Today @NCCapitol (Feb. 11): Budget subcommittees begin work this week

Posted February 11, 2013

Legislative Building

— Good morning, and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Monday Feb. 11, WRAL's roundup of what you need to know about North Carolina state government this morning.

TODAY: Neither the House nor the Senate is scheduled to handle any bills during their floor sessions tonight, which will take place at 6 p.m. That's an hour earlier than the usual Monday night sessions, a move made to accommodate lawmakers who want to attend and event hosted by the Institute for Emerging Issues.

GOVERNOR'S SCHEDULE: Gov. Pat McCrory has no public events on his schedule today, although he is due to meet with his cabinet at 8:30 a.m. and with Department of Environment and Natural Resources employees at 9:30 a.m. 

HEALTH PRESSER: The only event on the legislative calendar today is a 2 p.m. news conference hosted by Rep. Verla Insko and organized by Progress NC that will call on lawmakers to expand Medicaid as allowed by the federal Affordable Care Act. The Senate has passed a bill that would prohibit the state from expanding Medicaid eligibility. As well, Sen. Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, the top leader in the Senate, has posted an online petition advocating for the bill's passage.

COMING THIS WEEK: The House will take up that bill to block Medicaid expansion in its Health Committee on Tuesday. Some Republicans say they expect to make only a "few tweaks," while other members of the House GOP say they hope to slow down the bill to ensure they don't make a mistake. Among the issues likely to get the closest examination is how the measure might affect federal funding for a new benefits referral system. 

The full Senate is expected to take up the bill rewriting North Carolina's unemployment insurance law on Tuesday. That bill did see any changes in the Senate Finance Committee and is on track to be on Gov. Pat McCrory's desk by the end of the week. 

FROM THE AP: The Associated Press takes a look at a bill that would fire dozens of political appointees and judges in its current form. It has passed the Senate and is now in the House's hands.

 "GOP senators made no bones about their motives to dismiss current appointees, most of them chosen by Democratic governors and legislators. They said it's time to clean house and give McCrory the chance for people who'll carry out his philosophy. Twelve special Superior Court judgeships — some which Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue appointed her allies to six weeks ago on the way out of office — would be abolished," the AP writes. 

BUDGET: House and Senate budget writing subcommittees are scheduled to meet Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday this week. This is the next step in the public part of the process used to put together the state's roughly $20 billion budget.

Already, lawmakers have gotten a general overview of last year's budget and where the economy stands. With the exception of the state's troubled Medicaid program, the current year budget is meeting expectations and is running a small surplus. That means unlike in the past two years, Republican budget writers won't have to focus as much on cutting they budget and can now turn their attention to installing key parts of their legislative program, such as education reform proposals. 

House and Senate subcommittees will now meet to hear more specific information about topic areas like Education, or Environment and Natural Resources. 

On Friday, Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, told @NCCapitol he expected the legislature to take about nine weeks, give or take, to get itself fully up to speed on the budget before committee members begin making decisions.

"I think the target to get things completely done would be early-to-mid June," Brunstetter said. 

Some top leaders, among them House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, have suggested that the General Assembly could conclude its session before the end of May. However, lawmakers would find it tough to leave town without passing a budget, and there are several obstacles to getting the tax and spending plan done quickly.

"If we do it, the more power to us," Brunstetter said. But he was skeptical lawmakers could move quite that quickly. 

First, more than half the lawmakers in the House and Senate are in either their first or second term. That means they'll have more work to do before they're in a position to make decisions.

Gov. Pat McCrory is not expected to present his recommended budget until sometime in March, a timeline that his office confirmed last week. 

And the state will not get its most accurate tax revenue numbers until sometime after April 15, Brunstetter said. Given all that, Brunstetter said, the Senate will begin deliberations on a spending plan in early-to-mid April, with the goal of handing budget deliberations to the House in early May. 

After the House and Senate pass their individual spending plans, the two will need to be reconciled. This can be a quick process, as in 2011 when lawmakers were able to avoid a conference committee. But in 2012, budget negotiations followed a more typical path that involved hard-nosed negotiating between the two chambers. 

ON THE RECORD: Reps. Jim Fulghum, R-Wake, and Deborah Ross, D-Wake, joined WRAL Anchor David Crabtree and Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie for this week's On the Record.

Rep. Jim Fulghum, R-Wake, and Rep. Deborah Ross, D-Wake On the Record: Reps. Deborah Ross, Jim Fulghum

 Fulghum, a medical doctor and legislative freshman, said he was troubled by the bill blocking the state's ability to expand its Medicaid program.

"I'm going to slow it down," Fulghum said of the bill. The Republican, who represents a slice of northern Raleigh, said he understood his fellow Republicans' skepticism about expanding Medicaid when the current program was experiencing cost overruns and pouring more money into administrative costs than other states.

"Throwing good money after bad is part of why most of my colleagues are against the Medicaid expansion," Fulghum said. But, he added, the state needed to find a way to care for those who currently could not obtain health insurance.

Ross said that the state's unwillingness to accept help expanding the Medicaid program from the federal government had more to do with partisan politics than practical considerations.

"If we reject federal money for this, we're really cutting off our nose to spite our face," she said.  

Thousands attend civil rights rally in downtown Raleigh Thousands attend civil rights rally in downtown Raleigh

HKONJ: The annual Historic Thousands on Jones Street, or HKonJ, rally, lead by the NAACP and other liberal groups, brought crowds to downtown Raleigh Saturday. Organizers say the event took on heightened importance in the face of the legislature's planned cuts to unemployment insurance and other moves they say are hostile to working-class citizens. Moves by the General Assembly, said North Carolina NAACP President William Barber, "will have a devastating impact on the poor and working people."

PROMISES: The McCrory Promise Tracker has been updated. The most recent change involves a pledge to make sure some 2,000 people did not lose their placements in mental health group homes.

The state House has passed a bill that would allow McCrory to keep that promise. It would let group homes tap a fund to make up for their residents' loss of personal care services under the state's Medicaid program. But so far the Senate has not moved on the bill. As of last week, residents of group homes began going in front of administrative law judges to appeal the loss of funds. 

"Now we're playing a little bit of Russian Roulette," said Julia Adams, a lobbyist for the Arc of North Carolina, which advocates on behalf of developmentally disabled people. She said that if a resident's appeal is rejected by the OAH, they will either lose their group home placement or the group home will incur costs that won't be reimbursed.

Because this outcome is the result of Senate inaction, the Promise Tracker rates this as a promise failed. This is not a "broken" promise, because McCrory cannot act in this case without legislative approval. 

LIGHTFOOT: There's still no word from the McCrory administration explaining the meltdown surrounding Dianna Lightfoot, the woman tapped to lead the Division of Childhood Development and Early Education. Lightfoot quit among a flood of revelations, including the fact she headed a nonprofit that advocated against government-run early childhood programs. 

FUNDRAISING: The 2012 election may be over, but the legislative caucuses from both parties are still hard at work raising money, leading some to call for more disclosure so links between giving and legislative action can be more closely examined. 

FRACKING: A Reuters story Friday examined the impact of separating a property's mineral rights from the remainder of its deed. From the story: "North Carolina gives mineral rights owners the right to drill on land without a property owner’s consent. A bigger problem is that some of its citizens live on plots of land with severed mineral rights and don’t know it."

CITIES: The Charlotte Observer reports on a rough start to the legislative session for the Queen City: "But barely two weeks into a new legislative session, Charlotte officials find themselves scrambling to fend off unexpected threats from Raleigh. At stake is nothing less than money for light-rail expansion, control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport and, possibly, the future of the Carolina Panthers." Meanwhile, the Citizen-Times reports on Asheville's struggles with the legislature: "City officials have hired lobbyists, enlisted the aid of N.C. League of Municipalities and gotten support from 40 local governments statewide in their fight to keep control of Asheville’s water system. But it’s anyone’s guess whether that will matter much to the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which is engaged in disputes with cities and towns on a range of issues — from control over airports to decisions on land use."

SOLES: From the The Wilmington Star News reports a lunch honoring former Sen. R.C. Soles and presenting him with the Order of the Long Leaf Pine has been canceled, possibly because the honor was never bestowed.  


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