House Budget Passes
On Wednesday, the House approved a $20.3 billion state spending plan. The Republican penned proposal was backed by five Democrats. Reps. Bill Brisson, Bill Owens, Dewey Hill, Jim Crawford, and Tim Spear crossed party lines to give the House enough votes to potentially override a veto by Gov. Beverly Perdue. After seven-and-a-half hours of debate, the bill passed 73 to 46. The Senate will now have its turn at the budget in the coming weeks.
House Speaker Thom Tillis said he hoped that Gov. Perdue would see the positives in the Republican-created plan. Tillis also credited Democratic support to an inclusive budget process. The budget plan would spend $600 million more than the current-year budget, with $333 million covering the expiring federal stimulus dollars for public schools, $74 million to reverse part of the projected flexibility cuts to the schools and provide a one-time $250 bonus for teachers and other state employees. House leaders are also pushing a $10 million appropriation to community colleges for a job training program focused on long-term unemployment and $4.5 million to improve access to small business loans.
Several House Democrats criticize the plan saying it continues “down a path that will do long-term damage to the state.” Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, said the budget cuts have led to a “deep resentment” among public school employees toward the General Assembly. House Minority Leader Joe Hackney, D-Orange, predicts that the cuts to the university system would also damage the state’s economy for years to come. Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, responded to the criticism by arguing that the per-pupil outlay for the University of North Carolina system schools (approx. $13,000) remains high in comparison to other states.
The floor debate involved about 20 amendments with most coming from Democrats trying to reverse provisions that they felt were egregious. Republicans budget writers did, however, back Democrats on a handful of amendments restoring money to several programs.
As advocates push to legalize fracking, identical bills have been introduced in the House and the Senate. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, presented the legislation in the Senate Commerce Committee, stating that the bill is ready for debate and should be voted upon on Tuesday. If approved by the committee, it then goes to the Senate floor for a vote. House supporters are also expected to push for quick action on their bill. Both would legalize hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling—two methods used to release natural gas from shale rock formations.
Critics of fracking remain unswayed. Elizabeth Outz, director of Environment North Carolina, said that fracking has caused problems in every state where it is allowed, but added that Rucho’s bill is “better than before but not good enough.” Both bills include a host of consumer protections that were recommended by the N.C. Attorney General and environmental safeguards urged by the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The bills also eliminate a key objection of critics, in regards to there not being a on which drillers could begin operating their rigs; instead, legalization of fracking would require separate action by state legislature.
In a rare showing of bipartisanship, the House gave tentative approval to changes to North Carolina gambling laws that would allow live table games at the Cherokee Indian casino. Two-thirds of the chamber’s 52 Democrats united with 30 Republicans for a 66 to 49 vote in favor of the Senate bill that eases state gambling restrictions. The new agreement allows Harrah’s Cherokee casino to offer live dealer games like poker, craps and roulette—in accordance with a recent compact between the tribe and Gov. Beverly Perdue. Proponents anticipate that this change will bring more than 400 jobs to western North Carolina and give the state a portion of the gross proceeds from the new games. The 30-year compact gives the tribe the ability to build two additional casinos on their lands (covering five counties), and could generate up to $90 million for both the state and school districts that will receive the proceeds for classroom personnel and materials.
The House has given final approval on two bills that aim to undo existing municipal annexations. The final votes in the House mean that the legislation will now go to Gov. Beverly Perdue to be signed into law. There was little debate over the votes just one week after several Democratic House members protested the restrictions, saying that they would harm economic growth. One bill reverses annexations in Fayetteville, Lexington, Kinston, Rocky Mount, Asheville, Wilmington, Marvin, Southport and Goldsboro; they are also prohibited from further attempts to annex these areas for another 12 years. The second bill allows for a simple majority of residents to block involuntary annexation.
According to a recent poll, Mitt Romney has a slight 47 percent to 45 percent lead over Barack Obama in North Carolina. The gap is within the margin of error, according to the Civitas Poll, whose results were similar to a poll taken for WRAL which showed Romney up 45 percent to 44 percent. The Civitas Poll has noted that Romney has been moving up substantially in North Carolina ever since a survey in February. Romney’s improved polling is due in large part to his rising popularity among unaffiliated voters; a group that he is leading Obama 49 percent to 40 percent.