LUMBERTON — Local legislators are happy to see that Gov. Pat McCrory has plans for a special session in Raleigh to address funding demands following Hurricane Matthew, but wonder why that hasn’t already happened.
McCrory, who has been embroiled in a post-election bid to keep his seat that appears lost to Attorney General Roy Cooper, says it is his aim to call the General Assembly back for a special session to address unmet needs related to recovery efforts following the Oct. 8 storm.
McCrory, a Republican, has repeatedly said that a special session is needed to authorize funds for the worst hit areas of North Carolina, including Robeson County, following the flooding, but is yet to set a specific date. Republicans have bragged that their fiscal responsibility has boosted the state’s rainy day fund to close to $2 billion, which will now be needed.
“It definitely should happen, we have to have that rainy day fund released. We need that money now,” said Sen. Jane Smith, who lost her re-election bid and won’t return to Raleigh for next year’s session. “I don’t know why we’ve had to wait two months for that.”
Smith was not alone in her skepticism of McCrory and the delay in the session being held.
“We should have been there a month ago,” Rep. Ken Goodman said. “I don’t know why it has taken this long.”
Goodman spoke of rumblings that McCrory was occupied pushing political agenda items, including reported efforts to expand the N.C. Supreme Court as a way for Republicans to keep a majority. If Cooper takes office, he will be the governor when the General Assembly reconvenes as scheduled early next year.
“I’ve heard that, I hope it is not correct,” he said. “I hope it is not on the agenda, but I wouldn’t be surprised.”
Though no date has been announced, Smith is preparing for the session by gathering information on the financial effects the hurricane had locally.
“I’m contacting city and county managers to see how much they need to be made whole,” Smith said. “I’m working on the figures, I should have them by the middle of next week.”
Early estimates from North Carolina Emergency Management have put the impact of Hurricane Matthew at around $2 billion for all of North Carolina. In Robeson County, 7,000 structures were reportedly damaged and 5,000 people displaced. The Federal Emergency Management Agency can cover up to 75 percent of the financial damage, the state of North Carolina may cover the remainder.
“The funds are available to help our communities,” Rep. Garland Pierce said. “People need to be able to rebuild their lives.”
Three weeks of school was also lost locally to the storm, so a new school calendar is also expected to be discussed in Raleigh. Lawmakers are likely to make exceptions on the numbers of days and classroom hours that state law has required for students.
“We need to get things settled about the school session so that families, teachers and students know what the calendar will be for the rest of the year,” said Rep. Charles Graham said.
McCrory asked Congress a few weeks ago for help getting over $1 billion in federal aid to pay for repairs and recovery. McCrory says he’s still hopeful that Congress will approve the package the week before the session.
Reach Mike Gellatly via Twitter @MikeGellatly