The NC House: Seems like Old Times




Neil Simon had a pretty successful movie in the 70s by that name.   It’s too bad we’re not talking about a comedy classic here. 

Deals being cut behind the scenes.  Promising legislators one thing, then pulling the rug out from under them.  Using legislative power to protect powerful outside interests.  Legislators being threatened and punished for daring to speak against “leadership.”  Those were aspects of the SOP during the Richard Morgan-Jim Black reign of terror in the North Carolina House of Representatives.

When the GOP took over on Jones Street in 2011, we got promise after promise about never going back to that garbage.  We were going to see openness and transparency.  The heavy-handedness of the old days was gone for good — or so we were told. Jim Black and Richard Morgan are long gone from their posts of power in the legislative building.  But Black-Morgan protégé Thom Tillis is running the show in the lower chamber these days, and — from all appearances — he learned a lot from his old masters.

In the waning days of the 2004 session, then- SpeakerrrrrrrrRichardMorgan™ was raising eyebrows with his legislative diligence on behalf of a Virginia-based cigarette company (that just happened to dump a lot of coinage into his campaign coffers).  Now, we have Speaker Thom Tillis working overtime behind the scenes to push through a very controversial toll road proposal that a huge chunk of his constituents DO NOT want.  Tillis operatives in Raleigh AND in Mecklenburg have been working overtime to stymie grassroots activists simply seeking a dialogue and debate on the whole toll road matter.

Now we have the latest action on Jones Street — ably documented by our friends at A Short Chronicle:

Something happened quietly at the last meeting of the NC House Transportation Committee which should disturb and anger anyone who believes our government should operate in an open an honest manner.  There’s simply no other way to put it.

As readers of aShortChronicle know, House Bill 267 was filed in early March with the title – NCGA Prior Approval/Interstate Tolling.  This bill would have required an “act of the general assembly” before any tolling could take place on an existing interstate road in North CarolinaThe initial story was covered here and a follow-up was covered here when Committee Chair and Mecklenburg Representative, Bill Brawley, signed on to the bill as a sponsor.

As has been reported previously, upon its initial filing, opponents of the I-77 HOT lanes project initially thought this bill might provide an opening to stop this effort to implement tolls locallyHowever, Rep Brawley as well as Co-Sponsor John Torbett of Gaston County immediately began to backpedal on the bill’s impact to I-77 saying, without any solid or documented justification, that I-77 would in fact not be impacted by the bill.  No additional vote would be required. (See here for more on that.)

Last Thursday this bill finally was heard in Committee, but the page for the bill was not updated.  Friday night, aShortChronicle received this response from legislative staff as to the status of the bill.

“The bill passed with a couple of changes.  It will be reported out Monday and the new version will be on the internet after that.” (Emphasis added.)

Today, that report came.

Here’s the new version of the bill with a new title – Limit Tolling on Existing Interstates.

This is a completely new bill with no mention of the NCGA voting.  “Only a couple of changes” becomes something “completely and totally different”.  This new bill now focuses on how tolls can be implemented rather than the General Assembly voting on when they can be implemented.

Unfortunately, this type of activity has become par for the course in this debate about tolls on I77.  Transparency and dealing in good faith went out the window some time ago for tolling supporters.

So, we approved a measure that the House will have to vote on the implementation of toll roads.  Now, the speaker supports a very controversial project in Mecklenburg, and we’re NOT going to vote????   

Is THIS the stuff we fought so hard FOR in 2010?   To trade one set of slick, mealy-mouthed wheeling-and-dealing insiders for another?  What would it hurt to have an open, honest dialogue between state officials and the people in the affected communities?  What would it hurt? Seriously. 

Meet the new boss.  Same as the old boss.  We won’t get fooled again.  (Or will we?)