by Bob Geary
[Update, 2:30 p.m.: In response to Tillis and Senate President Phil Berger's criticisms, Gov. Perdue hit back in a statement:
"During the last four years, in the worst economic climate since the great depression, North Carolina is one ofeight states that has retained its AAA bond rating. We have seen the largest number of our children graduate from high school. We have again been named the best place in the nation to do business. My administration has focused on efficiencies in state government through consolidating, eliminating, and right-sizing public services.
The Dorothea Dix property and the consolidation of DHHS would save taxpayers nearly $100 million, move employees from 60 separate facilities into five buildings on one campus, and it would preserve green space in a metropolitan area that is expected to grow by more than 1 million people in the next 10 years.
It is a shame that in the first few weeks after a very heated campaign season, that some of North Carolina’s leaders continue to try to divide people by political party and not bring people together.”
The original post from this morning —
WRAL and The News & Observer are reporting that Gov. Perdue and the city of Raleigh are close to a deal for turning the 306-acre Dorothea Dix Hospital campus into a destination park. Mayor Nancy McFarlane's been working on this virtually since the day she took office. Now, with the clock running out on her term as governor — and with the General Assembly not in session and able to block her — Perdue, too, is pushing the pedal to the floor.
A few minutes ago, House Speaker Thom Tillis weighed in with a dissenting view, calling for a timeout and underlining the need for proceeds of the deal to be large ... and kept for mental health programs.
Here's what Tillis said:
“The Dorothea Dix campus is a historically valuable state asset, and the future of the property should be thoroughly vetted through the legislative process. Rather than rush this decision through the Council of State, we should work together to determine if this is the best path forward. If this proves to be a good idea today, then it will be a good idea weeks from now.
The North Carolina House of Representatives made its position clear by unanimously passing HB 981, stating that any disposition of the Dix property should have General Assembly approval. This has been further highlighted by well-documented fiscal problems in the mental health budget. It appears that Gov. Perdue is pursuing a legacy for herself instead of protecting the interests of taxpayers and the thousands of individuals who desperately need better-funded mental health services. I look forward to working diligently with future state leaders and the city of Raleigh to make the best possible use of the property.”
It should be noted that HB 981 passed the House but not the Senate. I don't think Tillis, by himself or with the Senate Republicans, has the power to stop a deal if Perdue and Raleigh agree on it — with Raleigh paying a reasonable price.
On the other hand, it sounds like many details remain to be hammered out in a week, and I can tell you the same details haven't been hammered out in a year — this deal's been close, but no cigar, for months.
And unless the details are right, the Council of State may get cold feet ... because unlike Perdue, most of them will be at the mercy of the General Assembly for four more years.
I agree with Tillis that any deal should generate substantial funding — perhaps via a long-term lease, or a combination of down payment and lease — for mental health programs.
But there is absolutely no reason for DHHS, having abandoned a leadership role in mental health, to hang on to the Dix campus for agencies that aren't doing mental health any more.
Otherwise, as I've said before, Dix would live in infamy as the state's reward for not doing mental health.
Dix will make a great park. And in the long run, whether the purchase price is $40 million or $70 million is really pretty inconsequential. What matters is preserving this land for posterity.