Today's announcement that Continental Tire has chosen South Carolina over North Carolina for its new plant spurred a furious volley of blamestorming by party leaders and elected officials.
The project, dubbed "Project Soccer" by the Commerce Dept., would have brought an estimated 1300 jobs to Brunswick County in exchange for more than $100 million in grants and tax credits. Negotiations with the company have been underway for months. Documents released today by Gov. Perdue's office show she, House Speaker Thom Tillis, and Senate Leader Phil Berger worked together closely on the terms of the deal.
Democratic lawmakers from the area said the Senate was to blame for balking at the size of the deal - particularly a $45M forgivable loan to start off the project. But Senate Leader Phil Berger said in a press release today that he balked at the deal because of ethics concerns.
An investigation by the AP last week revealed the sale of the land for the proposed site in Brunswick County would have benefited several owners who had been major Perdue donors as well as a Democratic state senator. Additionally, Perdue's son Garrett works for Womble Carlyle, the lobbying firm that helped put the deal together.
Both the governor's office and the Commerce Department have denied any unethical action on the deal.
In his release today, Berger blamed the appearance of "pay-to-play" politics for the loss of the deal.
“We worked in good faith with the Perdue administration for six months to develop a responsible proposal to attract these jobs. We went to great lengths to reach an agreement, but we also had several serious concerns – including the governor’s plan that would line the pockets of her political supporters. Since August, we’ve tried to convince her administration that this deal reeked of cronyism – a fact they chose to ignore. Now, pay-to-play politics has cost our state more than 1,000 new jobs.
“This is embarrassing for North Carolina. It’s this kind of incompetence and unethical behavior that has disgraced Democrat politician after Democrat politician in North Carolina. And we will not allow the state to do business like this anymore.”
Documentation released by Perdue's office today shows Berger continued to negotiate the deal for weeks after expressing his ethical concerns.
Dems kick back
Democrats were quick to counter Berger's argument. In a press release from the state's Democratic Party, chairman David Parker blamed Berger for scotching the deal due to a "personal vendetta" against Perdue.
“Berger opposed the Governor's proposals to stimulate the economy by reducing the corporate income tax, blocked extension of unemployment benefits, and has done nothing to help grow jobs but instead focused his energies on passing divisive social issues. And now he is blocking jobs for North Carolinians—It is clear that Phil Berger only cares about one thing, himself.”
Dems' spokesman Walton Robinson added, "Any claim that Republicans make about cronyism is contradicted by the facts".
"Republicans claim questions over land ownership stopped the deal from progressing, yet they failed to note that land for projects like “Soccer” have been on the books for years as potential mega-site options. The companies making the investments choose the project site, not the Governor. Republicans point to Womble Carlyle’s role in the decision making process on “Soccer”, yet they fail to mention that Republican Senator Pete Brunstetter, Co-Chair of the Appropriations Committee, is a partner at the firm. Finally, the incentive package would have to face a vote by the General Assembly on the merits of the project."
The state Republican Party responded just minutes later, blaming the loss of the deal both on its links to Perdue political donors, and to Perdue's lack of comment regarding labor laws in NC. Spokesman Rob Lockwood laid it out as follows.
"1.) Governor Perdue’s donors stood to benefit from this deal the most. The plot of land chosen is owned by Democrat donors who have contributed more than $50,000 to Perdue’s campaign. The AP report on this cronyism and nepotism highlighted facts that had scared away a company looking to relocate somewhere without any scandalous strings attached.
"2.) Governor Perdue has taken an adversarial stance towards North Carolina’s advantageous right-to-work laws. North Carolina has the same right-to-work status and geography as South Carolina, and we have a better work force. What North Carolina doesn’t have is a vocal Governor willing stand up and fight for the right of companies to freely employ without NLRB intervention. With an anti-business precedent created by Obama’s NLRB vs. Boeing case, South Carolina proved they have a Governor who will strongly state her support for business, North Carolina doesn’t. The impact and results of this contrast are evidenced by Continental’s decision."
Perdue's office is expected to have a statement out shortly.