Raleigh, N.C. — The House Government Committee on Thursday removed Wake County from legislation that shifted responsibility for construction and upkeep of public schools from local school boards to boards of county commissioners.
Then, the committee voted down the entire bill. Despite those defeats, the measure is expected to come back up in another committee.
"These elected boards should learn how to work together," said Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow. "If they don't, that's a problem of those elected people."
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, would have allowed counties to take over assets from nine school boards, including Wake, Guilford and Lee counties. At the request of Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, Cabarrus was added to the bill.
Then, Rep. Rosa Gill, D-Wake, stood to oppose the measure.
"The board of education needs the ability to control the design and construction of our school buildings," said Gill, a former Wake County school board member.
Hunt argued that school boards should be able to concentrate on education and that county commissioners had "more business-like skills."
Also, he said, counties are the government entities that formally issue bonds, so they should have control of the assets.
But in something of a test vote for the measure overall, the committee voted 17-10 to remove Wake County.
Following that vote, several members of the Wake County Board of Commissioners spoke in favor of the measure, urging that their county be put back in.
Commissioner Paul Coble, a Republican, argued that bond-rating agencies worried that counties didn't own the assets for which they were issuing bonds. That, he said, would eventually lower the county's bond rating, which would mean counties have to pay more to borrow money.
"That takes money way from schools," he said.
Wake County is getting ready to send a $900 million school bond to the voters.
But Cleveland dismissed those arguments as "specious," and Rep. James Langdon, R-Johnston, also spoke out against the measure. Both men said the bill was upsetting long-standing relationships and checks and balances between those who fund schools and those who run the schools.
The committee rejected the bill on a voice vote, meaning no formal count was taken. However, it's important to note that the bill merely failed to get a favorable report, which means it is still alive for the remainder of the legislative session, which will likely pause later this month and pick back up in May 2014.
Hunt, Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, and other backers of the bill huddled immediately after the committee meeting ended.
Hunt said he did not know when he would push to bring the measure back up. "Maybe in the short session (in May)," he said.
Actually, it will be a lot sooner.
Rep. Tim Moore, the House Rules Chairman, asked fellow lawmakers for permission to move the measure out of the House Government Committee and into the Rules Committee Thursday night.
The motion prompted a 30-minute discourse on the bill and legislative procedure, with opponents of the bill hoping to thwart Moore.
"This motion will revive this bill," said Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, urging lawmakers to turn back the motion.
In the end, the House voted 77-34 to allow the move. The measure is expected to be heard by the House Rules Committee next week.