RALEIGH – Gov. Roy Cooper called for lawmakers to return to Raleigh for a special legislative session October 9 for the purpose of passing initial disaster relief legislation. While the effects of Hurricane Florence are still ongoing, with rivers cresting late this week and floods spreading across parts of Eastern North Carolina, it is difficult to assess just what the total financial toll will be. The human toll, however, is tragic as 31 people, including young children, have lost there lives in the Old North State.
“As I’ve traveled around the state surveying damage and meeting with people who have lost everything, it’s clear that the destruction in eastern North Carolina is historic,” said the governor in a statement Thursday night. “Now is the time to come together and begin the work of rebuilding our communities and making families whole.”
Two years ago lawmakers convened a special session to allocate relief funds in response to Hurricane Matthew. As opposed to federal disaster relief grants designated for Matthew victims, which have piled up in state coffers behind a bottleneck of executive branch bureaucracy, monies dedicated by the legislature have gone to work a lot quicker.
Still, Gov. Cooper has the authority, according to lawmakers, to shift funds already available to the executive agencies toward emergency relief.
“Governor Cooper has the authority to spend emergency funds and shift money from other parts of the state budget as needed to cover disaster-related expenses, and we support the state’s response efforts,” said Senate leader Phil Berger’s office last week.
Beyond allocating taxpayer money to help those effected by the storm, the lawmakers will likely pass bills aimed at all the school districts that have been effected by the storm. Some counties, from the coast to inland, are as yet unsure when school will reopen and many don’t expect for students to return until possibly October.
State law says that schools must be in session 185 days out of the year, but the superintendent of public instruction and legislative leaders want to make exemptions for several counties. At this point it would be very difficult for some school districts to hit the mark without holding classes for a large portion of summer 2019.
Even now, some flood waters are still rising and road closures expansive. For instance, Highway 70, opened earlier this week to traffic, is now closed again around the Kinston area due to Neuse river flooding.
On that route is the Neuse River Sports Shop, recognizable to many, near Kinston. That store has been subjected to major flooding and owners have indicated the location may be closed for good. Another Neuse River Sports Shop was recently built in Cape Carteret.
Hopefully, by the time the October 9 special session convenes effected towns will be drying out, school instruction resuming, and damage reports being conducted.
Thanks to Republicans fiscal mindfulness over the last several years, the State has a $2 billion rainy-day fund for such unexpected needs. Previously, Gov. Cooper and Democrats shave maligned Republican lawmakers for putting surplus revenues into the rain-day fund instead of toward an expensive Democratic wish list. Hurricanes Matthew and Florence make Republicans resistance to such profligate spending look prescient in hindsight.