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House Speaker Responds To Allegations Of Mis-Using Money From Reserve Funds

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Jim Black (Generic)
RALEIGH, N.C. — House Speaker Jim Black is firing back after accusations of mishandling millions of dollars in state money.

Black, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, and House Speaker Pro Tempore Richard Morgan, a Moore County Republican, tapped into more than $6 million set aside in this year's budget for dozens of projects sought by legislators. Senate leader Marc Basnight, D-Dare, had about the same amount.

"I asked each member to give me something in their district that they wanted to fund that was a worthwhile project, and that is the way we did it," he said.

Black said, despite calls from conservative groups who want him to step down, he has no plans to resign.

Although Black sees no problems with the current process, he does plan to make changes next year.

Morgan also said Wednesday there was nothing wrong with how grants were handed out in members' districts, even those that benefitted political allies.

"There was a process that was followed,'' House Speaker Pro Tempore Richard Morgan said in an interview. "It's always been customary for members of the House to come to their leadership and ask for assistance or help in their districts. And there's nothing different.''

While co-speaker with Black, Morgan recommended projects to the Department of Cultural Resources and the Department of Health and Human Services. There was nothing in the budget bill signed into law that explained how the recipients for these "reserve grants'' would be chosen.

Memos and e-mails between the legislative leaders and the departments raise questions about how much influence they wielded over the choices.

Morgan said members would ask for help for a project. If merited, he said, Morgan's office would forward the request to the state agency for money from the grant pot.

Black, now in his fourth term as speaker, expects any assistance to members' districts will now be included in the budget. That means the budget process may take a little longer, he added.

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