Some pricey bathroom renovations at the Executive Mansion have been dropped from Gov. Pat McCrory's plan for spending taxpayer dollars to repair North Carolina government buildings.
A legislative panel signed off Tuesday on plans from McCrory and the University of North Carolina system to spend $150 million on scores of building renovations.
The preliminary version of the building list released earlier this month earmarked $230,000 for remodeling bathrooms in McCrory's private living quarters on the mansion's second floor. Those plans gave more fodder to critics of McCrory's policies, particularly those that required state workers and public schools to make do with less in several areas.
McCrory's office later backed off the project to remodel or upgrade the six bathrooms with public dollars. The updated list that outlines spending $90 million of the renovation money allocated by lawmakers in this year's budget left out the project.
Legislators didn't ask about the omission of the bathrooms, which were last remodeled in the 1970s but are in working order. McCrory communications director Kim Gernardo wrote Tuesday that "per the governor's request, not one penny of taxpayer dollars will be used on the project."
Genardo did say earlier this month a "very limited amount" of public funds would be used to repair potential code violations, treat dangerous mold and fix broken faucets.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said he didn't know whether the price tag for the bathrooms were reasonable, joking that whenever he hired a contractor to perform work it seemed to cost more than expected. But he said perceptions about the project weren't good.
"I think the optics were problematic, and I think that's probably why they reconsidered," Berger said during a break in Tuesday's meeting.
The list retained $143,000 to restore and refinish woodwork and repaint the exterior of the 19th-century mansion and to fix a steam valve.
The $150 million was the most cash the legislature has set aside for repairs and renovations in at least six years, as state officials siphoned away dedicated funds during the Great Recession to balance budgets. The amount, however, still represents a small portion of the maintenance and upkeep needs of state buildings and infrastructure.
State Budget Director Art Pope told the committee his office received agency requests for $554 million for maintenance and upkeep. The State Construction Office, reporting to the panel its biannual review on the conditions of large state buildings, determined there are at least $3.9 billion in building deficiencies statewide.
Some members of the Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations questioned the figure and asked whether agencies or universities share some of the blame for constructing new buildings rather than keeping current ones in better shape.
The commission, the General Assembly's chief state government oversight panel when not in session, also received an update on the downsizing of the nonprofit North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center.
The center's board is expected Wednesday to finalize the transfer more than $80 million to the Department of Commerce to manage about 420 grants initiated by the center, a department official said. Another $24 million in unobligated center funds will revert to the state's general operating fund.
The transfer happened after legislators cut off state funding to the program this summer following a state audit questioning center operations and the pay of its president. The rural center will retain more than $7 million following the conversion.
Commission members on Tuesday also:
- questioned why the Golden LEAF Foundation, which for years received half of North Carolina's proceeds from the 1998 national tobacco settlement, hadn't yet paid to the state almost $25 million labeled as a settlement overpayment by the legislature and Attorney General's office.
- debated with Pope whether the McCrory administration followed budget rules in transferring $10 million to unobligated funds to a disaster relief reserve even after legislators declined to provide similar funds in the final budget.