Lawmakers dealt Gov. Pat McCrory’s plan to reorganize much of the Commerce Department into a public-private partnership a setback in the early hours of Friday morning.
The state Senate adjourned for the year without taking up Senate Bill 127, a bill aimed at streamlining the state’s job retention and recruitment process.
Although the Commerce Department provisions were not very controversial, lawmakers attached a controversial environmental provision during the waning days of session. That measure would have lifted a key safeguard on hydraulic fracturing in the state, ending a moratorium on the procedure used to extract natural gas before rules were fully in place.
Lawmakers have been battling over that moratorium provision for months. In the end, House lawmakers were not ready to accept the measure and there was no time left to redraft the bill without the controversial measure.
The public private partnership is meant to allow the state to more effectively recruit businesses by responding more quickly to inquiries from out of state companies. Efforts to brand and market the state would also be part of the job turned over to a private nonprofit that contracts with the state.
“I think the Commerce Secretary can do quite a bit,” said Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow.
Brown pointed to a provision in the recently-passed state budget that allows the Secretary of the Department of Commerce to “reorganize positions and related operational costs within the Department to establish a public-private partnership which includes cost containment measures.” That provision only runs over two paragraphs, and lack the specific direction given in the SB 127.
The budget also begins to draw funding away existing regional economic development partnerships in anticipation of moving to a new statewide job recruitment system. However, it was SB 127 that detailed how the work of those regional entities would be taken up by the bigger public-private partnership.
“I feel pretty confident the Commerce Secretary will do some of that,” Brown said.
Even if Commerce Sec. Sharon Decker didn’t have all the authorization she needed, Brown said she could certain start working to streamline field operations between the Commerce Department, Department of Transportation and Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The objective, he said, would be to give both existing and new businesses easy access to all the permitting and other government services they needed in one place.
“I like what is in that bill,” said Senate Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham. Despite the budget provisions, Berger said, “There are some other things in the bill that would fit in place and help and there are some things that would be beneficial for other economic development reasons.”
Both Berger and Brown raised the possibility that McCrory could call the legislature back in session to handle the bill, particularly if his administration began its reorganization efforts but found it needed more legal authority.
“If we don’t have a special session, it’s always something that will be eligible in the short session,” Berger said.