Politics & Government

McCrory will ask for special session on storm recovery

Fayetteville Mayor Nat Robertson and Gov. Pat McCrory look over a section of road that was washed away by Hurricane Matthew flood waters in Fayetteville on Oct. 10.
Fayetteville Mayor Nat Robertson and Gov. Pat McCrory look over a section of road that was washed away by Hurricane Matthew flood waters in Fayetteville on Oct. 10. The Fayetteville Observer via AP

Gov. Pat McCrory will call for the legislature to convene a special session to deal with Hurricane Matthew disaster relief after all.

He expects to roll out a timeline next week projecting what needs to be done leading up to a special session, and when that session should be held. Issues to be addressed in that time include how much in federal funds will be available and how soon, which will determine how much state money will be needed.

Authorization for damaged schools to be excused from completing the mandated number of classroom hours will also be on the table.

The special session would be held before the regular session begins in January, and presumably after the Nov. 8 elections. The terms of the governor and legislators up for re-election conclude at the end of this year.

Legally, the legislature can take up anything it wants when it’s in session, but traditionally has restricted itself to the action called for by the governor.

McCrory previously said he thought there would be enough money to pay for recovery efforts until next year’s regular session, but said he would convene a special session if it was necessary. His fellow Republicans who lead the General Assembly have been receptive.

“Gov. McCrory has shown exceptional leadership during hurricane recovery efforts and, as part of that, indicated weeks ago that he will call the legislature back to session if additional state resources are needed beyond those currently being deployed to victims,” Senate leader Phil Berger said in an emailed response. “We look forward to reviewing his specific recommendations concerning long-term recovery needs.”

House Speaker Tim Moore recently said he supported a special session to relieve disaster-struck schools from the mandatory classroom requirements.

Speaking at a school in Fayetteville on Friday, McCrory said officials will soon recommend to him what date to schedule the special session.

“So we can go back to the legislature and specifically request how much money we need and how that money should be used,” McCrory said.

He said the state was also coordinating efforts with federal agencies.

McCrory announced his plans for a special session while touring flooding damage in Fayetteville on Friday, and earlier in the week in Kinston and Lumberton. He said 41 counties in eastern and central North Carolina have been approved for public assistance; 35 counties have qualified for individual assistance.

Earlier this month McCrory announced that a committee will be formed to coordinate recovery and determine how best to rebuild in areas prone to major flooding, such as Princeville in Edgecombe County.

Earlier this month, Democrats in the state Senate and Rep. Billy Richardson, a Democrat from Fayetteville, called for a special session to deal with the aftermath of the hurricane.

“We ask that you call the General Assembly back into special session that week to address this emergency, so that we can appropriate state disaster funds from the rainy day fund while we wait for release of federal dollars to our state,” Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue said in a letter to Gov. Pat McCrory.

The state’s Republican leaders responded that a long-term response couldn’t be addressed until the floodwaters receded and threats to public safety were abated. At the time, Berger and Moore released a joint statement citing McCrory’s comments that there is sufficient money available through February.

State budget director Andrew Heath said at the time that McCrory would call for a special session if needed, and derided the Democrats’ news conference as “a shameful display of political theater.”

There is $18 million in two state funds that could be used immediately. In addition, there is a reserve fund of $1.6 billion that would require approval by the legislature to spend and be replaced by federal funds.

Hurricane Matthew dropped up to 15 inches of rain over Eastern North Carolina on Oct. 8 and 9, resulting in historic flooding on creeks and rivers in the region, including the Neuse and Lumber. The storm’s death toll in the state has risen to 28.

Craig Jarvis: 919-829-4576, @CraigJ_NandO