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Though he guided big bills through, McGrady laments two that fell short

State Rep. Chuck McGrady nears the end of his legislative career. State Rep. Chuck McGrady nears the end of his legislative career.

Although he was short-timing it as his last term in the General Assembly drew to a close, state Rep. Chuck McGrady refused to hit cruise control.

The Legislature this month had some critical work to do and as he has done before, House Speaker Tim Moore handed the thorniest work to McGrady, a lawyer by training who has developed an expertise in transportation funding and is the Legislature's go-to authority on environmental regulation. He has been one of the top budget writers in the House for several terms.

"I had a trifecta of major, complicated bills pass towards the end of the session,"  McGrady said in his latest newsletter recapping the session that ended in the predawn darkness on Thursday.

The first of three heavy lifts was a bill to get the NCDOT's budget back in balance and reform agency procedures that led to huge overspending in 2019, grinding the state's road work to a halt.

"Recognizing a huge problem with the transportation budget which primarily gets its funds from gas taxes and federal monies, House and Senate budget chairs decided to work together to make huge cuts to balance the budget," McGrady said. "It was a difficult and painful task. I was given the lead in convening the meetings and guiding the process."

The complicated fix reignited a familiar balance of power flashpoint between the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. In a move that Cooper denounced as a power grab, Moore and Senate leader Phil Berger had tried to exploit a must-pass reform bill to stack the state Board of Transportaiton with more Republican appointees. A compromise reduced the number of new appointments the House and Senate will have, sustaining Cooper's majority number.

"My view is that there has been far too little compromise between the Governor and the legislature on a range of contentious issues, but the transportation funding bill is one example of where compromise led to the passage of significant legislation," McGrady said.

As has been the case almost since he arrived in Raleigh nine years ago, McGrady took the lead in guiding an omnibus regulatory reform bill. A Republican who also happens to be a past national president of the Sierra Club, a former summer camp owner and founder of ECO in Hendersonville, McGrady is these days 50 pounds lighter — back to his college weight — and back to hiking mountain trails as often as he can.

"For me, the experience of putting together the compromise (on environmental regulations) was a bit surreal," he said. "In my earlier years, I’d spent a lot of time trying to defeat these types of bills, but now I was leading the effort to pass one. ...  In the end, the bill passed the House and the Senate unanimously. Since the bill largely provides changes in law sought by the Cooper administration, the expectation is the bill will become law."

His last major statewide bill involved bailout money for broke or nearly broke local towns and water and sewer authorities, usually serving small rural communities with shrinking tax bases, to repair water and wastewater plants. Because the bill had strong bipartisan support, it had tended in recent legislative sessions to attract irrelevant "Christmas ornaments." This time, McGrady said, he and the bill's Senate sponsor managed to marshal a clean bill through.

McGrady closed the recap of his last regular session — the Legislature will come back at least twice more, but not for general bill-passing work — with lamentations for two bills that didn't make it.

The first, a bill to broaden autism services through regulatory changes, looked like it might finally cross the finish line after McGrady and others had spent years pushing.

"In the wee hours of the morning, I was informed by the Senate there wasn’t enough time to take up HB671, and that is a bitter pill for me," he said.

An even heavier rock to push uphill was McGrady's quixotic quest for a constitutional amendment to create nonpartisan redistricting in North Carolina. Because an adjournment resolution restricts what the Legislature can do when it reconvenes "we may have lost our best opportunity to adopt some form of nonpartisan redistricting as many other states have done," he said.

It all amounted to a mixed bag for McGrady as he settled into his hybrid Toyota Camry for the five-hour drive home.

"As I leave town," he said, "I feel proud of the role I played in passing the transportation funding bill, the regulatory reform bill, and the water/wastewater infrastructure bill. Conversely, I’m despondent about what happened on the autism bill and not hopeful that nonpartisan redistricting will be addressed before this legislator finally heads home later this year.

"These latter setbacks pretty much confirm I made the right decision to move in another direction with my life," he concluded. "My record over the last 10 years speaks for itself, but there may be no realistic way to accomplish my goals on autism and nonpartisan redistricting during the remainder of my term representing District 117 in the House."