Local News

Legislators Roll Up Sleeves as Short Session Begins

Posted May 7, 2000 7:00 a.m. EDT

— TheGeneral Assemblyopened the short session Monday with a $450 million budget shortfall.

Despite the money troubles, a proposed UNC bond, and several other big-ticket items, lawmakers only spent about 15 minutes in session on its first day.

The real action begins at the legislature Tuesday. But every day the legislauture is open, it costs taxpayers $60,000.

Lawmakers hope to get through a number of tough issues in just two months' time.

So why then did both the House and Senate adjourn after just 15 minutes on their first day? Speaker of the House Jim Black says it takes a while to get committee meetings organized.

"We have been operating efficiently and just because we're not in that chamber longer than we were doesn't mean nothing's going on," Black said.

"It's not a long session the first day, but they'll get down to business very quickly now," said Ran Coble of the N.C. Center for Public Policy Research.

The center just completed a study comparing state legislatures. Coble, the executive director, says lawmakers will give taxpayers their money's worth.

"They'll probably get it back on those 14-hour days when they debate the budget. I wouldn't judge the whole session by one day," Coble said.

Coble adds that annual rankings confirm that.

"North Carolina usually finishes 49th or 50th in terms of expenditures for the legislative branch of government," he said.

So North Carolina is, comparatively speaking, a very inexpensive legislature.

One-time items, likeaid to victims of Hurricane Floydand a major tax refund, have tied the General Assembly's hands. Policy analysts say it is unlikely that lawmakers will raise taxes to fill the gap.

"I think it's the big challenge that we face at the legislature this year," says analyst Kim Cartron. "I think that that's going to be the main focus of what we see at the short session -- just trying to tie this budget up and duct tape it together and get ourselves moving on."

Lawmakers will probably also discuss putting aUNC bond packageon the November ballot and what to do with $5 million of tobacco settlement money.

Most House and Senate members are expected to play it safe this session and not introduce any controversial legislation, likethe lottery.

"I think that we're just going to see a very focused legislature," Cartron says. She says lawmakers will "put some kind of budget together and get themselves back home, because so many are facing re-election this year."

This session could be as short as two months. andKay Miller