Today @NCCapitol (June 12): Budget and tax bills on the move

Posted June 12, 2013

— Good morning and welcome to Today @NCCapitol for Wednesday, June 12. This is WRAL's roundup of what you need to know about North Carolina state government today.

FIRST UP: HB 817, Gov. Pat McCrory's plan to remake how transportation funding is distributed in the state, will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee at 8:30 a.m. The measure, which would channel more funding into projects of statewide and regional importance, has already cleared the House. 

HOUSE BUDGET: Debate on the House budget is expected to begin shortly after noon today. 

The $20.6 billion spending plan weathered Tuesday's day-long Appropriations meeting mostly in tact, with amendments aimed at stripping major provisions like a school voucher provision or compensation for eugenics victims failing to pass. 

The bill will have to clear the Finance Committee this morning at 8:30 a.m. before coming to the floor this afternoon. 

House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, warned House members to expect a lengthy session. He said if the initial vote happens close to midnight, he may keep members there past midnight for the final vote to send the House package to the Senate and start the conference process.

Once the House approves its budget bill, the measure will return to the Senate, where lawmakers will almost certainly refuse to concur on the bill. That will trigger a House-Senate conference committee that will negotiate a final budget package. 

The Wrap @NCCapitol (June 11) The Wrap @NCCapitol (June 11) THE WRAP: Capitol Bureau Chief Laura Leslie and reporter Mark Binker review Tuesday's news from Jones Street, including a new Senate tax bill and a more turmoil in the state Democratic Party (see below), in The Wrap @NCCapitol

SENATE TAX PLAN: The Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to debate and vote upon a tax overhaul proposal today at 1 p.m. 

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, rolled out the measure late Tuesday afternoon.

As with many other version of tax reform heard this year, the measure would lower personal income tax rates and puts the state on the path toward eliminating corporate income taxes. 

Phil Berger Berger: Senate plan cuts taxes across the board The Senate plan moves to a flat income tax rate of 5.25 percent in 2015, which kicks in after a certain income threshold, ranging from $7,500 to $15,000 depending on filing status.

However, the measure does not broadly expand the sales tax base as many other measures have done. Rather, it applies the sales tax to utilities and shift some revenue that now goes to cities into state coffers. 

The Senate plan "cuts taxes on people across the board, cuts taxes on job creators across the board," Berger said. "Our current tax plan takes too much money out of the pockets of the private sector. It takes too much money out of the pockets of individuals."

Critics say the new Senate plan will take too much money out of state government. 

"The Senate leadership has taken a bad plan from the House and made it worse," Alexandra Forter Sirota of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center. "Failing to heed the advice of economists, Senate leaders created a tax plan that will reduce available revenue by more than $4 billion over five years when fully implemented, putting at risk our state’s foundation of economic growth."

SENATE FLOOR CALENDAR: The Senate floor session is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. today with more than 40 bills on the calendar. The Senate has been frequently re-calendaring and skipping bills during recent sessions, so its unclear which measures will be heard. However, the most high profile measures that could come up today include:

  • a rewrite of many of the state's firearm laws, including the elimination of the pistol purchase permit system.
  • a bill to move the state toward allowing on-shore drilling for natural gas through hydraulic fracturing.
  • a rewrite of the Wake County school board districts.
  • a bill aimed at restarting the death penalty in North Carolina that clears away the last remnants of the Racial Justice Act. 

ALSO ON THE CALENDAR: For a full list of today's legislative committee hearings, see the main @NCCapitol page. Among today's highlights:

House Judiciary C (9 a.m. | 415 LOB): The committee is scheduled to discuss, but not vote upon, a bill that would require those applying for certain welfare benefits to submit to drug testing.

NAACP (Noon | In front of the Legislative Building): The civil rights group expands its weekly efforts to pressure the General Assembly to "Witness Wednesday." According to a news release, the event is meant to "honor martyrs and others who served the civil, human and labor rights movements and dedicated their lives to gain many of the freedoms that exist today."

DEMOCRATS: The rift within the North Carolina Democratic Party widened Tuesday in the wake of the resignation Monday night of first vice-chairwoman and lead fundraiser Nina Szlosberg-Landis.

In an email sent late Monday to the several hundred members of the party's State Executive Committee, Szlosberg-Landis said she was stepping down from the party's No. 2 position because she has become "increasingly less comfortable with the tone and practices of the leadership of the party," meaning Chairman Randy Voller.

In a statement released Tuesday morning, Voller said he was "saddened" by Szlosberg-Landis's resignation. But supporters of both leaders blamed the other for the very public split.

Later in the day, more turmoil surfaced.

WRAL News has obtained a copy of an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint filed against the party by former Finance Director Ellen Stankiewicz, who was terminated by Chairman Randy Voller in May.

In documents sent to the party's Council of Review and provided to WRAL News by a third-party source, Stankiewicz accuses Voller and his allies of harassing, bullying and physically intimidating her. Two witnesses also signed the statement.

MORE NEWS: Other stories we were following Tuesday included: 

GUNS: North Carolinians would no longer have to get a pistol purchase permit from their sheriff before buying a handgun under a omnibus firearms measures that cleared the Senate Judiciary I Committee Tuesday morning. House Bill 937 was already an omnibus gun measure when it cleared the House. In general, it strengthens penalties for those who commit crimes using a gun. It also expands where those who have concealed handgun permits may take their guns, including bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. Currently, firearms are not allowed in such establishments.The Senate has rewritten the bill. It added penalties for concealed handgun permit holders who violate the rules associated with the permits, including carrying a handgun after having consumed alcohol. But the biggest changes in the Senate version of the bill expand where concealed handgun permits holders can bring their guns and loosen restrictions on gun sales. Attorney General Roy Cooper and the N.C. Sheriffs' Association opposes the provision of the bill that does away with the pistol permit system. 

PROTESTS:  Police records indicate that 98 percent of those arrested during the "Moral Monday" protests at the General Assembly are from North Carolina, despite claims by leading Republicans that the rallies are packed with people from out of state.

Only 8 of the 388 of those arrested are from other states, according to court records. However, that did not prompt Republicans to back off the assertion that the protests are fueled by "outside" interests. 

"The Chairman stands by the comments that these protests are fueled by outside influence," Mike Rusher, a spokesman for the party, wrote in an email late Tuesday. "The fuel of the partisan protests is made up of more than just the folks that go there planning to get arrested. We support peaceful and lawful demonstrations as guaranteed by our Constitution. However, deliberately breaking the law and preventing the business of state government to proceed is wrong. These pre-planned arrests cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars. The indications of outside influence have been clear:"

Rusher pointed to statements by people involved in the protests to back up the claims. For example, Duke Professor Timothy Tyson said during one recent rally that “People are coming from all over the state, even different parts of the country.”

LEED: Legislation that would have precluded the use of LEED certification for state-funded buildings was rewritten in the Senate Tuesday morning to permit such green building projects only if they cut long-term energy costs and permit North Carolina building materials in construction.


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