“Heading Back” – Short Session Begins
The North Carolina General Assembly convened for its 2012 “short session” on Wednesday, May 16th. Legislators aim to tackle a number of issues within what is expected to be one of the shortest short sessions to date—scheduled to adjourn by the end of June. The primary purpose of the short session is to modify the two-year state budget that was enacted during the 2011 session, but lawmakers intend to address other high profile issues, ranging from fracking to requiring voter identification at the polls.
House budget writers hope to introduce their budget bill early on, in an effort to finish their spending plan before the start of the state fiscal year on July 1st.
Budget: What’s on the Agenda
Legislation designed to close cost overruns in the N.C. Medicaid program (which could exceed $200 million) has been approved by the Senate. The bill would allow for the use of up to $205.5 million, which would come from five different sources, including: $105 million from state agency reversions; $50 million from other “unspent pools of money” from the Department of Health and Human Services; $20 million from project revenue; $20 million from unspent money in the state building Repair and Renovation Fund; and $10.5 million from “Repair and Renovation” money that has already been allocated to the Department of Health and Human Services.
House Republicans have determined that a portion of the $121.1 million budget that is currently set aside for next year’s employee merit raises should now be used to improve K-12 schools instead… It is estimated that $258 million of federal “edu-jobs” money is running out. Last year, lawmakers discussed setting up a merit pay system for both teachers and state employees and planned to spend $121.1 million, but a statewide plan for teachers has proposed that local school districts set up their own merit pay systems.
A new deal signed by Governor Perdue allows the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians to set up Las Vegas-style card games with live dealers—with millions of dollars in revenue going to the state to pay for schools. The legislature has already taken initial steps to pass legislation to enable the agreement. The new Gaming Compact will allow live dealer gambling for card games such as poker and blackjack. The 30-year agreement would begin sharing revenue starting at 4 percent and eventually increase to 8 percent. The deal is also expected to create 400 new jobs in a remote mountain region.
Bill Proposals for Annexation have Advanced
Two House Bills related to annexation in North Carolina have advanced in legislature in the first week. These bills follow a court ruling in March that overturned portions of last year’s annexation reform bills that allowed annexed residents to overturn the nine ongoing annexations (and future ones) through a petition process that requires 60 percent of landowners to oppose the annexation. The court ruled petition process equivalent to an unconstitutional voting process, where land ownership is considered to be “an improper prerequisite to vote.” Senate leaders responded by setting up a voting requirement that a simple majority of residents who are registered to vote approve the annexation; once rejected, a city could no longer consider another involuntary annexation in the area for at least 12 years.
Fracking Bill Advances in N.C. Legislature
Three energy bills are working their way through the legislature. If passed, they would legalize fracking, promote offshore energy exploration, and create a test program for fuel-producing grasses. The fracking bill has been extremely controversial, with many believing that “the technology is so dangerous and risky it should never be allowed in this state…” But those who wish to legalize fracking (or hydraulic fracturing) anticipate it being a cheaper, cleaner-burning fuel alternative.
The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County, has not been universally accepted—even within the GOP-dominated legislature. The bill is also set to compete with an alternate fracking proposal being pushed in the House by Rep. Mitch Gillespie, R-McDowell, that promises to “pack it with public protections that underscore the anxieties surrounding the issue.”