|By Mark Johnson, The Charlotte Observer,
N.C.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
September 17, 2009 - RALEIGH - The N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law filed a lawsuit Wednesday to force Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte to give back the money the state has given to the culinary and hospitality school.
The institute, a conservative-leaning legal think tank, said the $10million promised to the school in 2004 by then-House Speaker Jim Black and other legislative leaders doesn't qualify as an economic incentive. The school was not required to create jobs or invest in the state, the steps that state officials typically include to justify the public purpose for a corporate handout.
"This is simply a gift from Jim Black to the school," said Bob Orr, the institute's executive director and a former justice on the N.C. Supreme Court. "Unfortunately it is one the taxpayers are footing the bill for."
Black has since pleaded guilty to unrelated federal corruption charges and gone to prison.
The lawsuit says the constitution allows spending money only for a public purpose. The suit asks to stop payments and recoup the ones already made. The school has received at least $7.5million.
Former Lt. Gov. Dennis Wicker, a lawyer in Raleigh who now represents the university, said he expects the courts will not agree with the institute, as they have yet to agree with suits the institute has filed over state-backed incentives to companies such as Dell and Google.
"This went through the legislative process and enjoyed bipartisan support," Wicker said. "Educating our kids is always a public purpose."
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