Attorney General Roy Cooper said his office never issued a formal opinion on whether the Department of Transportation can use a new financing plan to pay for finishing I-485 in Charlotte.
Both Gov. Bev Perdue and transportation officials indicated a few days after the plan was announced that Cooper's office signed off on it. The plan involves the contractor financing $50 million of the $340 million project and the state paying the company back over ten years.
"Prior to announcing the plan, we worked with the (Attorney General)’s office as we developed the design-build-finance program for completing I-485," Perdue said in a prepared statement on Nov. 24, two weeks after announcing the plan. "During this process, the Attorney General’s office indicated that our plan was legal."
Cooper said his office "provided advice as this process went along" to both DOT and the office of State Treasurer Janet Cowell, who has questioned whether the transportation department has authority to add to the state's debt. Cooper won't disclose what advice his lawyers provided. But he made clear his office was never asked for a formal opinion on a plan for 485.
"If we are given a specific plan for a written legal opinion," Cooper said, "then obviously we will do it and that opinion will be made public."
Perdue, Cooper and Cowell are all Democrats. Cooper said agencies can present ideas and get advice about those ideas and routinely do so.
"Our mission is to make sure that any financing plan be done within the law," Cooper said.
So does the DOT plan fit within the law? "We are giving advice," he said.