Republican legislative leaders sharply criticized outgoing Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue on Tuesday over her efforts to move soon on prime state-owned Raleigh real estate where a mental hospital sat for more than 150 years.
This week’s disclosure that Perdue is close to working out a deal with the City of Raleigh to turn the state-owned Dorothea Dix Hospital property into a regional park resumed the partisan acrimony that defined her two-year relationship with GOP lawmakers. It also highlighted the limitations Republicans face until Perdue leaves office in early January and is replaced by Republican Pat McCrory.
Perdue and her office have been negotiating for more than a year on how to dispose of the 325-acre campus, which appears focused now on leasing the land to the city for as many as 99 years. The city would lease back some of the property for a little while to give state officials time to move elsewhere about 1,800 state employees still working on the campus, according to documents.
Senate Leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis said separately that Perdue should leave the future of the Dix property to McCrory and the incoming General Assembly, which will be in even stronger Republican hands following the Nov. 6 elections.
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Both Tillis and Berger suggested Perdue was trying to accelerate the process so she’d get the credit before stepping down.
“Rather than rush this decision through the Council of State, we should work together to determine if this is the best path forward,” Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said in a news release. “If this proves to be a good idea today, then it will be a good idea weeks from now.”
Approval by the Council of State, comprised of Perdue and nine other statewide elected officials, would be the only hurdle remaining to carry out a final deal. Eight of the current members are Democrats. The council next meets Dec. 4. The agenda hasn’t yet been set, Perdue’s office said.
Berger, R-Rockingham, added: “I urge the Council of State to be the `adults in the room’ and reject her hasty plan to hand over a valuable state asset with little in return.”
In response, Perdue defended the Dix proposal, saying the property and consolidating Department of Health and Human Services workers ultimately to another location would save taxpayers nearly $100 million and preserve green space in a growing metropolitan area.
“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,” Perdue said.
Berger’s `adults in the room’ reference was a thinly veiled reference to Perdue’s in April 2011 comments in which she alleged Republicans running the General Assembly for the first time in more than 140 years were too focused on social issues rather than improving the economy. “I don’t mean to come across as the adult in the room but somebody has to be the adult and stand up,” she said at the time.
A lot has changed since then – Perdue decided not to seek re-election, and the GOP-led Legislature overturned 11 Perdue vetoes, including those on the state budget. McCrory is now poised to take office, giving the Republicans complete control of the state government for the first time in more than a century.
McCrory declined to get in the partisan bickering Tuesday, but spokesman Ricky Diaz said the governor-elect believes it’s best to hold off on the Dix decision “until he and the Legislature can study the impact to North Carolina taxpayers and ensure it does not adversely impact the state.”
“The process should be transparent and allow sufficient time for public review and feedback with the needs of the mental health community in mind,” Diaz said.
The House approved a bill earlier this year that would have required General Assembly approval before the Dix land was sold, leased or given away. The Senate didn’t vote on the measure. Berger told reporters Tuesday his chamber just didn’t get to it before adjournment in July.