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.
Senate Budget Process Continues
The Senate budget process continued this week, though at a slower pace than members had planned for in the schedule released last month. Budget votesoriginally scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday of this week were delayed until next week. This is due in large measure to a delay from the stateDepartment of Health and Human Services (DHHS) in providing Senate budget writers with math figures on exactly how much DHHS owes in back Medicaidpayments. State budget director Lee Roberts has said that DHHS is working diligently to calculate the numbers and would know the costs soon. Senate leadershave indicated their spending proposal will be heard in appropriations subcommittees on Monday, with full committee consideration on Tuesday, holding fullchamber floor votes on Wednesday and Thursday.
Senate Unveils Economic Development, Tax Package
As the Senate continues budget negotiations, the chamber officially unveiled key economic development provisions late this week. The new measure, containedwithin the amended version of House Bill 117, NC Competes Act deals with several key tax and economic development areas, including:
- Personal Income Taxes
The Senate proposal would lower the state’s personal income tax rate from 5.75 percent to 5.5 percent in 2015. In addition, an expansion of the “standard deduction”, per the portion of individual income. The proposal also includes a comprehensive medical expense tax deduction.
- Corporate Income Taxes & Single Sales Factor
The Senate’s economic development plan would place into statue reductions in corporate incomes taxes from 5 percent to 4 percent in 2016 and 3 percent in 2017. In addition, the plan moves the state to “single sales factor” taxing for businesses, vs. the current tax structure of taxing companies based on sales, real estate holdings and payroll.
- Sales Tax Expansion
The new Senate tax proposal change the sales tax structure, including: eliminating the sales tax exemption for installation services; expansion of the sales tax base to include repair and maintenance services; expansion of sales tax to include pet care service and veterinary services; and expansion of the sales tax base to include advertising services.
The expansion of the sales tax base is projected to yield the following outcomes:
- Sales Tax & Nonprofits
The Senate bill curbs the sales tax refunds for non-profits, resulting in a tax refund for non-profits from $45 million presently to $1 million by 2020.
- Sales Tax & Redistribution
The Senate proposal alters distributions of sales tax throughout the states. Per current law, 75 percent of the sales tax goes to the county and city where the purchase is made, while 25 percent is distributed across the state based on population. Over the next four years, that formula would change so that, effective July 1, 2019, 20 percent would go to the county where a purchase is made, while 80 percent of sales taxes collected across North Carolina would be distributed based on population.
- Job Development Incentive Grant Program (JDIG)
The Senate proposal expands the JDIG program by retaining the current $15 million per year cap but creating an exception for high-yield projects, which is defined as $750 million in private funds and 2,000 hiring of eligible employees. Additional changes include, “Tier One” counties having to pay 100 percent of the county’s prevailing wage, while “Tier Three” counties having to pay 120 percent of the prevailing/average wage.
Legislature Overrides Governor’s Veto
The House voted Thursday morning to override the veto of Governor Pat McCrory (R-NC) to Senate Bill 2, Magistrates Recusal from Civil Ceremonies in 69-41vote. The measure allows magistrates to opt out of performing marriage ceremonies if they have sincerely held religious beliefs, though magistrates who optout would be ineligible to perform weddings for a six month period.
Taken up by the Senate first, the chamber voted 32-16 to override the veto, putting the bill in the hands of House members. Thursday’s vote included 110 ofthe House’s 120 members, meaning that 66 members were needed for an override. S2 became law as soon as the override vote occurred and is the second vetooverride of the 2015 legislative session. The other override vote occurred last week, when the General Assembly overrode Gov. McCrory’s veto of House Bill405, Property Protection Act, which protects property owners (employers) by enacting civil penalties for people who take or record information that“substantially interferes” with the rights of the property owner.
House Health committee Approves Medicaid Overhaul
The House Health committee voted to approve House Bill 372, 2015 Medicaid Modernization on Wednesday, giving support to a plan that places theresponsibility of cost controls in the hands of doctor and hospital networks. The measure is very similar to one which passed the House by a large majoritylast year, though it remains drastically different from what the Senate’s Medicaid overhaul plans look like. Many Senate Republicans have repeatedly saidthey believe using private managed care companies is the best way to curtail spending for Medicaid, which is expected to cost NC over $3.6 billion thisyear. Sponsors of the House proposal however, think that “provider-led entities” which enter into contracts with the Department of Health and HumanServices (DHHS) work best, in addition to creating more incentives to keep those enrolled in Medicaid healthy. Senators have said they prefer competitionof MCOS and ACOs/PLES.
H372 sponsor Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake) told the House Health committee that he felt the plan “would provide greater budget certainty and long-term costsavings…and would improve long-term health outcomes for our citizens.” The House proposal currently enjoys the support of the NC Hospital Association, theNC Medical Society and DHHS under Gov. McCrory. Dave Richard, DHHS Deputy Secretary for Medicaid, said that the McCrory Administration “has stronglyadvocated for physician and provider-led reforms that focus on making patients healthier.” The House and Senate versions both eliminate the current billingmodel in which Medicaid reimburses hospitals and doctors for the cost of each itemized medical treatment performed. Instead, a managed care group wouldreceive a fixed amount of money for each patient treated and profit would be based on how well they can keep costs in check. The House version requiresthat at least 90 percent of Medicaid recipients be enrolled in these fixed-cost health plans within a period of five years. A year later, provider-ledentities must meet certain quality and performance goals spelled out in their contracts with the state. The entities could then be financially rewarded orpenalized based on meeting those goals or falling short of them.
Unlike last year’s Medicaid bill which the House unanimously approved, some Republicans voted against the bill on Wednesday and publicly expressed concernover its provisions. Rep. Justin Burr (R-Stanly) said he felt it was risky to allow only provider led networks without bringing in competition from managedcare that are experts in financial and health care management. Rep. Burr said he felt the bill “kicks the can down the road,” and said that it didn’t fixanything. Rep. Dollar, however, disagreed. He said he felt that a similar, separate model to manage treatment for the mentally ill and people withdisabilities had proven to be successful. Having cleared the Health committee, the bill will now go to the House Appropriations committee, where Rep.Dollar is a senior chairman.
NC Department of Commerce Releases Report on State’s Tiered County System
A State Department of Commerce report has urged changes in NC’s old tiered ranking system for counties. The tiered system, meant to reflect the need foreconomic aid in individual counties, has been in place since the 1990s and figures into the distribution of public money and credits for job recruitment,historic downtown revitalization and industrial development, among other things. Some, however, argue that the system separates and divides NC, oftenoversimplifying the nature of prosperity and need. Presently, the NC Department of Commerce assigns each county a rank of one, two or three based onpopulations and measures of economic distress. By law, there are 40 Tier One’s, 40 Tier Two’s and 20 Tier Threes. Wake County, for example, is ranked aleast-distressed Tier Three, while Scotland County is a Tier One, with one of the highest unemployment rates statewide. The system was originally createdfor specific job development tax credits to encourage business investments in poor areas of the state. Those credits expired in 2014 and NC Department ofCommerce spokeswoman Kim Genardo said that their tiered system has been “much less impactful” for her office ever since. The system does, however, stillinteract with many state programs that award money or credits for local growth. Those programs include Job Development Investment Grants, the IndustrialDevelopment Fund and the Capital Development Fund, among others. Tiers are frequently used to determine what matching funds a county must put up to receivea block grant for infrastructure improvements and building renovations.
The report from the Department of Commerce recommends eliminating population triggers for counties, pointing out that Camden County is the 19thleast-distressed county in the state when measured by tier criteria. Its population of 12,000, however, means that the county goes down as a distressedTier One. Among other things, the report calls for ending consideration of property value and population growth in tier-making, and replacing them withaverage annual wage data.
Read the full Department of Commerce Reporthere
S25, Zoning Design & Aesthetic Controls Heads to the Governor
Senate Bill 25, Zoning Design & Aesthetic Controls passed the House with bi-partisan support this Tuesday by a vote of 98-17. The measure hadpreviously been approved by the Senate in April on a 43-7 vote. The bill now heads to the desk of Gov. McCrory for approval. The bill makes it clear thatcounties and municipalities have no authority to impose aesthetic regulations on residential building developers. Bill sponsor Sen. Rick Gunn (R-Alamance)said the bill was necessary because lawmakers never intended for local governments to have the authority to regulate exterior building aesthetics,including both color and design.
According to the text of the bill, the features of a home prohibited from regulation include exterior building color, style or materials of roof structureor porches, location or architectural styling of windows and the interior layout of rooms, among other things. The bill does, however, continue to allowmunicipalities and counties to regulate the height, bulk and location of a structure on a zoning lot, buffering or screening to minimize visual impacts andnoise to protect the privacy of neighbors.
New Plan for Business Licenses Proposed in Senate Finance committee
Senators Ronald Rabin (R-Harnett) and David Curtis (R-Lincoln) premiered a new plan for registering NC’s businesses in the Senate Finance committee thisweek. The plan, which would take effect in 2017, would require all sole proprietorships and general partnerships to pay $100 a year to register with thesecretary of state. Under the terms of the proposal, 90 percent of license fee revenues would go to the general fund, while 10 percent would be allocatedfor the cost of administering the program. The bill would also provide an allocation of $1 million to the Secretary of State’s Office to educate businessowners regarding the license requirement. The new system was rolled into Senate Bill 544, Requirements Based Workforce Development, which was filed earlierin the session. In presenting the bill to Finance committee members, Sen. Rabin said that the state currently had no requirements for registrations on soleproprietorships and that “as a result, we have some that register and some that don’t, some that pay taxes and some that don’t.” Sen. Curtis likewiseaffirmed that the goal was to get all businesses registered so that “we can find out who is actually doing business in NC and make sure everybody paystheir fair share of taxes.”
The bill would provide for fines of between $1,000 and $10,000 for businesses who failed to register, although home based businesses that bring in lessthan 1,000 per year would be exempt from the requirement to register. When he was asked what benefits businesses would get for paying the $100 fee, Sen.Rabin said that the only initial benefit would be getting registered so that NC knows the business owner is paying taxes. Sen. Bob Rucho in responding to aquestion posed about the number of businesses the proposal would bring into the tax system, said that NC currently has around 44,000 businesses who filefederal taxes but do not pay state taxes. He said he felt it wasn’t fair for those businesses not to pay their fair share.
The bill, however, received a largely cool reception from committee members, with Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke) saying that he felt the 1,000 threshold forexemptions was too low and would require a “grandma that makes pies” and an “18 year old that mows lawns” to have to register with the state and pay finesif they fail to do so. Sen. Bill Cook (R-Beaufort) said he felt the emphasis for Republicans in the legislature should be on job creation and the economyand that he was “confused” as to how the proposal achieved those objectives. Sen. Rabin responded to the criticism by saying that he didn’t believe the newregistration system would impede economic growth. After seeing the level of opposition to the proposal, Senate Finance Chairman Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph)decided to pull the bill to allow committee members the opportunity to iron out their differences.
View the PCS for S544here
H836, Elections Modifications Passes Senate
House Bill 836, Elections Modifications passed the Senate this week, after undergoing significant changes when the local government provisions of theprior-named Local Government Regulatory Reform bill were filtered out, leaving only elections-related proposals. Following these changes, the bill’s namewas changed to its current title and now includes provisions granting certain counties brief extensions on the state mandated switch to paper ballots.Affected counties would have until September 2019 to make the switch to paper ballots, though an attached summary of the bill did not note how manycounties would be affected. NC currently allows two types of electronic voting systems, optical scan machines, which tabulate paper ballots that arehand-marked by voters; and touch-screen machines, where voters may submit their choices electronically, without a paper component.
H836 would allow for a hybrid of the two proposals, permitting touch-screen voting systems as long as ballots are printed out and turned in on paper. Underthis system, county boards of elections would be able to submit excused absentee ballots to the State Board of Elections (SBOE) online, instead of viatraditional mail. Moreover, the bill would alter current state law regarding alcohol sales referenda by allowing cities with populations over 200 personsto hold elections on malt beverage or unfortified wine sales under certain conditions. Present state law allows cities to hold elections on such topics,but the new provisions would open this up to counties whose last election on the topic sided against such sales but who have at least three cities that atsome point voted to allow them.
Read the PCS for H836here
H562, Amend Firearm Laws Removed from House Floor, Sent Back to committee
House Bill 562, Amend Firearm laws, a bill which would repeal North Carolina’s pistol-permit application system, was sent back to committee this week amidmounting opposition from county sheriffs who currently approve or deny handgun purchases. Bill sponsor Rep. Jacqueline Schaffer (R-Mecklenburg) requestedthat H562 be delayed Monday as the measure had been scheduled for a floor vote in the House. Speaking to reporters Monday evening, Rep. Schaffer said thelegislation had “a lot of moving parts” and needed some additional work in the House Rules committee. The permit-application repeal has drawn significantire from both the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association and Gov. Pat McCrory, who said last week through his legislative liaison that he was opposed to themeasure in its current form.
H328, Highway Safety/Citizens Protection Act Passes House Finance committee
House Bill 328, Highway Safety/Citizens Protection Act was approved by the House Finance Committee this week in a 22-11 roll call vote. The measure wouldallow undocumented immigrants in NC to acquire restricted identification cards that grant driving privileges so long as the individuals pass a drivingtest, acquire liability insurance and are able to prove their identity through fingerprinting and a background check. House members are not united behindthe proposal however, due to the competing interests of getting more drivers insured while also preventing undocumented immigrants from benefiting fromstate programs. Bill sponsor Rep. Harry Warren (R-Rowan) said that his bill would create a “carrot and stick” approach in order to encourage drivers toacquire insurance and identification. He said there are currently around ten states that have similar programs, but that the provisions of H328 would bethe strictest in the union. Rep. Paul Stam (R-Wake) stated that his local chief of police had urgently asked the committee to pass the proposal andmentioned that under present law, a driver is harnessed with the cost of repairs and medical bills if the other driver in an accident is driving withoutinsurance. Supporters of the bill have criticized the federal government’s inability to effectively handle the issue of undocumented immigrants, whocurrently number around 325,000 in NC.
Gov. Pat McCrory’s legislative liaison Ryan Minto, however, told Finance committee members that the governor was displeased with the bill and did not see away that he could support it. NC Highway Patrol Colonel William Grey expressed concern that H328 would create more work for his troopers by requiring thatthe highway patrol impound cars belonging to drivers who do not have restricted ID’s and are here illegally. The North Carolina Association of Chiefs ofPolice, however, expressed support for the bill, saying that it would create a record of undocumented individuals who live and work in the state, which canbe very helpful to law enforcement. H328 will next go to the entire House for a vote, though it is not certain when or even if that may happen.
New Rules for Uber Debated in Senate Finance committee
New regulations for Uber and other smart phoned based transportation services were debated in the Senate Finance committee this Wednesday, after abi-partisan proposal was brought forward by Senators Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) and Bill Rabon (R-Brunswick). If enacted, Senate Bill 541, RegulateTransportation Network Companies would exempt personal transportation companies such as Uber, Lyft and Sidecar from many regulations set by localgovernments. In presenting the bill to the Finance committee, Sen. McKissick highlighted the similarities between S541 and the guidelines that over 30states are now following, saying that “Uber has come up with a model…what we are doing in North Carolina is based upon that national model and we haveadopted substantial portions of that national model.” Greg Roney, a legislative researcher, testified that the proposal would require every “transportationnetwork company” to acquire a permit from the state which would cost $5,000 annually, an amount which “Uber and Lyft have suggested as the appropriate feelevel.”
The insurance requirement in the proposed legislation would mean that commercial insurance would take the place of the driver’s personal insurance wheneverhe or she was en route to pick up or drop off a customer. These changes would increase the coverage for a single accident for Uber from one million dollarsto one and a half million dollars.
Governor Signs Handful of Bills
Gov. McCrory signed a number of bills into law this week. Those bills are as follows: