Reaction mixed to House budget conference committee appointments

LB from NERALEIGH — Reaction was mixed today to Speaker of the House Tim Moore’s (R-Kings Mountain) decision to appoint a whopping 82 conferees to the conference negotiations with the Senate on the state’s budget. The list represents more than 68 percent of the 120-member body and includes Democrats and Republicans, freshmen and long-serving members, and almost every categorical cross-section of General Assembly membership.

Some members, lobbyists and staff were not very sanguine about the move. But others, including both House and Senate lawmakers, were optimistic about the tactic.

“The budget process has been unusual to date in every respect, but I support what the Speaker did,” said Rick Glazier (D-Fayetteville), who was one of the conferees named. “I think what he was saying was, ‘this a bipartisan coalition supporting the budget on the House side,’ and his conference committee was going to reflect that support.”

In 2013, Speaker Thom Tillis (R) originally appointed 23 conferees, or about 19 percent of House members; the Senate appointed six, or about 12 percent of its membership. Senate leader Phil Berger (R-Eden) has not yet appointed conferees for this year’s negotiations.

Carter Wrenn, a Republican political strategist in Raleigh, says that while unusual, the strategy is a good one for transparency.

“It beats having five guys in a back room working out the details,” Wrenn said. “Most times, very few people know what’s going on in that room. And it’s control of the informaiton that closes the process down and narrows it. In this case, there there are going to be a lot of people who have access to what’s going on, and that probably does change the process.”

Glazier said the success of the move will depend on how the conference committee is structured.

“How the Speaker chooses to use the talent that he’s assembled — is it going to break down into subcommittees? Is there really going to be work done by each of the subject-matter groups? If there is, then I think he’ll be using everybody to their fullest extent. I view the glass as half full rather than half empty and we’ll wait to see how everybody gets used.”

Others around the legislative building say that even if Moore’s intentions are pure, it will not matter in the end, since they doubt the Senate will allow such an unwieldy process. Some said it might lengthen the process to get a final budget bill passed.

Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Autryville)

Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Autryville)

Sen. Brent Jackson (R-Autryville), who is Co-Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he has no problem with the Speaker’s move, and said it would not affect timing.

“I don’t see where it will have an impact on negotiations either way,” Jackson said. “I don’t think it will hinder negotiations, and I don’t think it will speed them up either. I think it’s going to be neutral. I think it gets more folks involved, and I think it gets the sub-chairs more involved, and I think it’s a good thing if that’s what they so choose to do.”

Berger has already thrown down one marker of his desire to wrap things up quickly, announcing that Senate policy committees would cease meeting on July 23.

Asked for his thoughts on the number of conferees, lobbyist and former legislator Sandy Sands could only jest.

“I can’t count that high without taking my shoes off,” Sands said.