#ncga: NOW, we’re looking at YOU, Mr. Jackson. (Yes. We. Are.)

It’s hysterical — and, sometimes, sad — to hear the excuses from those caught with their hand in the proverbial cookie jar.  Senator Brent Jackson (R) in the Jones Street solar subsidy mafia.  He and his allies have pushed hard to put all of us on the hook for an industry that can’t survive without government support.

We heard about lame duck Rep. Rob Bryan (R) apparently doing a solid for his friends at Teach For America.

Now, it appears senator Jackson has some ‘splainin’ to do vis-a-vis natural gas subsidies:

This summer, state Sen. Brent Jackson pushed a law through the legislature that made it easier for farms to win state grants to help cover the cost of obtaining natural gas or propane.

What Jackson didn’t tell his colleagues on the Senate floor was that his farm had previously filed a $925,000 grant application with the state agency that approves the grants. He says that’s because he didn’t realize it was still under consideration.

The bill sailed through the General Assembly, and the state agency that makes the decision on the grant for Jackson Farms says it could still be approved. The money would come from a $5 million economic development fund Jackson set up in 2013 legislation that created the natural gas subsidies.[…]

Applying for money from a fund HE himself established in 2013?  Didn’t know his application was still under consideration?  *SUUUUURRRRRRRRE. MMM-HMM.*

Jackson now says he never intended to keep the money – and would refuse it if it were awarded. He said he had heard from other farmers who were having a hard time getting a grant and was testing the process.

“Well, you probably are not going to believe this, but I wanted to see if the program would work,” Jackson said in an interview Monday.

Damn, that natural fertilizer sure is getting piled up HIGH here.  Jackson is a major player in state agri-policy.  His business is well known in agri-business circles.  Like the bureaucrats would not recognize the name of the applicant.  (Oh, yeah.  The guy who sponsored the legislation that set this whole thing up.) 

Here’s a little on how the original bill came to be:

Like a lot of legislation that becomes law in North Carolina, the $5 million ‘Ag/Gas’ grant program didn’t originate as a bill filed in either chamber. Jackson had substituted it in 2013 for an unrelated bill that he had already moved through the state Senate, but still needed to go through the House.

Jackson’s substitute bill provided grants to farms to help pay for extending natural gas lines to their farms, or to put in larger propane tanks. The subsidy would make it cheaper to heat poultry houses, cure tobacco or, in the case of one subsequent applicant, turn hog waste into renewable energy.

It would also help neighboring farms and businesses that could tap into the extended line much more cheaply.

“The natural gas part of it will benefit the whole community,” Jackson said.

The new legislation drew little debate as it cleared the House. It had to go back to the Senate for its agreement, but even though it was an entirely different bill, it no longer needed committee hearings there.

Jackson told his colleagues the money was coming from existing commerce funds, so there was no additional cost. No one voted against it.[…]

Nearly two years later, on Jan. 12, 2015, Jackson Farms applied for a grant to help pay for a natural gas line extension estimated to cost $1.7 million. As commerce officials handled that grant, he said he learned independently of his application that they had misinterpreted the law to mean only farms that were new or expanding were eligible.

That led Jackson to change the law’s language in the summer 2016 session to clarify that all farms were eligible to apply. He didn’t inform lawmakers that he had applied for a grant.

“I thought the application was dead,” he said. “We’d heard nothing in months.”

Jackson told the full Senate when the bill came up for a vote that the changes to the Ag/Gas grant program were just “clarifying” language.

“This is only a clarifying change that the Department of Commerce asked for so that they could actually implement this program as the language was originally intended in 2013,” he told his colleagues.

The legislation passed by wide margins with no debate about the Ag/Gas provision.

The Commerce Department has awarded grants to six other agribusinesses, including the renewable energy project. Mark Poole, the manager of the program, said in a short interview last week that “a couple” others have been rejected.

He said Jackson Farms’ application was still alive but “incomplete.”

“We are continuing to seek information from the applicant that would allow us to make an important decision as to whether it conforms with the statute,” Poole said.

While Poole said he knew that Jackson Farms is Jackson’s business, Poole said all of his discussions regarding Jackson Farm’s application were with the farm manager.

Poole said he couldn’t say whether Jackson Farms was seeking money for an expansion project, but Jackson said the application didn’t claim the gas line would lead to an expansion. The News & Observer has requested to review the grant program’s files. Kim Genardo, a Commerce Department spokesperson, said the records could not be made available until just before the end of the year.

Last month, Poole gave lawmakers a short report on the Ag/Gas program. His presentation listed the six recipients of the grants – who had been awarded a combined $2.9 million – plus Jackson Farms’ application. Its status was shown as “TBD,” or to be determined.

At the meeting, Jackson questioned the $1.5 million for the renewable energy project. He now agrees it’s an acceptable project.

Jackson didn’t talk about his grant application after the presentation in a legislative meeting. He said he was surprised to see it in the presentation and it left him embarrassed.[…]

As it should.  Would it have, though, if it had not gone public?