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NC legislature may not be over for this year

RALEIGH — The General Assembly’s work may not be over if Gov. Pat McCrory decides replenishing a key economic recruitment tool in North Carolina can’t wait until January.

McCrory said he may call legislators back to Raleigh for a special work session to ask for more money for taxpayer-funded awards designed to bring jobs to North Carolina as they compete with states offering their own incentives.

Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker said Monday many recruitment projects remain in the hopper as the state gets close to a $22.5 million cap for Job Development Investment Grants through next summer. She said some companies may make relocation and expansion decisions before the legislature’s next two-year session begins on Jan. 28.

“We do have several significant projects at work right now which may not able to be fulfilled within the cap,” Decker said, adding there may be room for only two or three additional rewards statewide. But in the Triangle area alone three potential recruitment efforts could reap 4,100 jobs, she said.

“If it means bringing new jobs to North Carolina, and we need to make that decision soon, I will call a session, but only if a session is required before January,” the governor told reporters late last week.

McCrory said he had also spoken in recent days with Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis, who was elected to the U.S. Senate last week but serves as speaker through the end of the year. A new 170-member legislature is sworn in soon after.

Tillis said the conversation was about “a pipeline of additional job opportunities” over the next month or so. Berger didn’t return phone calls last week and Monday seeking details on his talk with McCrory.

Raising the cap may be tricky. An effort to increase the grant program’s cap by $14 million failed over the summer when the House defeated a wide-ranging bill that also included $20 million for a new fund to help to attract jobs in rural areas and a limit on county sales taxes. Many Republicans opposed to targeted tax breaks or cash grants for specific companies on philosophical grounds voted against the bill.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, voted no on the bill in August because there weren’t enough rules governing how the $20 million would be spent.

He said Monday he’d prefer to wait until the next two-year session begins to look at economic development spending, but would be open to returning if the proposed legislation is simple and supported by McCrory, Tillis and Berger.

“Something that would be very limited, very focused, would certainly be an easier sell,” Dollar said.

Longtime incentives critic House Speaker Pro Tempore Paul Stam, R-Wake, said narrowing the legislation to raise the grant cap still wouldn’t earn his vote.

“It’s a colossal waste of money,” Stam said. Improving infrastructure to attract business while benefiting the public would be a better use of funds, he added.

A special state committee awards grants to companies that are weighing whether to expand or relocate to North Carolina. The grants are contingent on companies meeting job-creation and investment thresholds.

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