Pardon Our Dust
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After a whirlwind of hearings in both chambers over the last several weeks, budget negotiations entered their final phase this week when House and Senate leaders appointed conferees to produce a single, legislative proposal. On Thursday, budget subcommittee leaders received spending targets that will assist in the reconciliation of appropriation differences between the two chambers. In those areas with the biggest discrepancies, the targets essentially split the difference between the House and Senate plans on education spending but are closer to the Senate plan on the categories of health and human services and justice and public safety. The current conference schedule expects sub-conferees to meet and report throughout next week, finalize decisions as a full conference the following week, and adopt a Conference Report by June 29th. June 30th marks the end of the fiscal year.
The North Carolina economy was also at the heart of several other bills considered in the General Assembly this week. By a margin of 44-2, the Senate approved legislation to prevent home foreclosures. In addition to expanding the program from subprime mortgages to all home loans, Senators extended the Emergency Program to Reduce Home Foreclosures for an additional two years to 2013. The bill must clear the House before being offered to Governor Purdue. Separately, the House initiated economic incentive legislation which supporters contend will help North Carolina bring high-quality jobs to the state and restore ailing local tax bases. The House Commerce Committee gave a favorable report to the Keeping North Carolina Competitive Act, an omnibus-style incentives package that includes, most notably, provisions designed to encourage computer data centers, an energy turbine manufacturer and a paper plant to expand in the state. Those expanded enterprises alone could generate at least 1,200 jobs and more than $2 billion in capital investment, deputy state commerce secretary Dale Carroll said. The bill, if approved, could create $93 million in tax breaks annually by 2015, according to an analysis performed by legislative staff. The House Finance Committee must address the bill before it can proceed to the House floor.
North Carolina legislators have also reacted to the BP oil spill with legislation designed to protect the North Carolina shoreline from the potential danger posed by offshore drilling. A bill approved this week by the House Environment and Natural Resources Committee would remove the federal cap on liability to the State for damage to public resources arising from the discharge of oil or other hazardous substances. The Legislature last tinkered with the issue 20 years ago. Rep. Pricey Harrison (D-Guilford), a Vice Chair in both the House Energy and House Environment Committees, said it could apply to damage caused by the BP spill in April if oil reaches the North Carolina coast after the bill becomes law.
In the wake of last year’s news reports about the high salaries of local board administrators and meals paid for by liquor companies to local Alcoholic Beverage Control (“ABC”) leaders, the House Alcoholic Beverage Control Committee acted upon a study commission’s recommendations to strengthen the ABC Commission’s oversight role and ability to set performance standards. The measure approved by the Committee went beyond the study commission’s recommendations to require the state’s nearly 170 local ABC boards to create their own ethics codes. It also would prohibit local board members from accepting gifts from contractors doing business with their panel or stores and to avoid conflicts of interest that could financially benefit themselves or family members. Each local board would be subject to performance standards set by the state ABC Commission, including store operating efficiency, solvency and customer service and enforcement of the alcohol laws.