Local Politics

House leader criticized for upcoming summit trip

Posted July 16, 2009 12:35 p.m. EDT

— With a finalized state budget two weeks late and no agreement in sight, North Carolina's Republican leader on Thursday criticized the speaker of the House for attending a summit next week in Philadelphia.

State GOP Chairman Tom Fetzer criticized Rep. Joe Hackney's decision to attend the National Conference of State Legislatures' Legislative Summit, which begins Sunday.

“While Democrats talk of a budget crisis, their leader in the state House is taking a week off to go on a political junket," Fetzer said. "Speaker Hackney needs to put the citizens first and get back to work."

A finalized spending plan no closer to being approved than it was July 1. The General Assembly on Wednesday worked out a stopgap measure to keep state government and services running at a reduced operating budget until July 31.

The state faces a projected $4.6 billion budget shortfall for the next two fiscal years, and lawmakers are at a stalemate over how to generate more than $2 billion in new revenue to help lessen budget cuts that could lead to drastic spending reductions for education, health and human services and public safety.

Hackney, D-Orange, is the current president of the National Conference of State Legislatures and had planned to attend the weeklong summit, Bill Holmes, a spokesman for Hackney's office, said in an e-mail Thursday.

"The Speaker is nearing the end of a yearlong term as president of NCSL, a role that has proven valuable to North Carolina," Holmes said. "He will be here in Raleigh for the majority of the week, as budget negotiations continue, and return to Philadelphia only as necessary."

Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, D-Dare, said that he and Hackney will talk by phone, as needed, and that he does not believe the summit will create a problem.

Holmes said Hackney plans to meet with the conference's incoming president to discuss how federal stimulus money is influencing what is happening in states; be part of a discussion about the White House's health proposals; and visit with several national task forces that will be meeting.

No state money is involved with the trip, Holmes said.

He added that, as president of the conference, Hackney has been allowed to work directly with the White House and to lobby for things important to North Carolina, such as transportation and education funding.

"Speaker Hackney's first priority is to North Carolina and the business of the House of Representatives," Holmes said.