Last week, the state House passed their two-year, $22.1 billion spending proposal on a vote of 93-23 after a long week of debate that saw delays because of the sheer number of amendments to the bill. House Bill 97, 2015 Appropriations Act, the official title of the state budget, enjoyed bi-partisan support in the 1:15 a.m. vote. The budget package saw about 40 amendments on the floor alone, and 62 amendments in the House Appropriations committee.

Highlights of the new spending plan include an increase in K-12 school spending by $269 million, decreased cuts to the UNC system budget, a two percent raise for the majority of state employees, a cost of living adjustment for state retirees, tax credits for solar energy projects and historic preservation, as well as tax credits for the film industry. Though the proposal does not include any changes in income tax rates, it does restore a sought-after deduction for medical expenses.

Economy and Economic Development

NEWS & OBSERVER: NC House Budget Passes in 94-23 Bi-Partisan Vote 
The N.C. House voted 94-23 shortly before midnight Thursday in favor of the $21 billion state spending plan, over objections from a handful of Republicans and Democrats.

NEWS & OBSERVER: North Carolina Considers Law to Regulate Virtual Currencies 
North Carolina’s banking commissioner is seeking legislative authority to require that companies circulating digital IOUs meet consumer protection, anti-money laundering and other standards. Legislation passed the state House earlier this month and is pending in the Senate.

Energy

GREENSBORO NEWS & RECORD: House Budget Gets Tweak for Energy Credits 
The changes, particularly on a compromise extending tax breaks for two more years on solar, wind and similar projects, could ease skepticism from lawmakers on both sides of the political spectrum.

NEWS & OBSERVER: NC Renewable Energy Tax Credits More Than Doubled in 2014 
Despite skepticism among some lawmakers, North Carolina’s tax break for solar farms and other renewable energy projects continues gaining in popularity. In 2014, the state’s residents and businesses claimed $126.7 million in the tax credit, which is another way of saying that amount wasn’t paid in taxes by those who installed solar panels or any of 17 other renewable technologies.

Healthcare

WRAL: Health Advocates Want State Funding Restored 
For years, health advocates used prevention campaigns to stop teen smoking before it starts, but state funding for such efforts was snuffed out just as e-cigarettes started growing in popularity. From 2011 to 2013, the number of North Carolina high school students who started using electronic cigarettes rose by an estimated 352 percent, according to a study by the state Division of Public Health.

CHARLOTTE OBSERVER: Study: Where You Grow Up in North Carolina Effects Your Lifespan 
Children born in mountainous Watauga County can expect to live almost 82 years – on par with some of the world’s healthiest countries. But for those who grow up in rural Swain County, just 140 miles to the southwest, it’s a different world. They can expect to live just 73 years – roughly the same as those born in Cambodia.

In the Courts

NEWS & OBSERVER: Judge Halts Fracking Commission from Issuing Permits 
A Wake County judge on Wednesday barred the state commission that regulates fracking from issuing drilling permits, pending the outcome of a lawsuit between the governor and legislative leaders. Superior Court Judge Donald Stephens issued an order enjoining the N.C. Mining and Energy Commission, which has the effect of re-establishing a moratorium on fracking.

Transportation

NEWS & OBSERVER: House Budget Includes a 30 Percent Hike in DMV Fees 
The full House debated the budget late into Thursday night and gave final approval by a vote of 94-23. As originally written, the budget included a 50 percent increase in DMV fees. That number was cut to 30 percent in the final budget, after some Republicans protested that the 50 percent number was just too high.

WRAL: Officials Want to Give Private Firm Keys to State Motor Fleet Officials in Gov. Pat McCrory’s administration are looking at privatizing much of the state motor fleet, which has been plagued by misuse for years. In 2009, WRAL Investigates found plenty of state-owned cars going nowhere and collecting dust. The same situation existed for at least two years, despite WRAL News reports, and state agencies kept picking up the tab for leasing vehicles that weren’t used.