a turn at bat," Stam said, asking fellow members of the House to reject Howard's motion.
Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, the powerful House Rules Committee chairman, stepped into the debate, saying that the bill could cost the state as much as $300,000.
He then asked for debate to be cut off by "moving the previous question." That's a power that's typically exercised against rowdy legislative minorities, not top leaders.
That motion passed 88-25.
After a previous question is moved, House rules give the majority and minority leaders three minutes each to debate the bill, anticipating a partisan showdown over measures. In this case, House Democrats were spectators to the fight.
Tillis apologized that Minority Leader Larry Hall was drawn into the fight.
Hall, D-Durham, audibly amused, gave his three minutes of time to Moore.
In what amounted to closing arguments over the motion, Stam again argued that the bill doesn't raise taxes but allows taxpayers to battle against unconstitutional bills.
"Who is in favor of upholding unconstitutional statutes?" Stam asked.
Moore said that the House was merely slowing down consideration of the bill.
"This is not a death sentence for the bill," Moore said, adding that there are ways it can make its way back to the floor, even if Howard chooses not the hear the measure.
The motion to refer the bill to committee passed 85-29.