It was a week of herding cats for the House Leadership as they worked their budget through caucus, subcommittees, caucus, committee, caucus, then caucus again, caucus again, and caucus yet again, then an emergency trip to the Rules Committee to assuage the objections to the increased DMV fees, and then to the House floor. But the House budget passed with strong bi-partisan support; final reading took place in the wee hours of this morning.
The House Appropriations Committee met Tuesday to consider over 120 amendments. Last night and this morning the full House dispensed with nearly 70 amendments before adopting the final spending package of $22.2 billion with strong bi-partisan support and sending it to the Senate.
The House spending plan raises new money with increased DMV fees of nearly 50 percent which caused an uproar among Republicans and Democrats. Ultimately the fee increase will only be 30 percent and those funds will augment road-building and maintenance, upgrade the state ports, ferry vessel repair and replacement. North Carolinians will see their annual vehicle registration fee go from $28 to $36.50 (not including county property taxes that are collected at the same time) and an 8-year driver’s license fee would increase from $32 to $41.60.
The Senate plans to work all of next week voting on their version.
Program Evaluation Projects
A decade ago the General Assembly created the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee to evaluate programs the state is funding to make smart decisions regarding future funding. The Committee is made up of members from the House and Senate who are given the responsibility of examining whether public services are delivered effectively. Each year they adopt a work plan for their staff. Here’s what they’ll look at this year:
- Funding Formulas for K-12 Public Schools and Feasibility of Student-Based Funding
- Community Colleges Funding Formula
- Performance of Privatized State Government Functions
- Effectiveness of Economic Development Tiers
- Effectiveness of Medicaid Program Integrity
- Feasibility of Consolidating State Purchase of Health Care Services
- School Calendar Flexibility
- Performance of Medicaid Data Warehouse
- Management of Layers and Span of Control for State Agency Executive Offices
- Management of Inmate Health Care
- Professional Educator Licensure Process and Teacher Education Requirements
- Analysis of North Carolina Lottery Commission Operations
- Implementation of Results First in NC
- Review of DOT’s Ferry Division
- Management of State Pension Fund Investments
Click here for the list and descriptions of each project.
HB 405 – Property Protection Act – has passed the Senate and been sent to the Governor for his signature. The bill allows employers to sue employees who use their positions to gain access to documents or to secretly record areas that aren’t open to the public. Known by opponents as an “ag-gag” bill, they argue that it is specifically intended to prevent undercover investigations of farms and agriculture facilities. Supporters have stated that it protects the rights of property-owners.
HB 574 – Opossum Exclusion From Wildlife Laws – has passed the Senate and will be sent to the Governor. Clay’s Corner is Brasstown, NC will once again be able to have a New Year’s Eve opossum drop because opossums will be exempt statewide from protections pertaining to capture and treatment of animals from December 29th until January 2nd. Since it’s a state-wide bill, any city would be allowed to participate in opossum drops for New Year’s… Just an observation.
In 2007 NC became the first state in the region to adopt a renewable portfolio standard which required utilities to get increasing amounts of the energy it sells from renewable sources such as solar, wind and “green” sources so that by 2021 their portfolios would reach 12.5 percent renewables. The 2007 agreement was the result of much stakeholder input, good faith and substantial compromise all around. In addition to the clean environment benefit, producers of green energy appreciate the market demand created by the law which in turn helps to subsidize the cost of innovation. The argument against renewables is they cost more to produce and are less reliable than traditional energy sources. Rep. Hager’s bill, HB 332 – Energy Policy Amendments, freezes the renewable energy portfolio requirement at its current 6% level and freezes the current cap on annual costs utilities can charge customers at $12 per year -- not even halfway to the mandated levels in the 2007 law but still with years to go. Hager’s reason for the bill is to keep costs low for ratepayers. But advocates are concerned about renewable markets and capital investments into new technologies. The bill passed the Senate Commerce Committee after a lively debate and voice vote and was referred to the Senate Finance Committee. Finance Committee Chairman Rucho declined to allow public comment on the bill at the hearing and he declared that the bill passed by voice vote while members present insist it failed; the chairman declined the motion for “division” which allows a vote by show of hands. The bill is expected to reach the Senate floor early next week although the Finance Committee has not yet released the bill.
Champions Among Us
The state officially lent her voice to the chorus of congratulations to Coach Krzyzewski and the Duke Blue Devils on their 2015 NCAA Basketball Championship title by honoring the team with a Joint Resolution. The coaching staff and players attended the session, made remarks, signed autographs and posed for pictures. Though your Government Relations Team bleeds two shades of blue, we were proud to of the Blue Devils’ enormous feat this year, exciting athleticism and class.
Coach K had something for everyone: he urged the legislators to remember our educators as the real heroes in NC. He then touched the Tar Heels in the crowd by remembering with admiration Coaches Dean Smith and Bill Guthridge who we lost earlier this year. And for you Wake Forest crowd, he told Senate Chaplain (and former Demon Deacon) Peter Milner that it wasn’t about games, it was about championships, and that is humbling and good.
Sometimes it’s okay to secretly admire your adversary; Tuesday was one of those days.