NCGA Week in Review: 5/2-5/9

May 8, 2011

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Municipal Broadband Bill Heads to Governor’s Desk

This week the House gave its final stamp of approval to House Bill 129 Level Playing Field/Local Government Competition, voting 82-34 to approve the changes made in the Senate and send it to the Governor for her signature.

The measure prohibits any new broadband start-ups by towns and cities that use general taxes or fees from other services to subsidize cable rates; requires new municipally-owned systems to pay fees in lieu of the state and county taxes that private systems would otherwise be paying; and requires cities to obtain voter approval before borrowing any money to help pay for the systems. The final version of the bill includes less restrictive territories for the five cities already using broadband systems and exempts them from the majority of the new requirements.

Proponents of the bill argue that municipalities providing broadband services should be subject to the same regulations as private companies.  Meaning, that towns and cities that supply broadband services would not be able to subsidize their rates with citizens’ tax dollars or fees from electricity customers. On the other side, critics of the bill say it makes competition in smaller towns and municipalities almost impossible.  

House Budget Moves to the Senate

After twelve hours of debate Wednesday, a teacher’s protest, a gallery protest, and three more hours of discussion on Thursday, the House gave final approval to its $19.3 billion budget.  Depending on who your ask, the spending plan has been described as “the biggest tax break relief in the history of the state” and also an “abomination” that will result in irreparable harm because it cuts so deeply; leaving permanent scars.  The budget was passed with a 72-47 vote, which included five Democrats: Rep. William Brisson of Bladen County, Rep James Crawford of Oxford, Rep Bill Owens of Elizabeth City, Rep Dewey Hill of Brunswick, and Rep Timothy Spear of Dare County.  This margin would secure that the House would have enough votes to override a veto from Gov. Perdue.  There are already enough votes in the Senate to do the same, assuming all Republicans vote for the GOP driven budget.
With this new budget, the state’s operating funds would total roughly 7% less than what the governor had recommended – a $1.52 billion dollar difference.  House budget writers had to close a roughly $2.5 billion gap between projected revenues and expenses for the coming year, in part by spending $600 million less than what Perdue proposed in February. Republicans would cut $900 million more from public education and health care than Perdue did in large part because they were resolute in ending the temporary higher sales and income taxes, which are set to expire June 30.

As the budget moves to the Senate now for consideration, the biggest battle is expected to be over education. Since over 60% of the budget goes to education, they received the largest hit of $1.3 billion.  Within the House budget, public schools took an 8.8% hit, community colleges by 10%, and the UNC system by 15%.  Also, the budget specifies that the State Board of Education (instead of local boards) will be held responsible for setting policy on how the actual layoffs will be handled.

 The Senate Republican Caucus already started discussing Friday how to return a budget to the House that would secure the five conservative democrats’ votes.  Early thoughts are that the Senate will most likely spend less overall compared to the House.  They are also likely to re-work the education reductions in both the public school system and the UNC system.

Debate Heats Up on Annexation Reform

There was heavy debate but no vote over House Bill 845, Annexation Reform Act of 2011 this week in the House Finance committee.  Lawmakers are debating amending forced-annexation laws that have been in place for more than 50 years in North Carolina. The current proposal would block a city’s decision to annex land if 60% of the landowners file petitions opposing it.  The bill has made it through one committee already (House Rules), and is expected to receive a vote in House Finance as early as Monday (5/9).

Crossover Deadline Extended

The House and Senate approved resolutions to move the crossover deadline back to June 9th, which was originally set for May 12th. The deadline means that all non-appropriation bills must be approved by the legislative chamber of introduction in order to remain eligible for consideration for the remainder of session as well as the upcoming “short session” in May 2012.

Cinco de Mayo

Appropriately enough, the Senate this week (on the fifth of May) approved a measure encouraging “Cinco de Mayo” celebrations.  The measure highlights the growth of North Carolina’s Hispanic population and “the benefits from a vibrant Hispanic and Latino community.”  The resolution passed with a 49-0 vote (that’s “cuarenta y nueve – cero” in Spanish).  Sen Apodaca (R-Henderson) commented on his visit to Puebla, Mexico, the city where the battle between Mexico and France took place, “This victory by the Mexicans on May 5th, 1862, is the foundation for the holiday.”