Thursday, July 18, 2024

Berger seeks legislative control over key state board picks

Senate leaders proposed a landmark change to restructure appointments to some of North Carolina’s most important oversight boards, including the N.C. Utilities Commission, the State Board of Transportation and the UNC Health Board of Directors.

Senate Bill 512 is deemed assured of passage in at least that chamber, as its sponsors include President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Rules Committee Chairman Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick.

Berger said sponsors intend on “balancing the membership” of boards and commissions that “have a tremendous impact on our daily lives.”

In a press release, Governor Roy Cooper’s office blasted the bill as “another massive, unconstitutional power grab by Republican legislators who have a track record of right wing partisan appointees who do not reflect the demographic or political diversity in our state and who often become mired in toxic infighting and controversy.”

The State Board of Transportation would receive perhaps the most sweeping makeover. The General Assembly would claim for itself the power to pick a majority of the BOT by filling the 14 seats that represent the N.C. Department of Transportation’s highway divisions.

Existing law assigns that job to the governor.

Six at-large seats on the board now filled by legislative selections would become gubernatorial appointments. The proposal says no more than three members of the board can live in the same highway division.

Berger also urges major change to the UNC Health board, which oversees a health care operation that collected nearly $6 billion in revenue and employed more than 40,000 people in fiscal 2020-21. Under the plan, the General Assembly would appoint eight people to the health system’s 24-member board. The UNC System’s Board of Governors would appoint 12 members, as it does now.

To make way for the General Assembly seats, the bill would take away the board’s right to name four of its own members — along with two seats reserved for UNC Chapel Hill School of Medicine faculty, one reserved for the head of the School of Medicine’s faculty physicians practice, and one representing the UNC Chapel Hill administration.

The chancellor, UNC Health’s CEO, the president of the UNC System and the president of UNC Hospitals would continue to have ex-officio seats on the board.

As for the Utilities Commission, the bill would change a seven-member board into a nine-member board. Instead of letting the governor control all the seats, as is current practice, it calls for letting the governor appoint four, the General Assembly four and the state treasurer one.

Also in line for makeovers are the Economic Investment Committee, the Environmental Management Commission, the Commission for Public Health, the Coastal Resources Commission, the Wildlife Resources Commission and the N.C. Railroad’s Boards of Directors.

If passed, the bill would take effect on July 1, and it includes provisions Berger’s office said ensure that “no current appointees would have their terms cut short.”

Given Republican leadership in the N.C. General Assembly, the bill would increase Republican control over boards that now look to Cooper, a Democrat, for many members.

But Cooper is term-limited and will be stepping down as of early 2025. The bill would hold sway no matter regardless of who is in power. Current polling suggests Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson, a Republican, is heavily favored to be his party’s candidate for governor in 2024. He’s expected to announce his candidacy later this month.

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