Forsyth and Guilford counties appear to no longer be under consideration for the relocated headquarters of the state Department of Health and Human Services and potentially 2,300 jobs, state legislators said Monday.
A potential move to the Triad surfaced July 9 as an early example of the political hardball surrounding Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the Republican state budget proposal: Forsyth and Guilford have Democratic legislators being offered special project funding in the budget in exchange for agreeing to support an override of the governor’s budget veto.
Joseph Kyzer, communications director for House speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said Monday in response to a public-records request from the N.C. Democratic Party that “I can be clear about House Republicans’ position: DHHS should move to Granville County just as DMV is being moved to the governor’s home region in Nash County.”
Sen. Joyce Krawiec, R-Forsyth, said Monday that “there has been no conversation recently regarding DHHS relocation to Forsyth. I do not believe Forsyth is being considered any longer.”
Meanwhile, House GOP leadership opted not to conduct a vote Monday night on overriding Cooper’s budget veto or Medicaid expansion legislation House Bill 655. The next opportunity will be at 3 p.m. today as the stalemate reaches Day 48.
Kyzer also said Monday “the speaker will hold the veto override when the votes are secured, and we are steadfastly committed to passing the $24 billion state budget separately from any consideration of Medicaid expansion.”
Rep. Darren Jackson, D-Wake and House Minority leader, sent a letter Wednesday to GOP legislative leadership containing 51 of 55 Democratic signatures confirming their collective support for maintaining Cooper’s June 28 veto of the GOP budget.
Jackson’s letter tries to confirm what Jackson and Cooper have been saying since the veto was issued — that “the votes are not there to override.”
Moore has said there would be no action on HB665, a Medicaid expansion proposal, until the budget becomes law.
Governor’s OK a ‘sign of compromise’
The DHHS relocation project, inserted into the state budget, mentions only Granville. It could take up to five years and require $240 million in relocation spending to complete the project.
The other counties mentioned as relocation possibilities — Cumberland, Harnett and Wayne — also have Democratic legislators being enticed with special-project funding. Wayne County has Majority House leader John Bell as a county delegation member.
Landing the DHHS headquarters would trump all of those special-project offers.
Jackson said July 10 on the House floor that Cooper’s willingness to agree to a study on moving the DHHS headquarters is a sign of compromise and a good idea. Cooper’s initial budget proposal would move the headquarters to state-owned property on Blue Ridge Road in Raleigh.
“I don’t believe this statement (from Moore’s office) definitively rules out any community as the potential home for DHHS workers,” said Mitch Kokai, senior policy analyst for Libertarian think tank John Locke Foundation.
“The Granville County site is the one spelled out in the state budget plan approved by the General Assembly. So it makes sense for speaker Tim Moore’s office to defend that provision.
“But the possibility of moving DHHS to another location has been the subject of behind-closed-doors speculation,” Kokai said. “I suspect that if Forsyth County Democrats committed to vote for the budget veto override, a Forsyth County DHHS location would be in play again.”
The DHHS relocation proposal is similar to legislative plans to move the state Division of Motor Vehicles headquarters from Raleigh to Rocky Mount.
Ardis Watkins, government relations director for State Employees Association of N.C., said in a statement that “much like the DMV move, this would cause the state to lose many well-trained career employees.”
“But unlike the DMV move, this would add significant traffic to already congested roads. And we cannot imagine that citizens traveling those roads on a daily basis now would appreciate this.”
Republican legislative leaders acknowledge the potential of losing DHHS and DMV employees with the potential moves.
Sen. Ralph Hise, R-McDowell, told The News & Observer in July that legislative leaders are looking at state-owned land in Butner, as well as 527 acres that Granville officials propose to donate in a business park.
Cooper said in July that “it’s hard to know how serious that proposal is, even though it’s in their budget.”
“But we know for a fact that they are shopping the move of DHHS to various counties in order to get votes to override the veto.
“So, to me, that shows that they’re willing to make a significant change and move in state government in order just to get a vote to override this veto instead of negotiating,” he said.