North Carolina Goodyear Vote Could Make History

Legislature will vote to override governor's veto of a bill that would help tire maker upgrade its plant ; if successful, it would be the first override in state history.

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Legislature and Gov. Mike Easley appear headed for a showdown Monday over economic incentives for an aging tire plant in a battle that could make state history and hand the two-term incumbent a rare defeat from fellow Democrats.
Since Easley vetoed a bill last week targeted to benefit Akron, Ohio-based Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., there have been few signs of progress toward a compromise that would avoid the first veto override in North Carolina.
''The governor and his staff are working with the Legislature in every way we can,'' Easley spokesman Seth Effron said Thursday in announcing the governor will call the General Assembly back to Raleigh for a session Monday to consider his veto.
The prospect of lawmakers negating Easley's veto is legitimate since the House and Senate each approved the original bill by a wide margin. Three-fifths of House and Senate members present Monday would have to agree to reject the veto so the bill could become law.
North Carolina's governor received veto power in 1997. Only eight vetoes have been issued since then, all by Easley, and none of the first seven was overturned.
House Speaker Joe Hackney was confident Thursday that his chamber has enough votes for an override, spokesman Bill Holmes said. In the Senate, Majority Leader Tony Rand, of Fayetteville, is among the bill's strongest supporters.
''People are committed to assisting Goodyear,'' said Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland), one of the bill's sponsors. ''If it can't be done one way, then it will have to be another.''
The bill would allow state officials to give up to $4 million annually, for 10 years, to a manufacturing company if it agreed to invest at least $200 million in new equipment over five years.
No company was named in the bill, but it was designed to help Goodyear, which currently employs about 2,750 workers in Fayetteville and wants help upgrading its plant so it can make more profitable premium tires.
The company has been offered similar financial assistance for similar renovations in Alabama, and Fayetteville-area officials worry that a delay in a commitment could hurt the plant. The local economy is already struggling because about half of the 48,000 soldiers assigned to neighboring Fort Bragg are deployed overseas.
''The loss of Goodyear to the people of Cumberland County would be devastating,'' Gary Cooper, president of the Cumberland County Business Council, wrote in a letter this week to legislators urging them to override the veto.
In his letter to legislators Wednesday, Easley said the bill approved Aug. 1 would set a ''dangerous precedent for North Carolina's economic development policy.''
Since the bill would apply to plants with at least 2,000 workers, Goodyear could reduce its work force by several hundred people and still receive the grants, Easley said.
Fayetteville-area lawmakers said this week they have had no discussions with company officials about large upcoming layoffs. Goodyear spokesman Ed Markey said the company has increased its Fayetteville work force this year and will soon raise its production schedule.
''This bill is the key element of our strategy to invest in our Fayetteville plant to be sure it is globally competitive,'' Markey said in a statement.
The 2,000-worker provision was designed to help other companies qualify for the grant program, possibly Goodyear rival Bridgestone Firestone, which has an operation in Wilson, according to Glazier.
Easley is floating an alternative plan he said would resolve problems in the Goodyear bill while broadening the incentives to other companies in economically distressed areas looking to remodel to stay competitive.
Legislators ''need to understand we must protect jobs. The state's investment must be rational and performance-based, and not this cash giveaway,'' Effron said.
While some lawmakers support the change, the plan wouldn't be considered until the Legislature takes up regular business next May. That's too long to wait, according to some Fayetteville boosters.
All five major candidates for governor have backed Easley's veto, as have liberal and conservative economic think tanks.
''People representing the rest of the state have had to stop and think and ask, 'Why are we doing this for one company?' '' said House Minority Leader Paul Stam (R-Wake) one of only 11 House members who voted against the final bill.
But Glazier said many Republicans and Democrats back an override.
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