If the powers-that-be in the North Carolina House have their way, that will be absolutely true. We posted earlier about HB 1224 — legislation that compounds a mismatched hodge-podge of issues from local sales taxes, economic development money, and teacher assistant salaries.
There are now so many dramatic sub-plots going on in the General Assembly’s lower chamber regarding that legislation that Jones Street is starting to have the feel of a soap opera set.
The drama picked up on Friday. The drive-bys reported the day’s events as simply the legislature being unable to agree quickly on HB 1224. But, as always, there’s MORE. We spent a good chunk of the weekend on the phone with a number of sources intimately familiar with the inner workings on Jones Street and came away with some very interesting details that have — until now — remained below radar.
Let’s look at one part of HB 1224 — a $20 million fund for the secretary of commerce to use in luring new business to North Carolina. Many legislators have a problem with this. They say it lacks any kind of legislative oversight or other checks-and-balances. Roughly two weeks ago, the House Republican Caucus held a private, internal vote on the issue. Sources familiar with that situation tell me that 80 to 90 percent of the caucus opposed the idea at that time. Opponents — according to my sources AND drive-by reports — included the speaker pro tem and the majority leader.
The caucus was presented with the concept again, but this time with the proposal to allow all of the state’s counties to hold referendums on increasing local sales taxes attached to it. Again, the caucus panned the idea. Wake County Republicans were doubly opposed. Their GOP-dominated county board of commissioners had shot down the idea of a tax-hike referendum. Wake Republicans are concerned that passing the legislation would paint their candidates into an uncomfortable corner right here at election time.
On Friday, both ideas were resurrected but with the teacher assistant appropriations added to them. Frustrations began to rise within the GOP House caucus. Why was the speaker repeatedly bringing up legislation that had been roundly panned by an overwhelming majority of the House majority?
It became clear that there would not be enough support to pass this hodgepodge — known as HB 1224 — among the Republican majority. Word leaked out on Friday that Speaker Tillis and his team were trying to work out a deal with House Democrats to pass HB 1224. Wake Republicans were especially ticked at their leadership working with Democrats to pass legislation adamantly opposed by Wake Republicans. Thinking he had enough Democrat support, Tillis called for a vote. The Democrats ended up double-crossing him — pulling the rug out from underneath the speaker and US Senate nominee. The vote to consider HB 1224 failed by just TWO votes.
So, fast forward to this weekend. Sources tell me that elected and unelected associates of Speaker Tillis have been calling Republican House members. Sources tell me that the callers were telling members their counties would be losing teacher assistant money if they did not cave in and vote for this mish-mash. There were also not-so-subtle insinuations that opposing the speaker on this legislation would be akin to party disloyalty.
Well, the ante has been upped further. An email from the House Republican Caucus offices went out to all House Republicans on Sunday. Meetings will be held today and tomorrow on Jones Street. The caucus’s Plan of Organization would be reviewed. Then, there would be a caucus vote on HB 1224.
The Plan of Organization (POO) includes some language relevant to the Richard Morgan — Jim Black era. The PoO says that. if the caucus votes to support something, you — as a Republican — are required to support the decision on the floor. Failing to do so makes you disloyal and eligible to be kicked out of the Republican caucus. Being kicked out can make you ineligible for campaign donations from the caucus.
This was meant to apply to leadership candidate endorsement votes– to head off GOP defectors trying to cut deals with Democrats (like Richard Morgan did). Now, it appears Team Tillis is making it apply to things he wants pushed through the House.
Sources tell me an internal caucus whip count finds 25 of the 77 House Republicans firmly opposed to HB 1224 in its current form. Tillis has 52 votes in hand and needs to win over NINE MORE to pass the bill. If these 25 hold firm during the caucus vote AND the floor vote, it will be interesting to see if House leaders follow through on their threats and expel 25 members from the House GOP caucus. (It is our understanding that majority leader Edgar Starnes and Speaker Pro Tem Paul Stam are included in that 25.)
While all of this has been going on, legislative Republicans have been getting battered in the media over funding of teacher assistants. Sources in the know tell me that a “clean” teacher assistant funding bill passed a House committee and is sitting ready for a floor vote. The speaker’s team will not bring that ”clean” bill up for a vote. Apparently, It has to be combined with all of this other stuff, or not be considered at all.
Why is Tillis doing this? What is he expecting to get in return? Jones Street sources tell me state Senate sources have reportedly pledged — in exchange for House passage of 1224 — Senate support for (1) a mandate requiring insurance companies pay for autism treatment, and (2) the House coal ash clean-up bill, which does not require Duke Power to a specific timetable in cleaning up its mess.
Some House-affiliated sources tell us that they believe a lot of this has to do with a deal between McCrory and Tillis, and potential donors for Tillis’s Senate race. (We’ve found at least one major donor to the Tillis Senate campaign who is affiliated with an autism awareness group.)
So, if things work out as the Speaker’s office wants, you will be a BAD REPUBLICAN if you refuse to support local sales tax increases and an expense account for the secretary of commerce with NO checks and balances.