North Carolina Republican legislative leaders finalized on Wednesday their efforts to curb the appointment powers of the governor on several boards and commissions, extending a yearslong struggle with Democrat Roy Cooper over who controls key panels within state government.
Compromise legislation worked out by House Speaker Tim Moore, Senate leader Phil Berger and others would take away from the governor the ability to pick many spots on panels that among others set electricity rates and environmental regulations and approve road-building projects.
The General Assembly, its leaders or other statewide elected officials would get to make many of those choices instead under the bill.
The GOP-dominated House and Senate approved separately their consensus measure on party-line votes, sending it to Cooper, who likely will veto it. Cooper and his allies have called versions of the bill earlier this year unconstitutional power grabs.
Republicans hold narrow veto-proof majorities in both chambers.
“I know that this is a bill that we’re all not going to agree on," GOP Rep. Destin Hall of Caldwell County, one of the bill's negotiators. He called the appointment shift “a better way to do it because of the diversity in this body and across the state.”
There are eight panels in the bill that are being changed in which currently Cooper's picks or those of future governors compose all or a majority of the panel's seats.
Only one of those eight — the Utilities Commission — would leave a majority of seats with the governor. But instead of picking all seven seats, the governor would over time get to choose just three seats for a reconstituted five-member commission.
And the legislature or its chamber leaders would choose a majority of positions on the Board of Transportation and the Economic Investment Committee, which award monetary incentives to companies that agree to invest and create jobs in the state.
Republican legislative leaders argue a rebalance of power is necessary to ensure differing viewpoints beyond those preferred by the governor. Democrats cite state court rulings going back 40 years addressing the separation of powers as evidence that the bill would be unconstitutional.
“Consolidating power in this body is a bad, bad, bad idea,” House Minority Leader Robert Reives of Chatham County said during debate. “We’ve got to support what government is supposed to be about. And I struggle to believe that continuing to consolidate power in this body is best for North Carolina.”
Hall argued the bill is lawful, but other Republican colleagues have previously acknowledged that more litigation may be ahead to hash out the issue.
The final measure omits a provision in the House's version that would have increased the number of voting members the General Assembly elects to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors from 24 to 28.
But it does add two more seats to the trustee boards of UNC-Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University that would be chosen by the legislature. The General Assembly would now appoint six of 15 trustee positions for each campus, with eight others still picked by the Board of Governors. The fifteenth trustee is the campus student government president.