‘Maserati Timmy’ and his slush fund

Seriously.  WHO is surprised by another story about the tubby little guy from Kings Mountain using taxpayer-funded resources to benefit HIMSELF?  (He’ll fit in sooooo well with those pikers in DC.)

Buckle up, sit back and relax, folks. Here’s ANOTHER ONE:

Hours before House Speaker Tim Moore’s campaign confirmed his plans to run for a congressional seat last fall, he stood before reporters and TV cameras on a patch of land overlooking the interchange of two interstates near Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Moore announced he had earmarked nearly half of a $100 million discretionary fund to add lanes to the interchange of I-85 and I-485. The funds will help fix a traffic bottleneck in the newly formed congressional district where he is running for a House seat. State officials had ranked the project behind dozens of other pressing transportation needs across the state and weren’t planning to tackle it until 2033. But Moore got it fast-tracked, he said.

“We had the funds, simple as that,” said Moore, a Cleveland County Republican, at the news conference on Nov. 2. “This has been something we’ve been working on here for over a year really, and we finally in this year’s budget had the money to be able to allocate it.” That money wasn’t in his chamber’s budget proposal that passed in April, or the state Senate’s counter proposal approved a month later. The $100 million — an appropriation not tied to specific projects — was tucked inside a 786-page supplement to a 625-page compromise budget bill. It was not made public until Sept. 20, the day before lawmakers voted on it and six weeks before Moore announced the interchange funding. At that point in the budget approval process, no lawmaker could propose changes before the vote.

Democrats who were locked out of the final budget talks had no idea the $100 million had been added, they say. […]

The $100 million is one example of state lawmakers in the past several years adding major spending to state budgets just before they go to a final vote, giving little time for public scrutiny and no opportunity for removal. The budget, which lays out a spending plan for public dollars, is arguably the most significant piece of legislation passed each year. Last year’s budget was just under $30 billion. Technically, lawmakers pass a two-year budget in odd-numbered years, but they adopt substantial budget modifications the next year.

In two of those budget modification years — 2018 and 2022 — North Carolina legislative leaders skipped the public process of developing a budget entirely. They negotiated behind closed doors a final budget that they then rolled out for votes, something veteran observers of state government say they’ve not seen before.

The late, high-dollar spending creates distrust among the public while making it more difficult to root out flawed policies and government waste, open government advocates say. “There should not be spending of public tax dollars that has not been discussed openly, debated openly and available for public comment and response,” said Ann Webb, Common Cause North Carolina’s policy director. […]

The NCDOT contingency fund that Moore pulled the $45 million from has been under a dark cloud since the 1990s. The budget item has long been called a slush fund for the House speaker, Senate leader and the NCDOT secretary — whether they be Democrat or Republican — who traditionally split the money.

Don Carrington, the retired executive director and lead investigative reporter for The Carolina Journal, a conservative John Locke Foundation publication, often wrote about the contingency fund, saying it puts political interests over transportation safety. “It was wrong when I wrote about it,” said Carrington, who retired in 2020. “It’s still wrong now.”

Moore’s spending, as described by an N&O reporter, looks like another example of a “political move,” he said. “If safety is the main concern, then it wouldn’t need a special push from the leader of the House,” Carrington said.

Lawmakers created the fund in the mid-1980s. For decades they deposited roughly $10 million a year, with legislative leaders’ spending often going into favored lawmakers’ districts. That wasn’t the only area where politics were influencing road building.

Some appointees to the N.C. Board of Transportation who were big campaign fundraisers had steered projects near their or their families’ businesses and had to resign after news reports exposed it. In 2009, then Gov. Bev Perdue signed an executive order intended to depoliticize transportation spending.

The order banned board members from voting on individual projects and required DOT experts to develop a data-driven formula to determine where transportation dollars should go. Since then, transportation needs are evaluated, prioritized and placed on the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program’s list of projects for the next 10 years. The list is updated every two years and approved by the transportation board, a process that allows transportation needs that have become more urgent to move up the list. The contingency fund for lawmakers continued, even after Republican and Democratic gubernatorial candidates called for an end to it in 2008.

Lawmakers annually placed roughly $10 million into the fund, including Republicans when they took control in 2011.

GOP House and Senate leaders sought to bump it up to $22.5 million in 2019, budget records show, but Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, vetoed that budget. Two years later, they increased the fund to $62 million in a budget that Cooper signed. But the most dramatic change happened in 2023 with an unknown budget writer inserting $100 million, bringing the account to $112 million.

And unlike past years, lawmakers didn’t give NCDOT Secretary Joey Hopkins a cut of the $100 million, said Jamie Kritzer, an NCDOT spokesman. Cooper let that budget pass without his signature because it included money for the Medicaid expansion he’d sought for years.

Hopkins did not respond to numerous requests for comment through a family member and Kritzer. Cooper appointed him to the job in October after he had served in a variety of NCDOT positions for more than 30 years, including chief operating officer. Senate leader Phil Berger, a Rockingham County Republican, said he didn’t request the $100 million increase and wasn’t sure who did. He agreed to it because the state had a $3 billion surplus last year, and the money was going to projects that had a demonstrated need and NCDOT approval, he said. Kritzer said all the projects require NCDOT approval.

But Moore didn’t wait, announcing it ahead of the board’s December meeting, when it was formally approved, records show. It would upgrade a congested interchange that drivers have complained about for years. Regional and state transportation officials began eyeing it for improvements in 2018. The $45 million Moore committed to the interchange project on the edge of his hoped-for congressional district is by far the largest award from the fund since 2020. It is nearly $38 million more than the next most expensive project: $7.25 million committed to better connect downtown Pembroke to the UNC Pembroke campus and the Lumbee Tribe’s state headquarters.



Moore and his Republican colleagues reconfigured the 14th Congressional District as part of redistricting in October. By the time they were done, much of a previously Democratic-leaning district held by a freshman Democrat, U.S. Rep. Jeff Jackson, was shifted out of Mecklenburg County, adding more Republican voters. Jackson opted to run for state attorney general. The 14th District now incorporates all of Cleveland County, where Moore lives, and stretches west into Polk County. The interchange is a major eastern gateway to the congressional district, which now includes a new casino near Moore’s hometown of Kings Mountain. Moore had done legal work for Skyboat Gaming, a company that had partnered with the Catawba Nation Indian tribe to develop the casino. At the time of his announcement, Moore had serious competition in the Republican primary for the 14th District: Pat Harrigan, a Green Beret and businessman who built up name recognition in 2022 with an unsuccessful bid against Jackson. A month later, Harrigan opted to run for another Republican-leaning district — the 10th — when Rep. Patrick McHenry decided not to seek re-election. […]


Two top budget writers for their respective chambers, Rep. Jason Saine of Lincoln County and state Sen. Ralph Hise of Mitchell County, said they supported adding $100 million to the long controversial DOT fund. Saine said he also supported Moore putting $45 million of it into the Charlotte interchange. “Is it a political decision? Probably,” he said. “Is it an obvious one also because it is a jammed up intersection?”

[…] Berger, like House leaders Saine and Hise, defended the practice of inserting hundreds of millions of dollars in spending into the final budget so close to final votes. “There’s a lot that goes into putting a budget together,” Berger said. “Every bit of it is not supported by every member that voted for it. But when you are deciding to vote or not support I think you’ve got to balance whether or not overall if there’s more good than questionable.” There used to be more guardrails on this state’s budgeting process. In resolutions legislators passed each session from the late 1980s to 2003, both chambers agreed to limit what could be included in the final version of compromise budget bills — known as conference reports — to what had first appeared in either chamber’s versions. For years it was standard for lawmakers to develop budget bills with a more open process involving subcommittees and hearings in those subcommittees. That openness sometimes exposed wasteful spending and worse. […]  

Lawmakers dropped it as the budget was heard in the House Appropriations Committee. The Democrat-led Senate began adding wiggle room to the rule prohibiting big changes to the budget bill in 2003, saying matters that were “germane” to what had been passed in the House or Senate could be considered. But the House stuck to the original rule until 2011, after Republicans took control of the General Assembly.

It’s a rule lawmakers ought to return to and codify, said Ran Coble, the retired executive director of the nonpartisan N.C. Center for Public Policy Research, which closed in 2021. It served as a watchdog over the legislature.

“This would protect rank-and-file legislators from last-minute surprises that can’t be easily untied from the budget items and other measures that had already been agreed on,” Coble said. Coble said Republican leaders have backslid on budget transparency since gaining control of the legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. Budget bills have swelled, with those in 2021 and 2023 exceeding 600 pages. An N&O review of budgets going back to 2001 shows only two others exceeded 400 pages, in 2015 and 2017. “It’s natural that when party control changes, the party that’s been out of control for a long time wants to enjoy the results of being in control,” Coble said. “I don’t fault them for that, but the changes away from that relatively fair process are a loss.” […]