Republican leaders spout off over Durham water bill
Posted June 18, 2013
Updated June 19, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — A protracted fight over the fate of the 751 South development in Durham is once again before the legislature and once again creating strange bedfellows and roiling old animosities.
The 167-acre development along the Durham and Chatham county lines would be a mix of new homes and commercial spaces. However, the developer needs access to City of Durham water and sewer utilities to make the project work. The city has thus far refused to annex the property or extend utilities there, in part because of environmental concerns.
In 2012, the state Senate rejected a bill that would have forced the city to extend water supplies. Since then, there have been negotiations between the developers, the city and lawmakers. Earlier this month, the city and the project's backers were close to a deal, but the City Council rejected it on a 4-3 vote.
That has given renewed impetus to Senate Bill 315, which forcibly annexes the property in question into Durham's city limits and proscribes how water and sewer service might be provided.
Lawmakers who represent Durham have been involved in negotiations over the bill, which has already passed the Senate. But the protagonists in the House are two powerful committee chairmen.
Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, is the chairman of the House Rules Committee. It is also much discussed among his colleagues that Moore was the college roommate of Cal Cunningham, a one-time Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate who is a lawyer representing the project.
Updated: Cunningham, who is a lawyer but not a lobbyist for 751 South, said that characterization is incorrect.
"I was never Tim's roommate," Cunningham said, noting that Moore graduated from UNC before he did.
Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, is a co-chair of the powerful Finance Committee and has recently tangled with fellow leaders, including Moore, over tax reform measures.
The measure has sat in the Finance Committee since coming over from the Senate in May.
Personalities trump policy
On Tuesday, June 11, most of the House was busy debating the state budget bill, which was being heard in an all-day committee meeting. The full House was scheduled to hold only a skeleton session that day, during which no votes were taken. However, the sparsely attended House session gave Moore the opportunity to remove the 751 South bill from the Finance Committee to the Rules Committee. Later that same day, the Rules Committee approved the annexation bill and sent it to the floor for a vote.
Howard objected and the bill was sent back to Finance.
Since then, Howard has arranged with other members of her committee to hold a public hearing on the measure at 4 p.m. on Monday, June 24.
"I somehow doubt it's going to be the backers of that bill who want that hearing," said Rep. Larry Hall, D-Durham. The hearing will give opponents of the project a chance to sound off before lawmakers.
But as the House session began winding down for the day today, June 18, Moore once again tried to grab the bill and put it back in his committee.
"There has not been any action taken by the (Finance) committee," Moore said, explaining why he he wanted the Rules Committee to once again review the measure.
Howard explained that she was calling a public hearing on the bill. She said Finance Committee members wanted to understand more about the measure and she accused Moore of simply making a power grab for the bill.
"I can't tell you what's wrong with this bill," she said. "But if it smells funny — it's funny."
It's not unusual for top legislative leaders to have disagreements over bills. But usually, those fights are taken behind closed doors so that leadership can present a unified front on the floor.
But that social compact has broken down in recent weeks, with top lieutenants of House Speaker Thom Tillis scarping over a number of measures. On the floor today, Speaker Pro Tempore Paul "Skip" Stam told fellow lawmakers that he was backing Moore because Howard had used her committee to scuttle one of his bills earlier in the session.
As Howard and Moore had it out in debate, other members chipped in, questioning why Moore was reasserting dominion over the measure.
"Now we get the bill sent back to Rules. Why?" asked an incredulous Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham. Local residents, he said, wanted a chance to tell lawmakers about their objections.
"Why do you oppose this bill getting a fair hearing?" Michaux added later.
Moore said that he had been negotiating with Durham lawmakers over the bill, noting that he had been in contact with Hall and Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, who sponsored the measure.
"Do you know who chairs the Durham delegation?" Michaux asked, referring to the formal organization of lawmakers that represent the city and county.
Moore acknowledged that he didn't.
"I do," Michaux said, clearly implying that Moore had not talked to all involved.
The squabbling forced a rare procedural vote on moving the bill.
"Let's play by the rules if we have rules," Howard said.
House members voted 75-36 to keep the bill in Finance, clearing the way for a public hearing. With one exception, Democrats sided with Howard along with roughly half of the Republicans present.