Raleigh, N.C. — House Democrats are accusing Republican Speaker Thom Tillis of abuse of power for refusing to release funds for caucus staff and using parliamentary maneuvers to cut off debate.
Minority Leader Larry Hall said Tuesday that Tillis "has decided to defund the House Democratic caucus."
Hall, D-Durham, also said House Republicans have used "tabling" to cut off debate in the current session more than twice as many times as it was used by Democrats from 2001 to 2009.
"It's a disturbing and destructive pattern of persecuting those who don't agree with whatever the leadership says they want to have done," he said.
Leaders of both the majority and minority caucuses are traditionally allowed at least one full-time staffer to coordinate meetings, communicate with members and help with research and bill drafting. The money for those staffers is allocated in the state budget.
Hall told WRAL News that he, Tillis and other leaders had agreed on a 2014 budget of $85,000 for staff for the Democratic caucus.
However, Hall said, the speaker changed his mind and refused to release the money or approve the caucus' request to hire a chief of staff because of Hall's outspoken opposition to new legislative building rules.
Hall said Tillis counsel Ray Starling told him that his comments at the Legislative Services Commission meeting on the new rules offended Republicans on the panel.
"I was told that, unless I apologized to the members of the Legislative Services Commission for objecting to the new rules, we would not be funded," he said.
At that May 15 meeting, Hall accused Republican leaders of implementing the new rules to try to shut down "Moral Monday" protests. A judge later found some of the provisions to be too vague to be enforced or unconstitutional.
"I promptly offered to resign my seat on the commission, but I was not going to apologize for saying what I thought was right – and what the court ultimately concluded was right," Hall said.
According to Hall, Rep. Skip Stam, R-Wake, has a staff budget of $153,000 as speaker pro tem. House Rules Committee Chairman Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, has a budget of $64,512. House Majority Co-Leader Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, has a budget of $45,999, plus a legislative assistant.
The Speaker's office budget, although staffing varies, has fluctuated between $800,000 and $900,000 in annualized salaries since 2013.
In contrast, Hall said, "The total we've had for the whole year is $8,000."
After trying unsuccessfully to resolve the issue through Tillis' staff, Hall said he sat down with Tillis to ask for an explanation. He said Tillis told him he didn't believe the Democrats needed a staffer but agreed to pay for one for four weeks – through the end of June. Hall says Tillis assured him the session would be over by then.
Hall and fellow Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, pointed out that House Democrats, though in the minority, represent some 3.5 million of the state's voters and that the caucus chief-of-staff helps support constituent services.
"Traditionally, the party in power has funded the other party and provided a minimum level at least of staffing support," Hall said. "We're being persecuted for not agreeing with and going along quietly with whatever's being done."
"Using petty threats to cut off staff that enables the minority party to advance its voice, that is a step away from a democratic system," Martin added.
Tillis's spokeswoman Anna Roberts declined to respond to the allegations.
"We don't usually comment on personnel issues, but look forward to continuing to work with Rep. Hall, and with Democrats genuinely interested in moving our state forward."
Roberts also declined to comment on the use of parliamentary procedure to cut off debate.