Republicans are close to finishing closed-door negotiations on the state budget -- but one sticking point is apparently a House provision earmarking economic development money for specific projects, or what some may call "pork spending."
The $20 million provision in question is tucked into the state commerce department budget for the One NC Fund, an pot of money used to entice companies to expand in North Carolina. The House wants to give $500,000 to Johnson and Wales University in Charlotte and another $500,000 to RTI, a nonprofit research firm in Research Triangle. Another $4.5 million is destined for the Rural Center's small business loan program. The other $14.5 million? It's House budget doesn't specify where it goes.
The provision doesn't appear in the Senate budget and the commerce department didn't ask for it, an agency spokesman Tim Crowley said.
It's unusual for lawmakers to earmark One NC Funds because it essentially sidesteps the normal process. The money is typically used to help retain companies or help them expand, often when North Carolina is competing with other states for the business.
Rep. Carolyn Justice, a Republican budget writer, was not available for comment, nor were Senate negotiators. A spokesman for House Speaker Thom Tillis defended the Rural Center money, saying it is part of an effort to stimulate job creation.
One big question is whether House Republican lawmakers have intentions for the remaining $14.5 million -- and how they want it used. The commerce department said it has not received any direction so far.