Raleigh, N.C. — A plan to turn North Carolina's job recruitment functions over to a public-private partnership appears to have hit a snag in the state Senate, where skeptical lawmakers say they want to "thoroughly examine" the ideas behind one of Gov. Pat McCrory's key priorities.
McCrory, a Republican, has been pushing the legislature to create a private nonprofit that would contract with the state to handle everything from tourism promotion to the recruitment of new businesses. Proponents of the idea say it would allow the state to move more quickly when a company asks about relocating here and would allow for more competitive compensation of job recruiters.
During a news conference Monday, McCrory listed the measure among his key unfinished priorities for the current legislative session, and he mentioned it again during an economic development announcement in Raleigh Tuesday.
Referencing the Commerce Department bill, McCrory said Tuesday he wanted it passed "as soon as possible."
Both the House and Senate are controlled by McCrory's fellow Republicans, but that does not guarantee favorable treatment of his agenda, especially in the Senate. House leaders have worked much more closely with the governor.
Rep. Tom Murry, R-Wake, has long been a proponent of a public-private partnership program and led an effort to push the measure through this year. House lawmakers tacked it onto a Senate bill authored by Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, that dealt with how various state agencies, such as the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, carved the state up to be served by different regional offices.
The bill cleared the House on a 86-27 vote, but when it returned to the Senate, lawmakers took the unusual step of referring it to three separate committees for review before it would come up for a concurrence vote.
Although it is possible for Senate leaders to move legislation quickly through a series of committees, such serial referrals typically take weeks to carry out. Lawmakers are hoping to close down their session in the next two to three weeks.
Asked about the bill, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger simply said the bill needed to be studied.
"It just needs to be looked at a little bit more," said Berger, R-Rockingham.
Brown referred questions about his bill to Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, the Senate Rules Committee chairman.
"We have concerns about what could happen with this public-private partnership and folks getting in trouble like they did in Wisconsin," Apodaca said.
A recent audit suggests executives for Wisconsin's public-private job recruitment agency "repeatedly broke state law in its first year of operation, failed to adequately track money it awarded for economic development projects and sometimes gave money to ineligible recipients," according to The Associated Press.
"I can't give you a time," Apodaca said when asked about the bill, saying only that it need to be "thoroughly examined" before it is voted upon.
A split between McCrory and Senate leaders would not be new this session. McCrory has been much more in sync with the House during ongoing negotiations over a budget and tax bill. Also, Senate leaders did not give McCrory a heads up last week when they rolled out a sweeping bill limiting abortion rights, a measure that could land McCrory between a political rock of his conservative base and hard place of a campaign promise he made not to sign such legislation.
If Senate leaders are genuinely skittish about the legislation, they could simply run out the clock on this legislative session. Leaders have already instructed committees not responsible with the budget or tax bills to wrap up their work. With no committee hearing, its unlikely the public-private partnership bill could receive the "thorough review" Apodaca spoke about.
It is also possible that Senate leaders are holding the bill "hostage," hoping to push the governor to make concessions on the budget and tax bills. Although the measures seem unrelated, swapping concessions on one measure for consideration on an unrelated bill is a long-standing legislative tradition.