McCrory, legislators at odds again over NC unemployment benefit appeal board changes

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RALEIGH, North Carolina — Some North Carolina lawmakers are trying again to make changes to a state board that hears unemployment appeals, even though Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed legislation containing a similar proposal last year.

An unemployment insurance oversight committee recommended Wednesday that lawmakers this year approve legislation staggering the terms on the Board of Review. McCrory appointed all three current members of the board in December 2013. The proposed legislation, if it became law, would force one of the governor's appointees to step down at the end of June.

"We just feel like it's become a political football unnecessarily," said Fred Steen, McCrory's legislative lobbyist, after the meeting. "If there's some fine tuning that needs to be done we're all for that (but) we just feel like these are unnecessary moves."

McCrory last summer vetoed a broader unemployment insurance bill containing similar staggered terms, saying his three choices were performing their jobs well. The legislature didn't override the veto.

The committee leaders — Republicans like McCrory — say staggered four-year terms going forward will ensure an experienced appointee is always on the board. They also insist the three McCrory appointees still must be formally confirmed by the legislature. The governor's office disagrees.

"I wish we could just get it resolved, cleaned-up and everybody complying with the law, and we're not," said Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, a committee co-chairwoman.

In a stern letter to committee members last month, McCrory objected to the renewed push for changes to the board, as well as a new effort to shift four attorneys, a paralegal and more than $480,000 from his administration's Division of Employment Services to the board to cover board legal costs.

The governor never asked for the change, Steen said.

McCrory wrote Dec. 12 that the committee's effort represented "continued legislative politicization and legislative overreach of another commission" that goes against the executive branch's responsibility manage state government's day-to-day operations. McCrory and two former governors in November sued legislative leaders for their actions involving other state panels they created to perform government duties.

The governor has never been happy about lawmakers creating the board, which he said is costing nearly $1 million a year. Each board member makes more than $120,000 annually.

The panel reviews decisions made by intermediate-level appeals within the division. The vetoed legislation last year and the latest proposal would direct member Keith Holliday, a Democrat and like McCrory a former mayor, to step down.

The shift of legal staff to the board is designed to help the panel be more independent and rely less on the division, Howard said.

The dust-up comes as the division makes progress improving operations. It was previously burdened by an overwhelming number of claims during the last recession. The state had to borrow more than $2.5 billion from the federal government to pay those claims.

The General Assembly passed a 2013 law reducing maximum worker benefits and keeping unemployment insurance taxes on businesses high to pay down the debt. The amount has now fallen below $450 million and likely will be paid off this spring.

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