Last week visitors to the State Legislative Building in Raleigh were greeted with loud noises that left even well-informed legislators scratching their heads.
The noises were coming from a renovation project of the House chamber – where the full House convenes to debate and vote on bills. According to news reports, the makeover is to cost taxpayers $125,000 and involve “walling off six of the 13 sets of double doors to the 51-year-old chamber and replacing the iconic red velvet drapes behind the speaker’s dais with wood paneling.”
Perhaps most troubling, however, are the reports that outgoing House Speaker Thom Tillis authorized the renovation and expenditures without discussing the matter with fellow legislators.
Rep. Julia Howard, a thirteen-term member and Vice Chair of the House Appropriations committee claims that no one outside of Tillis’ office even knew of the project. “I don’t think anyone knew. I mean, someone knew, I guess, but I certainly didn’t,” said Howard, adding, “It should have been an issue that was brought before the [House] body.”
Tillis spokeswoman Anna Roberts insisted the renovation is “functional, not just cosmetic,” pointing out that the project includes upgrades to wiring and IT connections.
No details are available, however, to determine how much of the project involves the technical improvements versus merely a change in scenery.
The money was reportedly available in the state budget from appropriations for “House operations.” A pot of money that can unilaterally be spent by an individual legislator without approval from other legislators, however, sounds a lot like a slush fund.
Because it spends taxpayer dollars under a veil of secrecy largely on unneeded cosmetic changes to the House chamber through what certainly looks like a slush fund, the House Chamber makeover is this week’s Waste of the Week.