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Senate Gearing Up for Full Week of Budget Debate
All indications from the Senate leadership signal that all eyes and ears will be on the Senate’s spending plan next week. Rumors began swirling late this week that the Senate is preparing to roll out their full budget proposal on Tuesday morning (5/24) in appropriations subcommittees. The measure will then go through the full finance and appropriations committees later in the week, with the first floor vote scheduled for May 31.
While it is all speculation at this point as to what will be included in the final budget package, Senate leadership is expected to include an education reform plan as part of its budget proposal in an effort to improve early grade reading skills. Late this week, Senator Berger indicated that the Senate has reexamined their original goal to cut an additional $106 million in public school spending from the amount outlined in the House budget and will instead actually spend more than the House’s proposal. Provisions of the education plan include:
- K-3 class size reductions setting one teacher to every 15 students (compared to the current 1-18 ratio).
- Five teacher workdays would be turned into additional instructional days.
- Base teacher salaries on performance instead of tenure.
- Cut expenses by eliminating teacher assistants in lower graded.
Governor & Lawmakers Reach Compromise on State Health Care Plan
The General Assembly this week wrapped up a final compromise with the Governor on cost-cutting measures to the state’s health plan, which will close the $515 million gap by using extra year-end cash reserves of $40 million to $50 million to cover the premiums for state employees using the basic coverage plan. This follows a month-long stalemate between legislators and the Governor whether the state would require workers to pay a monthly premium for the first time. The compromised version offers a no-cost health plan option for employees, while raising the premiums on dependents and increase co-pays and deductibles for employees, dependents and retirees.
The reworked compromise passed the Senate 33-16 and the House 90-24 this week. The Governor has already indicated that she will sign it.
Legislative Leaders Discuss Tax Reform Part 1
The generation-old effort to pass comprehensive tax reform may be getting some action this session with a tax package addressing not just rates, but filing and credits. Legislative leaders said this week that they are not only working on a tax package to cut corporate and individual tax rates, but also looking at a larger proposal to include simplifying tax returns. Some of the proposals in discussion are reducing the calculations needed to determine taxable income and eliminating some current individual income tax credits.
Senator Rucho (R-Mecklenburg), a leader behind the tax reform efforts stated this week that this year’s package would be considered the first of about three installments toward the goal of comprehensive tax reform. “This year’s edition is about lowering tax burdens, which could create up to 70,000 private-sector jobs. We’re going to put money back into the hand of the working families and small businesses.”
Debate Begins on E-Verify Requirements for Employers
House Bill 36: Government Contractors Must Use E-Verify, which will require contractors and subcontractors that do business with state governmental units to use the federal E-Verify system, passed the House Government Committee this week. E-Verify is an online system that allows employers to determine whether someone is eligible to work in the United States by matching them against databases maintained by the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security. Within committee discussions this week the bill was amended to require all cities and counties to use the system as well to verify the work eligibility of new employees.
The bill now moves to House Judiciary A Committee for consideration. There is some talk among lawmakers to further expand the bill to require all employers within the state to use the E-Verify system with stipulations. As conversations ensue, we will keep you updated.
NC School Nutrition Being Put on a Diet
Legislators are taking bigger steps to regulate what’s being sold to North Carolina school children while they are at school. The House Education Committee this week passed HB 503 requiring stricter nutrition rules, limiting sugar, fat, sodium and calories in all soft drinks and snack foods sold in public schools. The measure would take effect for the 2012 academic school year for public schools, exempting foods sold by students after lunch or at extracurricular events for fundraisers. The bill has wide-spread support, including the soft drink and snack food industries.
The full House is expected to consider the bill on the floor next week.