NCGA Week in Review: June 11-15

June 15, 2012

Pardon Our Dust

We recently launched this new site and are still in the process of updating some of our archived content. Some details of this article may be incomplete, links may be broken, and other elements may not display properly yet. We appreciate your patience and understanding.


JUNE 15, 2012
The Senate Budget
On Thursday, the Senate gave final approval to its version of a $20.1 billion state budget which had significant differences from the House version. Budget writers from both chambers now have to hash out a compromise plan before sending the budget to Governor Bev. Perdue. Perdue, who has already reviewed both versions of the budget, is likely to veto the budget for the second year in a row. In 2011, the Legislature overrode her budget veto with the aid of five House Democrats.
House budget writers decided to spend most of the small revenue surplus to help reduce the $503 million that school districts would be required to return to the state by two-thirds. The Senate, however, was more cautious than the House with the non-recurring revenue and decided to only reduce the amount school districts would have to pay back by 15 percent and declined to address $259 million of federal education jobs money that districts will lose next school year. They also set aside more reserves to prepare for potential Medicaid shortfalls.
Other items in contention:  
·        The House wants to give teachers a $250 bonus, while the Senate prefers a 1.2 percent increase for “rank-and-file” department employees and making raises optional for higher education instructors and public school workers. 
·        The Senate budget included most of Senate Pro Tem Phil Berger’s Education reform bill and money to fund the provisions. The House did not include any of Berger’s education plan, but they do plan to have a committee hearing on it next week.
·        Ferry tolls also appear to be a sticking point, with some House Democrats joining Republicans in voting for the budget, wanting new and higher tolls delayed for at least a year. The Senate budget required all ferry routes to be tolled.
·        The House set aside $11 million in reserve to pay $50,000 compensation to living victims the North Carolina eugenics program of the mid-20th century—the Senate, however, has no such reserve.
Medicaid Differences
One of the big differences in the House and Senate proposed budgets is how the two chambers approach Medicaid and health-related spending. The Senate budget plan calls for spending $100 million more than the House on Medicaid, and also provides a $102 million reserve for the State Health Plan. The House reserve is $1 million. The differences in the Medicaid budget are, in large part, a result of Senate budget writers dropping about $70 million in anticipated savings called for in the House plan. The anticipated savings in the House plan include $59.2 million from the Medicaid managed care program Community Care North Carolina.
House Passes Fracking Bill
On Wednesday, the House Environment committee gave initial approval to S 820, Clean Energy and Economic Security Act, which would lift the ban on fracking and direct several state agencies to devise fracking regulations as early as October 2014, when the first permits could be offered.
On Thursday, the full House approved S 820 66-43, over objections from environmentalists who are concerned that there are not enough protections to prevent groundwater contamination and the bill does not allow enough time or resources for effective implementation. Rep. Mitch Gillespie, who called the proposal the “strongest fracking bill in the nation,” emphasized that while the measure legalizes fracking, implementation is still at least two years away and concerns can be addressed during that period.
The bill will now return to the Senate for concurrence with the House changes. The Senate bill’s sponsor, Sen. Bob Rucho, has stated that he is in agreement with most of the House changes and expects the bill to be well received in the Senate.
Annexation Bill to Become Law
Gov. Bev Perdue says that she will not take any action on legislation that allows people who live in unincorporated areas to vote against forced annexations. Perdue has 10 days to either veto or sign the bill or it will become law without her signature. This bill was passed in response to a court ruling in March that cancelled a petition process approved in 2011 to block such annexations, because only landowners participated. The revised law allows a traditional referendum requiring a simple majority vote. House members gave its final approval to the bill by a vote of 72-45, a margin that indicates they more than likely could have overridden any Perdue veto. The Senate vote was also appears to be veto-proof.
Veto Override
The House voted, for the 8th time this year, to override a veto by Gov. Beverly Perdue. With the override, North Carolina community colleges may now opt out of a federal student loan program. Supporters argued that the measure is about local control, and that community colleges should decide for themselves whether to participate in the low-interest loan program. Opponents countered that the result would be less access to higher education.
Prior to Thursday’s vote, House Minority leader, Rep. Joe Hackney, entered a formal protest questioning whether the delay violated the state constitutional provision governing vetoes and overrides. Perdue vetoed the bill in April 2011 and it has remained on the House calendar for possible override since then.