New budget restricts governor’s legal options

RALEIGH — The Republican-led N.C. General Assembly adopted a budget that further limits the power of the governor’s office. by cutting nearly $1 million in funding, moving oversight of a commission and a grant program that had been in his purview to Republican-led offices, and limiting his ability to hire private attorneys to help challenge their legislation in court.

Included in the budget are:

▪ All state government agencies must obtain authorization from the General Assembly to hire private counsel;

▪ Prohibitions against the use of lapsed salary proceeds to pay private attorneys;

▪ Changes that call for the state attorney general, an elected post held by Democrat Josh Stein, to represent the lawmakers when they are sued.

▪ A cut of $10 million in targeted line items that the attorney general  says will force him to lay off 123 full-time employees, many of whom are attorneys.

▪ Leaders of the General Assembly chambers decide whether to defend actions against them, as well as whether to hire private counsel to represent them, attorneys who would take the lead even if the state attorney general also was to provide counsel in the case.

According to a Joint Legislative Commission on Governmental Operations report, the General Assembly has spent $12.6 million on outside counsel. Since Cooper was elected in November, he has brought three lawsuits against the General Assembly leadership.