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The Daily Tar Heel

Power center shifts to left

Dems. to set tone in N.C. legislature

A historic power-sharing agreement could come to an end today as the N.C. General Assembly convenes at noon and Democrats take hold of the legislature.

After the 2004 elections, the House welcomed enough new Democrats to gain a six-seat advantage, 63-57.

Democrats were in the minority last session, but Republican disunity led to a co-speakership and a virtual split down the middle.

Jim Black, D-Mecklenburg, and Richard Morgan, R-Moore, took the helm in the House after one week of stalemate to elect one speaker.

While Black is expected to continue solo this session in the speaker seat, experts say Morgan won’t walk away empty-handed.

“I think that Speaker Black will probably be the sole speaker,” said Sen. R.C. Soles, D-Columbus.

Soles said Morgan will be amply rewarded for his loyalty to Black, a loyalty that has created a divide among House Republicans.

“Seeing the new seating chart over there (in the House) indicates to me that the decision has already been made that he’ll be a key player, because he’s going to retain his number one seat, and those that are very close to him have been moved … up surrounding him.

“I think there’s a good indication that he may very well be the speaker pro tem … and I don’t think that’s a bad idea at all.”

Speaker pro tem is a largely ceremonial position.

Across the hall, Democrats gained two seats in the Senate, where they already held a substantial majority.

“The Senate has always been controlled by Democrats,” said Amy Fulk, spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, D-Dare.

Basnight’s lack of opposition as leader allows senators to push forward with legislation — the most important being the budget.

The Senate will get the first crack at the appropriations bill and has a challenge of plugging an estimated $1.2 billion hole.

Fulk said the Senate always prioritizes the UNC system when considering any legislation, especially the budget.

Though she said there’s not much buzz about tuition yet, Fulk noted that Basnight and Black have sent a letter to Gov. Mike Easley expressing their desire to put enrollment growth in the continuation budget.

If the legislature approved this measure, enrollment growth at UNC-system schools automatically would be funded every year.

While the Senate and House work out their game plans for the session, a new fracture might have developed between the General Assembly and the UNC system.

The General Assembly this summer approved $468 million in capital projects — most of them for the UNC system — before the BOG rubber-stamped them, disrupting the normal order of approval.

Though the BOG approved the projects later, some thought legislators overstepped their bounds.

BOG Chairman Brad Wilson said that though he does not fear that the General Assembly will take it too far, he has stressed that the board should take preventative measures.

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In January, he told a BOG committee that failure to enforce a punitive policy for overenrolling nonresident students would make way for legislative intervention.

“If we fail to enforce this policy, we will increase the chance we’ll have legislative intervention on a policy that should be left up to this board,” Wilson told the committee.

During the General Assembly’s short session last summer, Rep. Alex Warner, D-Cumberland, co-sponsored a bill that would legislate an out-of-state enrollment cap.

His bill would have allowed legislators to take up the issue but ultimately was referred back to committee.

The UNC system already has submitted its budget request, which includes a recommendation for no systemwide tuition increase.

“We recognize that the General Assembly … are our bankers,” Wilson said. “The legislature can devise its own agenda, but my experience is that they will do it in concert with the university.”

To ensure this collaborative atmosphere, Wilson said, he and the UNC-system lobbyist, Mark Fleming, will find opportunities during the coming weeks to build relationships with legislators and to start new ones.

Perhaps the most important issue for Wilson, besides the system budget, is his re-election to the board. If re-elected by the legislature, this will be Wilson’s last four-year term as the board’s chairman.

The legislature also will review 13 board members for re-election and at least three new applicants for open seats.

BOG members Jack Cecil, Irvin Aldridge and Bert Collins have served three terms on the board and are no longer eligible for re-election.

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