Raleigh, N.C. — Good morning and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Friday, May 30. We'll get to the scheduled state Senate budget debate in a moment. But first, two major bills have cleared the legislature this week.
FRACKING: House and Senate lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to a proposal that would speed up the start of natural gas drilling in the state. The "fracking" bill went from a state House committee debut on Wednesday to Senate concurrence in less than 48 hours with little public notice. Senate Bill 786 now goes to the desk of Gov. Pat McCrory, who has said he supports it. The measure would keep local governments from adopting rules governing drilling and removes a moratorium on the process even though the Mining and Energy Commission has not yet finished drafting safety rules.
TAXES: Hours after state lawmakers gave final approval Thursday to a package of adjustments to last year's sweeping tax reform measure, McCrory signed the legislation into law. The bill was first discussed last week. The measure affects everything from when people pay sales tax to rent private residences and the sales tax on mobile homes to restricting when and how cities can tax local businesses.
REG REFORM: One major bill that didn't move at lightning speed over the past week was a regulatory reform measure that does everything from raise fines for parking in handicapped spaces to ease sanctions on those companies that self-report violations of environmental law. The state Senate gave that measure a tentative nod last week, but it sat on the Senate calendar untouched until Thursday. The measure was the subject of several behind-closed-doors caucus meetings this week, and when it did come up for debate on Thursday, Senators fully debated seven different amendments, all of which passed. The measure now goes to the state House, which will likely reshape it significantly.
THE BUDGET: Speaking of the fast track, the state Senate is on pace to put a $21 billion spending measure in the hands of House budget writers before sunrise Saturday, less than 60 hours after making the initial draft of the plan available to the public on Wednesday night.
However, at least one Republican is not a fan of the measure produced by the GOP Senate majority.
"We have a major difference with the Senate, and we hope to resolve those differences during the next several weeks," McCrory told reporters when asked about the senators' plans to raise teacher salaries. That plan would offer an 11 percent average pay increase for teachers but pays for the changes by cutting other areas of education funding, including slashing the money for teaching assistants in early grades by half.
"I think we need a more comprehensive approach – long-term sustainable and fiscally responsible approach – on how we are going to pay our teachers in the future so it’s a career as opposed to a one-time pay increase," McCrory said.
He floated his own teacher pay plan earlier this month.
This criticism provoked a response from Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson.
"I hear the governor didn't like our budget," he said. "Well, we didn't like his."
Apodaca said the Senate budget is more generous than McCrory's plan to raise teacher salaries.
"I like our plan better than his. It does more for teachers, and I think it protects education overall, including the community colleges and universities," he said. "My wife taught third grade for 18 years. I can assure you, she would be taking the pay raise happily."
TONIGHT'S TIME LINE: The Senate session convenes at 4 p.m. At some point before midnight, Senators will vote to approve the budget bill. Then, because a vote will be needed on a separate day, the Senate will vote again on its spending plan at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.
WRAL.com plans to stream the 4 p.m. session live. Check the Video Central box on the homepage.
STEP TWO OF FOUR: As much attention as the Senate budget drew to itself, it is only the second step of a four-step process. Now that the governor and senators have offered their spending plans, the state House will craft its own budget. Then those three documents will be reconciled into one budget bill that goes to the governor. The question regarding many of the high-profile – and controversial – Senate provisions is how many of them will actually make it into that final bill.
HOUSE: The state House has finished work for the week and will meet for a skeleton session at 4 p.m. Monday.
According to Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake, the senior budget chairman, House budget writers will meet in subcommittees all next week. If all goes as planned, he said, the House would hold full Appropriations Committee hearings and floor votes the week of June 8.
As for the Senate budget, Dollar didn't have a lot to say.
"We'll give it due consideration," he said.
BUDGET COVERAGE: Among the budget stories @NCCapitol covered Thursday:
- Senate budget writers pay for a $468 million plan to boost teacher salaries by slashing other areas of the education budget, including funding for teaching assistants.
- Of the cuts to teaching assistants, Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph said, "That's just the way it is."
- The state Senate budget would move the agency responsible for investigating government corruption from the Department of Justice, overseen by the attorney general, to a department run by the governor. Critics say the move could politicize the agency.
- The Senate budget proposal released late Wednesday would bring major organizational and budgetary changes to the state Department of Health and Human Services. The spending plan includes $4.9 million to create a new Medicaid center, with the intent to move the program out from under DHHS in coming years.
- While the bulk of the state Senate's $21 billion budget proposal lays out how money will be spent, a handful of provisions raise fees and refinance debt The most costly of those provisions deal with fees charged to hospitals and local mental health agencies that treat Medicaid patients. Hospitals across the state would hand back $15.1 million more this year than last year – for a total of roughly $110 million – under the bill.
- A provision in the state Senate's budget says that the UNC Board of Governors shall study closing any institution that has seen its enrollment decline more than 20 percent between July 1, 2010, and June 30, 2013. "We know of one institution that fits that bill, and that's Elizabeth City (State) University," said Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham.
FROM THE WIRE: The Associated Press reports on a number of Senate budget provisions getting attention, including:
"PRISON CHANGES: Continuing a recent trend, the state would close minimum-security women's prisons in Nash and Davie counties, with about 675 beds, while converting a men's prison in Greene County with 430 beds to a women's prison. The changes come as the number of state prisoners keeps declining and more people convicted of misdemeanors are serving their time in county jails through a financial agreement with local sheriff departments. Currently, people convicted of misdemeanors serving sentences of three to six months are serving the time in county jails. The budget would move misdemeanants with longer sentences to jails."
THE GOVERNOR: McCrory will be in Charlotte Friday. He will speak at the Providence Day School commencement at 9:30 a.m. and, along with first lady Ann McCrory and Moe the dog, attend a "Great Dogs of Charlotte" photo shoot.
As for the Senate budget, it wasn't just the education provisions McCrory took issue with Thursday:
“Well, let me first say we’re still reviewing the budget that was just presented by the Senate," McCrory told reporters according to an interview transcript released by his office. "But a short, just a short-term review, we have some very serious concerns about the budget that was submitted by the Senate regarding the impact on our operations and Department of Transportation and environmental protection, Commerce Department, in Health and Human Services and in education. It’s my job as governor to protect the efficient and effective operations of state government and good customer service, and I think the budget submitted by the Senate causes us some great concerns in that area, and we will be giving more details on what our concerns are.”
NOTED: "Schools in the University of North Carolina system are now apparently offering in-state tuition rates to the same-sex spouses of military personnel, provided the couple got married in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage," reports the Fayetteville Observer.