Tight NC budget sets aside extra money for new governor

Posted July 13, 2012 6:06 p.m. EDT
Updated July 13, 2012 11:15 p.m. EDT

— Republican legislative leaders expect fellow Republican Pat McCrory to win the governor's race, and Democrats say the budget they wrote this year hangs out a big welcome sign for him.

The budget gives the next governor a bigger inauguration budget and more state jobs for political appointees than in the past. Although GOP leaders say the changes weren't intended specifically for McCrory, Democrats call it a waste of taxpayer money.

In 2008, Democratic lawmakers set aside $420,000 for Gov. Beverly Perdue's transition and inauguration. Even with the tight budget this year, where cuts were made to education and health care, lawmakers set aside $750,000 for the inauguration and transition.

"I can't imagine it could be anything other than political," said Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake.

Ross said Republican leaders rolled out the red carpet because they expect McCrory to be the next governor. He leads Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, the Democratic nominee, in the polls.

"I would say that it'll be a coronation," she said.

Likewise, the incoming governor will have up to 1,000 state government positions under his control to reward supporters and political operatives. Perdue was allowed to replace up to 440 state workers with friends and allies four years ago.

"I think you could call it a crony employment act, for sure," Ross said.

Sen. Richard Stevens, R-Wake, who helped craft the budget, said the changes weren't political.

"We know there's going to be a transition. The intention was to give the governor flexibility," Stevens said. "There was no coordination with any candidate from either party."

Both McCrory and Dalton pledged not to use the extra transition money and put $330,000 back into the General Fund budget.

McCrory said he didn't ask for the funding change and said that he was unaware of it, although members of his campaign staff said they were told about it in advance.

"I've never had a conversation with regard to the issues that you've brought up," he said. "No one's asked me for my input on the transition fund, and I'm unaware of the details. My focus is on winning the election."

Dalton said that, like McCrory, he wasn't consulted about the appropriation for the inauguration and transition. He said the extra money isn't needed.

"That money could be used for education, for economic development. That's where it should be used," he said. "We immediately called upon the legislature to amend the budget and put that money to better use."

Dalton said he has no doubt the changes were made anticipating a McCrory victory in November.

"We're going to surprise them on that," he said. "It's bad policy, regardless of party politics. It's just bad policy, and they should not have done it."