Legislators Favor Limiting Leaders
Moore County's Republican legislators agree on a proposal to limit the terms of leaders in both the state House and Senate.
House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger are on record as favoring a cap on the number of terms each may serve in such a leadership role. They did not specify the number of terms for such limits.
"That is absolutely on target," said Sen. Harris Blake. "If they can get that done, that's where the problem is. I'm in favor of it."
"I feel good about it, and I will vote in favor of it, because what I've seen so far is that this is where our problem seems to be," added Rep. Jamie Boles.
Tillis, Berger, Blake and Boles are all Republicans, who control both houses of the North Carolina General Assembly for the first time in 140 years.
Blake said he would like to take the proposal further by adding limits to the terms of committee chairmen, especially chairmen of key standing committees.
"It would move people around and get fresh ideas out there," Blake said.
Boles said problems naturally arise when one party and the same leaders maintain control for such long periods.
"All legislators represent the same number of people. With no change at all, we just continue business as usual. Change is always good," Boles said.
A cap on leadership service could be included in the operating rules adopted at the beginning of each legislative session. To impose this change on a permanent basis, the General Assembly would probably need to enact a law spelling out leadership limits or seek an amendment to the state constitution for the same purpose. The constitutional amendment would require a referendum.
The proposal by Berger and Tillis does not address the issue of term limits for legislators and other elected officials.
The most recent example of long-term leadership is former Sen. Marc Basnight, a Dare County Democrat who recently resigned his position because of health issues. Basnight had served a record 18 years as Senate president pro tempore.
House speakers have not attained such record terms of service. Former Speaker Jim Black, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, served four terms before he was forced out by corruption issues four years ago. For one term, Black shared speakership duties with former state Rep. Richard Morgan, a Moore County Republican, during a term in which the House membership was split evenly between the two parties.
Rep. Joe Hackney, an Orange County Democrat whose district includes one and a half precincts in Moore County, served two terms as speaker. House Democrats have elected him as minority leader for this term.
The late H. Clifton Blue, an Aberdeen Democrat, served one term as speaker of the House in the late 1960s. Blue served several terms in the state House.
Boles and Blake also agreed with the objective of a bill filed in the Senate this week to give one-time special budget authority for Gov. Beverly Perdue to cut spending for the remainder of the current fiscal year. Although the budget cuts, estimated at $400 million, would apply only for this budget year, they would ease the shortfall the legislature must address in the new fiscal year, when the revenue shortfall is estimated at $3.7 million.
Blake said the spending cuts may be even greater than $400 million, but the lower figure was accepted as realistic, and was agreeable to the Democratic governor and legislative leaders.
"Maybe this is something we can all agree on," Blake said.
"A dollar is a dollar, and [Perdue] is responsible for overseeing it," said Boles.
The bill filed on Monday would give Perdue authority to cut spending for the rest of this budget year. Without this authority, she cannot call for any cuts beyond the ones she has already taken. The bill, named The Balanced Budget Act of 2011, applies only through the end of the current fiscal year.
On another subject, Boles reported that debate on a bill pertaining to the federal health care reform law is scheduled for debate in the House today and Thursday. The bill, which passed a House committee last Thursday, would exempt North Carolina residents from the mandated insurance purchase provision in the federal law, known as Obamacare.
"I'm anticipating a long day," Boles said of the upcoming debates.
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