Insights and Observations
Thursday, May 20, 2004
By Henry Hinton
Broadcaster & Owner
of Greenville Cable 7
Gauntlet ahead for matters of
Don’t light the victory cigar yet but
this week's votes in the North Carolina Senate
in favor of East Carolina’s Cardiovascular Institute put the project on the
front burner for this session of the legislature.
The good news is that the bill passed the Senate almost
unanimously on two separate votes, 46-1 on Tuesday and 44-1 on Wednesdaye.
The bad news is that it has little chance of passing the House of
Representatives in its present form.
More of the competitive rhetoric that ended the hopes
of the project’s chances last year ensued immediately after the Senate
passed the bill on Tuesday.
Democratic House Speaker Jim Black, who has been hard
at work devising a unique and tricky funding plan of his own, felt Senate
President Pro Tem Marc Basnight was trying to quickly get something through
the Senate in hopes of forcing the hand of representatives in the other
Black was quoted in Wednesday’s News and Observer
saying, “That’s sort of in-your-face stuff to me,” referring to the speed at
which Basnight pushed the bill through the Senate.
Basnight is indeed trying to set the tone for the
debate after living through much criticism of the way the 2003 session
ended. He feels he was misunderstood by putting in $180 million for Chapel
Hill’s cancer center and totally leaving out the Greenville hospital in his
final bill of the session. Basnight explains that move by saying he was told
by people in the House that is the only way the bill would pass.
The Senate leader from Dare County has gone out of his
way to make people in Greenville aware that he is totally behind the project
this time around.
Here are the two practical obstacles the ECU center
still faces in the coming weeks in the legislature:
Many members of the house, including Speaker Black,
have said they will support the ECU and UNC-CH projects as long as there
are other projects across the state to go in the same bill. Black wants
a genetics analysis center in his home district at UNC-Charlotte and a
project for UNC-Asheville reported by some to be a basketball arena.
Additionally, the Black Caucus has asked that a proposed pharmacy school
at Elizabeth City State also be included in the bill. Basnight’s bill
only included funding for the previously-deliberated ECU and Chapel Hill
How will it eventually be funded? Black has not
given up on his creative but controversial idea of using state property
as collateral to fund a bond to be used to build the centers. According
to prominent Senators, his plan is risky and unproven and will not be
simplified in time to be used in this session. On the other side, many
new House Republicans have signed a no new taxes pledge and they say
that Basnight’s bill will require additional revenues in the next few
years that they aren’t willing to raise taxes to provide. Even though
the Senate bill uses Certificates of Participation funding, interest and
debt payments will escalate in coming years.
What the Senate bill does provide is a good backdrop
for a coming debate in the next few weeks. It is obvious that efforts on the
part of ECU, including the
Purple Alert program, and
face-to-face visits with legislators in recent weeks spearheaded by
advocates from the university and the Greenville Chamber of Commerce have
made a big difference in turning up the volume for politicians on this
What will likely happen next is a bill from the House
which deals with the needs and concerns of that chamber as stated above.
The best hope for passage of legislation to fund ECU’s
heart center this year will come once that bill has been passed and a
conference committee made up of Senators and House members is appointed to
hammer out a compromise that will hopefully be voted on and accepted in both
Remember, legislators are committed to ending this
session by the Fourth of July. That will be here before you know it.
No campfire chorus for Dr.
When rumors circulated late last week that new ECU
Chancellor Steve Ballard was going to name Oklahoma Associate AD Rick Hart
as the Director of Athletics at ECU there was a
firestorm of criticism throughout
No matter which side of the debate you were on, you
have to admit the
whole incident was a bit bizarre.
Perhaps the most unfortunate thing about it is how fast
the honeymoon ended for the new Chancellor. After two years of one
unfortunate mess after another, it seemed everyone, regardless of their
particular concern, was hoping that the hiring of the new Chancellor would
mean the end of an ugly era.
A moving on point. A passing of the torch. A reuniting.
A friend jokingly said to me today: “I guess when
Ballard arrives we won’t be holding hands and singing Cum-by-ya after all.”
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02/23/2007 10:13:35 AM