State News

Budget top priority as state legislature convenes

Posted May 12, 2010

State Legislature Building

— North Carolina legislators returned to Raleigh on Wednesday to focus on fixing a state budget that still can't keep up with flagging revenues and to find ways to encourage job creation among small businesses.

As the House and Senate convened for their 2010 session, people protesting an array of issues, from health reform to annexation, gathered outside the Legislative Building or walked the halls trying to lobby lawmakers.

The main business during the so-called "short session" is to erase a projected $788 million shortfall for the second year of the spending plan lawmakers approved last summer. The deficit comes a year after the House and Senate approve a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to erase a $4.5 billion budget gap.

North Carolina State Legislature State lawmakers begin new session

Democratic leaders, who control both chambers, have made clear they don't want to stick around too long after the budget adjustments are made and signed by Gov. Beverly Perdue. Lawmakers have been meeting two or three days a week for the past month to try to minimize differences in spending plans, and Senate leaders say they remain on track to pass their version of the budget adjustments by May 20.

"We don't have money to fix most problems, so there's not a whole lot of reasons to stay around here," Senate Majority Leader Martin Nesbitt said.

Gov. Beverly Perdue released a $19.2 billion budget proposal three weeks ago, but differences between her and lawmakers have emerged already. Senate Democrats said Tuesday their budget will not contain the pay raises for teachers and a bonus for all state employees to compensate them for last year's furlough that Perdue has proposed.

House Democrats said Wednesday that they plan to minimize teacher cuts and increase funding for community college enrollment.

"We would ask our friends in the minority to join us. Let's have a good session," House Speaker Joe Hackney said.

"Our goals for this session are to have an expeditious session ... but also to have a thorough session," said Hackney, D-Orange, while releasing the House Democrats' four-point agenda to help small businesses create jobs, protect public education to keep teachers in the classroom, root out government waste and fraud and pass ethics and state contract reforms.

"We want to streamline, economize (and) prioritize wherever we can this time to stretch our dollars as far as we can stretch them," he said.

Republicans, who are aiming to win back both chambers in November and control the once-a-decade redistricting in 2011, were unanimous in voting against last year's budget bill. That could change this year if Democrats find real savings and don't use scare tactics of severe cuts to generate new revenues, House Minority Whip Thom Tillis said.

"You can't sugarcoat what is a poorly run operation that has lots of costs that should be driven out before we ask for another dime from taxpayers," said Tillis, R-Mecklenburg.

Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, said all lawmakers want to stretch the budget for another year.

"It's kind of like saying are you for motherhood or apple pie. We're absolutely all for that. The question is how do you get there?" Hunt said, offering no specific recommendations. "It's going to be tough. We recognize that. I'm just saying that the situation wasn't created in a day."

Protesters want health reform blocked

Hackney said he wants to work with Republicans on issues but wouldn't consider GOP legislation he considers political in nature. That would appear to include bills that Republicans want heard that would exempt North Carolina from the federal health care reform law.

People protesting health care reform Protesters lobby lawmakers on various issues

Dozens of conservative activists gathered behind the Legislative Building to denounce the health care law and its mandate for everyone to buy insurance or pay a fine starting in 2014.

Republican congressional hopeful Bill Randall, who faces a runoff next month for the right to represent the GOP in November's election against incumbent 13th District Congressman Brad Miller, urged the crowd to face the building and shout their demand for greater freedom now.

"We want this health care bill repealed. I don't want the Obama health care," protester Diane Umbarger said.

The bill must have two-thirds support to go anywhere, so even legislative supporters were almost resigned to the fact that the attempt is somewhat futile.

"I don't think anything will happen with it, but we want to give them an opportunity to react," Hunt said.

Hackney called the legislation "more of a political issue than a legislative one."

"I'm disappointed Democrats are already saying they're not for individual rights," Umbarger said.

Other protesters wore red shirts while lobbying senators to approve changes to the state's involuntary annexation rules. North Carolina is one of a few states that allows cities to annex property without a referendum.

"My question is how long are these senators going to sit on their hands while the cities continue to abuse the law?" Tony Tetterton with the Fair Annexation Coalition said.

"For a municipality to come in and forcibly take your property rights away is wrong," protester Charlene Moore said.

Ethics rules on agenda

Momentum has increased for three campaign finance and ethics bills approved by the House last year and awaiting Senate action amid headlines focused upon federal and state investigations of activities surrounding former Gov. Mike Easley and his associates and illegal campaign contributions by a Wilmington businessman.

The various bills would delay more state officials from lobbying government until well after they leave state employment; ban state contractors from giving to elected officials who approve contracts that benefit the vendor; and require board appointees to report campaign donations and fundraising for elected officials who appointed them. Perdue unveiled her own ideas last month.

The heightened interest in ethics reform prompted Perdue to back out of attending a fundraiser next week promoting government reform because the event is hosted by a group of lobbyists.

The North Carolina Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform is holding fundraiser on Monday evening at the downtown office of the Poyner & Spruill. The law firm is also a powerhouse lobbying firm.

Chrissy Pearson, a spokeswoman for Perdue, said the governor didn't know lobbyists were hosting the fundraiser for the reform group when she accepted the invitation. Numerous lawmakers have been invited to the $50-a-ticket event.

"The governor felt it would be inappropriate for her to attend," Pearson said. "She continues to support the mission of this reform organization and very much appreciates their insights and willingness to engage the governor’s office as we all work towards a more ethical and transparent state government."

Other issues on legislators' agenda include reform of the state's Alcoholic Beverage Control system, sweepstakes games, annexation, puppy mills, tort reform and wind turbines and farms.


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  • mountainlover May 13, 2010

    Plenty Coups: I think we are pretty much on the same page. I actually would not argue that our retirement could not be lost; however, I think it is safer than the retirement in a business and here is why: Can you imagine the political fallout that would happen to the party that had to tell us that it was gone due to bad investments or hard times? There are a lot of state employees and a lot of family and friends of those employees-enough to swing elections for many years. Also, can you see the politicans looking into the future and attempting to see the type of employees who would want to work for NC after this was done? Future employees read that the State once promised employees a benefit, those employees lived up to their end of the bargain, the State did not, and now those employees do not have enough life left to save for retirement. If I were qualifed and starting my career, I would RUN. I think it is more likely that benefits will be reduced to employees now going to work.

  • josephlawrence43 May 13, 2010

    MAKOII: For once you make sense--except for the part about ending busing. Need to tread lightly there--lest Bro. Barber and the NAACP slap a lawsuit on you, or at least call for an investigation of your motives--and drag the ACLU along for backup..Another point--instead of the school system buying truck loads of desk top computers every few years--work a deal with a computer manufacturer--when a kid hits 9th grade--he/she rents a lap top--and keeps it as long as they are in school. Pay a modest monthly rent--when the kid graduates, the computer is paid for, and the kid takes it with them. I know of several school systems in NC where this has worked.

  • Plenty Coups May 13, 2010

    "Yes, Burger King has retirement in 401(K)'s that can be lost in a day. State retirement is a defined benefit, based on your salary. That is IMPORTANT"
    mountainlover-I tend to agree with most of your posting except this. My state retirement is based on what I pay into it much like a 401K. The money is pooled together and invested by the state. It can also be lost just like the money in a 401K can if bad investments are made or because of hard times. (much like Social Security may not be there either when I retire)You may argue that that isn't likely, given the states resources, but I have seen certain aspects of my pay taken away by the state because "we just didn't have the money this year". Otherwise, I think we're pretty much on the same page.

  • pbjbeach May 13, 2010

    What the nc legisture is in deep need of along with the mangers of the various states agencys is real & true intergerity reform not just ethic's reform by it's self. for when you have intergerity reform that in it's self will take care of the ethics reform problems. this leg need to do the right thing by the people an citizens of this state with regards to the spending an give aways too the coporate welfare that they have been doing in the form of incentives to big & coporate businesses. thank you

  • NoFreakinWay May 12, 2010

    so none of you folks have a flippin' clue about why Marc Basnight talks like he's on rewind.
    None of you?
    Same bunch that probably didn't realize they even voted for the no doing slow talker.

  • NoFreakinWay May 12, 2010

    "Seems to me the Tea Party is about ready to boil over."

    yeah, let us know when that happens. you people are all complain and no gain!

  • mountainlover May 12, 2010

    Plenty Coups: I should tell you something about myself, although it will tell you my age. I am ready to retire. We should not be paid less for helping our fellowman, but that is the way it is and I accepted that when I began working in the late 1970's. You are certainly right in stating that the health plan is nothing to be proud of but it was in the late 70's. At that time, there were no co-pay's for this and that, deductibles, and limitations on medications for conditions such as migraine headaches that had nothing to do with the drug manufacture's specifications. Yes, Burger King has retirement in 401(K)'s that can be lost in a day. State retirement is a defined benefit, based on your salary. That is IMPORTANT. When I went to work, there were no layoffs to speak of. There were always COLA increases in the 1970's--maybe not a merit raise, but a raise for inflation. I chose the public sector for the help I could provide my fellowman and for the security and stability. I am not much of

  • mountainlover May 12, 2010

    picsatexhibition: I never forgot for one second that private sector employees pay taxes. They pay more taxes for two reasons: First, as another commenter pointed out there always is SOME reason given why this is not the YEAR to give state employees a raise. Second, I do not know too many employees making $50,000 or more from their state salaries. I understand your math; I also understand that it takes both sectors to run the economy. The private sector expects a high level of service from state employees at the same time they cry for additional furlough days; you cannot have it both ways. I do not mind working and working hard for my public. However, if you want us to suffer in lean times it is only fair to give us decent (if not substantial) raises in times of plenty. If you give us a raise in times of plenty, many like myself, will make it during lean times. We have seen the budget balanced on our backs so many times that we are excellent money managers and know how to save.

  • chfdcpt May 12, 2010

    Property rights legislation? Forget about it. Anti forced annexation legislation? Right. The NC League of Municipalities has been lobbying to keep forced annexation and the eminent domain. As long as the career legislatures keep chupando up to the League, it will change.

    And Ethics legislation? ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha. When was the last time that our so called bible thumping-holier than thou legislators really cared about ethics in government?

    Now for the budget. We charge $120.00 per person per year as a breathing tax. Yes, everyone pays for it, including the illegal ones (to keep the "they don't pay taxes" gang happy). Now, according to the US Census Bureau, the NC population is 9,380,884. By charging a $10.00 per month breathing tax, the state can raise an additional $1,125,706,080.00

    Wait, don't tell them about the breathing tax. Breathing and taking a dump are the only things they are not taxing us on yet!!!

  • Plenty Coups May 12, 2010

    "Those of us choosing the public sector chose lower wages, because there were offsetting positives of helping our fellowman, having health insurance and a defined retirement benefit, getting a COLA increase, having less of a chance of lay off at retirement time, and less worry about transfers."

    "lower wages"- yes, we definitely have that.
    "helping our fellowman"- You mean we should get paid less for that?
    "having health insurance and retirement"- most private sector jobs have this. Even Burger King. The state 80/20(or 70/30) health plan isn't something to be proud of.
    "COLA increase"-haven't seen this in years. What's the inflation rate?
    "less worry about layoffs/transfers"- perhaps. Still plenty of layoffs this year in teaching.