State politics with a Democratic governor and a Republican legislature has had some bizarre twists and turns.
A recent move by Gov. Roy Cooper has the legislature in even more of an uproar than usual.
The state approved the permits to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which will deliver 1.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas a day to Eastern North Carolina, but only after the companies involved agreed to pay $57.8 million into a fund controlled by Cooper.
The funds, which will be totally controlled by Cooper, can be used for mitigation, which Atlantic Coast Pipeline is already required to pay, funding economic development in the counties that the pipeline runs through and for renewable energy projects in those counties.
According to the memorandum of understanding between Cooper and Atlantic Coast Pipeline LLC, the money would only be made available to Cooper after the permits for the pipeline were issued.
Is that a bribe? Is it extortion? Why should Cooper get access to $57.8 million for whatever projects he deems necessary because the state is approving a pipeline?
The money doesn’t go directly to Cooper; it goes to a third party. But Cooper will control the funds, and economic development projects can mean just about anything. With $57.8 million, Cooper can buy a lot of popularity in Eastern North Carolina.
The legislature has twice sent a list of questions about the deal to Cooper’s office, which Cooper’s office said it isn’t going to answer.
In North Carolina, the legislature not the governor, controls the budget.
The legislature voted to take this $57.8 million and allocate it to the schools in the affected counties. The problem is that the legislature doesn’t have the money and, according to the agreement, Cooper has absolute control over how the money is spent.
The agreement is already being challenged in court by the Civitas Institute, which has hired former state Rep. Skip Stam to represent it.
Considering how things have been going in Raleigh, it seems likely the legislature will also file legal action against Cooper for control of the money.
From the outside it appears the only way the legislature and Cooper communicate is through the courts, which is an expensive and time consuming way for the governor and the legislature to run the state.