by Bob Geary
As expected, Senate Republicans this morning started the wheels in motion to tear up the state's lease with the City of Raleigh for the Dorothea Dix tract because, the GOP legislators said, former Gov. Perdue shouldn't have signed it. Perdue, as is required for contracts involving state land, won the approval of the Council of State before finalizing the lease.
By voice vote, the Republicans on the Senate Appropriations Committee approved Senate Bill 334 and sent it to the full Senate, out-shouting the opposition Democrats. The bill is a condemnation measure to terminate the lease and recapture the land.
The idea that a valid state contract can be discarded by the General Assembly because legislators don't like its terms — or the governor who negotiated them — struck Senate Minority Leader Martin Nesbitt as "insane."
Yet the Republicans think anything done before they took over is fair game, Nesbitt said, from taking land away from municipalities to yanking Charlotte's airport away from Charlotte. "The people of this state," he said, "have a right to a little continuity of government."
Sarcastically, Nesbitt put the room on notice that any deals signed by Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, will be considered "bogus and void" by the Democrats when they regain control of the legislature.
Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, assured one and all that the Republicans will be happy to renegotiate with Raleigh, though for only part of the 325-acre Dix tract, not all of it, and for a much higher price.
"You should hear yourselves saying that," Capitol Broadcasting Co. CEO Jim Goodmon told them moments later. "There’s no business person in the state who would agree with what you’re doing."
Goodmon, a member of the Dix Visionaries, one of the groups supporting Raleigh's effort to create a destination park on the Dix tract, was the only member of the public given a chance to speak prior to the committee vote. He ripped the Republicans for trying to back out of a negotiated lease.
"What lease are we going to not do next?" Goodmon wondered. "This doesn't make sense, and it's not honorable."
If the General Assembly can unilaterally void the current lease with Raleigh, Goodmon asked, what assurance would Raleigh have that, if it did renegotiate, a new deal wouldn't also be tossed by a future legislature?
Someone should tell MetLife, Goodmon argued, that its deal with the state could be in jeopardy. MetLife is moving some 2,500 jobs to Charlotte and Cary in return for promised tax incentives of more than $90 million — money Gov. McCrory has promised will be paid in future years as the jobs materialize.
"Nobody will trust doing business with the state," Goodmon said, if the General Assembly passes SB-334.
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane was in the committee room along with other city officials trying to protect their lease. McFarlane and a unanimous City Council appear to be prepared to go to court should the bill be enacted, either to argue that the contract must be honored or, if it isn't, to claim damages.
Goodmon, whose company is a major economic developer in Durham, said the Dix tract "is extremely valuable" to Raleigh and a jury will decide what the city is owed if the state's condemnation power is upheld.
But the major damage will be to the state, he argued. Raleigh will pay rent on the land, and over time will invest — his guess — $100 million to $125 million developing the state's property as a destination park and a major economic development draw for the city, the region and all of North Carolina.
"You've got to understand how we feel on the other side of this lease," Goodmon concluded. "What I've said is perfectly legitimate ... and it's a matter of honor, we don't break leases."
The committee meeting ended on a combative note as Sen. Tommy Apodaca, a Republican from Buncombe County, objected to being "intimidated by the press."
He meant Goodmon, whose company owns WRAL and other media properties.
"I will not be threatened," Apodaca warned. "That is wrong."
"What?" Goodmon shot back. "I can't speak because of where I work?"
"I felt threatened by you, sir," Apodaca answered. His microphone wasn't on, however, and the chair quickly cut him off and gaveled the meeting to a close.