No Money For Textbooks, But $125,000 For NC Legislature Renovations
Just days after the election, House leadership at the NCGA has approved a $125,000 renovation plan, without consulting many members of both parties, nor the committee that typically reviews renovations. Both Republicans and Democrats expressed surprise when asked about the renovations, reporting that they had not been told of the plans at all. We wonder how many textbooks $125,000 would have paid for. But don't worry, they won't be installing cameras to bring much needed transparency to the legislature. From the News and Observer article,
Crews started work this week on a $125,000 renovation to the N.C. House chamber – a project that prompted outcry and confusion from legislators who didn’t approve the expense.
The room that has hosted the 120-member House since 1964 is covered in plastic tarps. Workers tore down the red curtain behind the speaker’s podium and will replace it with wood paneling. They’ll wall off six sets of double doors leading into the chamber. And they’ll install a new voting board and electric outlets and data ports at each seat.
The project got a green light from the office of House Speaker Thom Tillis, who’s transitioning to his new role as U.S. senator. It never went before the legislative services commission – which has approved past renovations – and several Republicans and Democrats said Tuesday that they weren’t informed and didn’t know who proposed renovations. Funding came from a state House operational budget controlled by the speaker’s office.
“Is that the best use of taxpayer dollars?” asked Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat. He learned of the project Monday night when The N.C. Insider, a government news service owned by The News & Observer, posted construction photos. “There’s no shortage of better repairs to other buildings in state government where that money could have been better spent.”
Martin pointed to Gov. Pat McCrory’s recent proposal to fix up state office buildings that need millions of dollars of repairs. He said leaky plumbing should be a higher priority than wood paneling “that doesn’t need to be done at all.”
Republican House members were also in the dark. Reps. Linda Johnson of Kannapolis and Nelson Dollar of Cary serve on the legislative services commission and said they knew nothing of the renovation.
“I wouldn’t be able to comment without seeing the project, which I have not,” Dollar said.
Anna Roberts, a spokeswoman for Tillis’ office, referred all questions about the construction to interim legislative services director Kory Goldsmith.
Goldsmith said the wood paneling behind the speaker’s podium will match the speaker’s desk. And she said the walled-off doors will match a similar arrangement in the Senate chamber across the hall.
Both chambers were built with 13 sets of doors – five on each side, two in the front, and one large bronze one leading to the lobby. The three center sets of doors in the House will be covered by drywall, with the original doors still in place and locked on the outside.
Goldsmith said she doesn’t know whether the new walls are related to security concerns. Martin said he saw no problems stemming from excessive access to the room. “The doors never bothered me,” he said.