Lawmakers leave jobs bill, Medicaid reform behind
Posted August 20, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — Lawmakers will end their session without providing a new job recruitment fund Gov. Pat McCrory had sought.
The General Assembly adjourned sine die – Latin for "without day" – when the Senate ended its session at 7:43 p.m. Wednesday evening. Lawmakers will not return to work this year unless McCrory vetoes a bill or calls lawmakers back for a special session.
The jobs catalyst fund sought by McCrory was part of House Bill 1224, a bill that was part of a complex trio of bills that would have changed economic development laws, sales taxes and funding for teaching assistants. Members of the state House defeated that bill this week.
The fund would have give the governor and Commerce Department a bank account they could use virtually at their discretion in order to lure new businesses. Budget writers set aside $20 million for initial operation of the account, but the defeat of HB 1224 means the fund itself was never created.
Commerce Sec. Sharon Decker had told lawmakers this week that there were several projects that North Carolina was trying to land in which the closing fund would have been useful. Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, said on the House Floor Tuesday that one of those projects was a Continental Tire that economic developers are trying to draw to Brunswick County.
As late as Wednesday morning, there was a glimmer of a prospect that lawmakers, who have struggled to wind down their summer session, might somehow resurrect the package. That prospect died Wednesday at 3 p.m. when the state House adjourned sine die, meaning they will conduct no more legislative business this year unless called back into a special session. The state Senate is expected to follow suit and end their work for the year later tonight.
"It didn't pass because there was too much in one bill," McCrory said. "I'm not upset with House members about their votes, because I also shared concerns about the process," the governor added. General Assembly sends compromise coal ash bill to the governor
McCrory pledged, "We're going to move on with economic development," and said he would continue to push for new economic development tools.
JMAC changes pass
That same economic development package carried a new law that would have cleared the way for North Carolina start-up companies to raise capital through crowd funding. The measure would have also expanded the JDIG program, another economic development tool Commerce Department officials use to help lure businesses to the state.
And the demise of the economic development package also means that a legislative fix for teacher assistant funding also dies for the session. Senators had tied a provision that would give rural counties more flexibility in how they transfer money between teaching positions and teaching assistant positions to that bill. Senior lawmakers have said they believed the McCrory administration and Department of Public Instruction could smooth out the problem without legislative changes.
Lawmakers did passed one much-sought-after piece of economic development legislation.
The state House voted 88-9 in favor of Senate Bill 3, a measure that adjusts the state state's JMAC fund, clearing the way for $12 million in aid to go to Evergreen Packaging in Haywood County. Evergreen has been ordered by the EPA to update its plant with a new fuel source, and the JMAC funding will help the company convert form coal to natural gas.
Backers of the changes to the Job Maintenance and Capital Development Investment Fund said it will help retain 1,200 jobs in western North Carolina.
"I do believe the governor and the Department of Commerce are concerned," House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said as the House session ended Wednesday afternoon. While the state had made tax and regulatory changes that should help attract companies, other states still have closing funds like the proposed job catalyst fund.
Given that the fund was so important, Tillis said, it's not out of the question McCrory would recall lawmakers to session in order to take it up.
"If he were to call us back to work on that sort of stuff, I think that's something we'd be open to," Tillis said. "We're in the only state in the Southeast that doesn't have something like that" job catalyst fund. "It sometimes will influence what businesses will look at North Carolina."
Medicaid, autism, puppy mills also left behind
Aside from the economic development related measures, the biggest high-priority item left behind by lawmakers was a Medicaid reform bill.
Both the House and Senate had come up with plans for remaking the state's health insurance program for the poor and disabled, but they had several key differences. House and Senate lawmakers had agreed as part of their $21.1 billion budget to return to session in November to work toward a compromise plan aimed at controlling costs.
It now appears any Medicaid reform effort will have to wait until 2015.
"You not only have to worry about the underlying structure of Medicaid reform, you have to take a look at the fiscal impacts and budget implications," Tillis said. "It seems to me, that's more appropriately dealt with in the next legislative session. I hope they do it early. I will be directing our oversight committees to do the groundwork so when they get back in January they can do it early."
Tillis will not be part of that Medicaid reform process. He's running for U.S. Senate and will leave his state House seat whether he wins or loses.
Lawmakers are also leaving a bill that would require insurance companies to cover certain behavioral therapies for autism patients behind, despite strong support on the state House. Senators refused to take up the bill. And lawmakers did not budget on dog breeding legislation aimed at puppy mills.
The state Senate is expect to adjourn later today after giving its blessing to coal ash management legislation and a bill that clarifies that certain unemployment decisions are not public records. That last fix will bring state law into compliance with federal regulations.