Conference Committee Appointed for Budget Debate
The House and Senate appointed members to a conference committee to negotiate the differences between the chambers’ respective budget proposals this week. The committee will attempt to reconcile their differences before the new fiscal year begins on July 1. House Speaker Thom Tillis outlined the schedule for budget negotiations at the end of Thursday’s session. Tillis said that the conference will begin next week, and will try to finish before July 4. The Speaker also stated that a continuing resolution would be passed early next week in case the negotiations continue after July 1. The difference between the two plans is only $12 million in the first year, but the chambers remain far apart on dozens of spending and policy decisions.
General Assembly Begins Tax Negotiations
Tax negotiations have begun between select members of the House and Senate. House leaders offered a compromise to their Senate counterparts Thursday on the tax overhaul, according to Senate leader Phil Berger. The tax overhaul will adjust the level of funds budget-writers can spend through the middle of 2015, which could lead to the General Assembly having to pass a stop-gap spending measure to keep funding the state government after the new fiscal year begins on July 1. The House’s latest tax offer to the Senate would reduce the corporate income tax rate quicker than the bill that cleared their chamber two weeks ago. The compromise also agrees to the Senate’s position on the future of several tax exemptions.
Speed Limit Increase Heads Back to House Committee
After two days of contentious debate on the House floor, a bill that would allow the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) to raise the speed limit to 75 miles per hour was sent back to the House Transportation committee for further deliberation. The speed limit increase would only occur on major highways after DOT studied the roads to make sure they would remain safe with drivers travelling at higher speeds. Supporters of the legislation argued that giving DOT the ability to raise the speed limit would take politics out of the picture and allow the government to do what it needs. Meanwhile, the bill’s opponents claim the speed increase would lead to more accidents, as well as higher insurance rates for all drivers.
Governor’s Transportation Plan Approved by General Assembly
A bill that would change how transportation projects receive funding was given final approval by the General Assembly on Wednesday, after the House concurred to the Senate’s changes with a 105-8 vote. The bill removes the existing funding formula and replaces it with a new formula that lowers the amount of guaranteed funding for road projects in some regions, in order to prioritize projects with the greatest need. The formula considers factors such as economic impact and road congestion. Existing projects, including the Garden Parkway, Mid-Currituck Bridge, and Cape Fear Skyway, will have to compete with the other projects for funding. Supporters of the plan claim that it will take politics out of road projects by allowing a formula to decide which projects are most in need of funding. Opponents of the bill claim that many existing projects should continue to receive funding because millions of dollars have already been spent on them.
House Concurs on LEED Compromise
The House gave final legislative approval to a compromise bill that threatened to end the use of the LEED rating system for state projects. The legislation allows for the use of LEED, a third party rating system for sustainable buildings created by the US Green Building Council, or other rating systems as long as it does not disadvantage “building materials or furnishings, including masonry, concrete, steel, textiles, and wood” that are manufactured or produced in North Carolina. The bill also requires a public project using a sustainable rating program to factor in the cost of third-party certification in its construction and operating expenses. State projects to be built under green-building standards must cost less and have lower operating costs than a standard structure. The House concurred with a unanimous vote, and the bill will head to Governor McCrory’s desk for final approval.
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