Conflict? NC Senate shifts governor’s pipeline ‘slush fund’ to local school districts

by WorldTribune Staff, February 12, 2018

The North Carolina Senate on Feb. 9 passed legislation that will redirect what was being called a $58 million “slush fund” of Gov. Roy Cooper to local school districts.

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper. / AP

The fund was linked to permitting for the advancement of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a natural gas pipeline that will stretch 600 miles between West Virginia and eastern North Carolina.

A Feb. 9 press release from the office of NC Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger noted that “Within hours of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality issuing a major permit to advance the pipeline in late January, Cooper announced he obtained $57.8 million from the energy companies building the pipeline to stash in a pot of money he would have unfettered control over for ‘environmental mitigation’ and other projects. This exchange, which was described as a ‘voluntary contribution’ by Cooper’s PR team, has raised a number of ethical and constitutional concerns across the political spectrum.”

NC Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown said “Gov. Cooper’s deal looks like a payment-for-permit and doesn’t pass the smell test, and the right thing to do is to take this ‘voluntary contribution’ to the state and use it to fund the educational needs of children in the poor, rural communities impacted by the Atlantic Coast Pipeline.”

The press release from Berger’s office noted that House Bill 90 will distribute the funds among school districts in eight eastern North Carolina counties “partly on the basis of the number of students in each district and partly on the miles of pipeline going through the district.”

The press release, citing a Raleigh News & Observer report, noted that Cooper “hired a former lobbyist for Dominion Energy, one of the companies working to build the pipeline, to be his personal lobbyist. The governor did not disclose the potential conflict of interest when announcing the hire, and the lobbyist declined to answer most questions about the fund when testifying at a joint meeting of the House and Senate Appropriations/Base Budget committees.”

Additionally, according to the press release, while Democratic Rep. Pricey Harrison noted she wasn’t part of negotiations, she told WRAL-TV: “It wasn’t that they (the energy companies) were paying $57 million or whatever it was to get the permit. It was just that that was a condition of getting the permit granted…”

According to the News & Observer, the North Carolina Supreme Court has ruled at least two similar funds are unconstitutional and has required proceeds to go toward the state’s public schools.

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