The five Democrats who voted with the GOP in favor of the Republican budget appear ready to stand with the GOP again to override the governor’s veto of the budget Wednesday.
The “Party of Five” – Dems Jim Crawford, Bill Owens, Dewey Hill, Bill Brisson, and Tim Spear – say they went into the budget negotiations carrying a few must-haves for the governor. The list included at least $300M more for K-12, $100M more for the UNC system, and the restoration of money to the Golden Leaf fund.
But the five had some substantial requests of their own, too.
Rep. Bill Owens’s wish list included $15 million toward the construction of the mid-Currituck bridge. The span would offer another connection between the coast and the Outer Banks, driving extra tourist traffic through the rural county.
In addition, Owens got a local ferry exempted from proposed tolls, and he was also appointed to the conference committee on a bill to allow jetties on the coast – a prospect environmentalists oppose.
Owens insists his vote wasn’t bought. He says it’s his job to fight for the interests of his district. The two money items, he points out, were in the House version of the budget – a bill he helped craft and subsequently voted for. He says he was just fighting for “the House position.”
“Did my part of the state take cuts? Yes,” Owens said, “just like everybody else was cut. There’s not one new thing in this budget for District 1 – not one new thing.”
Owens denied his appointment to the deadlocked terminal groins committee had anything to do with the budget vote, either, though he was a swing vote that helped push for a higher number of new jetties in the final compromise.
“Yes, I do support terminal groins,” he said, noting that he’s supported them for years, though none of the existing jetties are in his district. “Should these people be able to protect their properties? Yes.”
Owens says his support for the GOP budget is a matter of pragmatism, not a quid pro quo. “They’re not gonna raise taxes,” he said of Republican leaders. “[Gov. Perdue] wants the sales tax. I want the sales tax. It’s not gonna happen.”
“I was here one year in December when we got in a budget impasse, and in my opinion we’re headed for that this year,” Owens said.
Rep. Dewey Hill, D-Columbus, persuaded GOP leaders to put $2 million back into the Tobacco Trust Fund, which had been emptied out completely in an earlier version of the budget.
In 2010, the Tobacco Trust Fund issued a $150,000 grant to Columbus county to finish the “Riverwalk” pedestrian project on the Lumber River.
“That was not my reason for voting for the budget, though,” Hill said, pointing out that the Tobacco Trust Fund gives grants for projects all over the state. “It helps everybody in NC. Other than that, I got absolutely nothing. I did what I did for the state.”
“This has nothing to do with me, this is the whole state. I’m a business person. I believe in economic development, and this is economic development,” said Hill.
Like Owens, Hill said he was sure that upholding Gov. Perdue’s veto would lead to an impasse that could stretch till Christmas. “She’s gonna have a fight with the Republicans that’s katy-bar-the-door and we don’t need to be here that long.”
“She knows we’re gonna override her veto. But she thinks its good for her, and it might be,” Hill said. “She’s a good lady. She’s my governor. We have to do what we have to do.”
The other three members of the “Party of 5” - Rep. Jim Crawford, D-Granville, Rep. Bill Brisson, D-Bladen, and Rep. Tim Spear, D-Chowan – did not respond to requests for comment. But Crawford has reportedly been negotiating for an Appropriations chairmanship in 2012, Spear wanted the proposed tolls removed from the Ocracoke-Hatteras ferry (they were), and Rep. Brisson may have averted the likely closure of the Bladen Correction Center, though there's no guarantee written into the final document.