Budget Impasse Continues
This past week we’ve seen both highs and lows during the House and Senate budget negotiations. The lowest point came on Wednesday morning during the first 10 minutes of the public meeting when the two sides disagreed on the ground rules. As the House proceeded to chair the first hour of the meeting and introduced their first speaker from the Charlotte/Mecklenburg school system, Senate budget Chair Harry Brown objected saying that only budget conferees should be allowed to speak during the proceedings. Rep. Nelson Dollar, the House Appropriations Chair, argued that no such rules were agreed upon and that they (the House) should be allowed to use their hour as they wanted. Senator Brown responded that “this meeting is adjourned” and then he and other Senators walked out of the committee hearing.
The Senate eventually returned to chair the 11:00 hour but not much progress was made. Essentially the two sides cannot agree on the size of teacher pay raises. The Senate wants an 11 % pay increase for teachers which can only be paid for by cutting teacher assistants by as many as 7,000 positions and reducing funding for Medicaid. They also disagree with the House’s use of increased lottery advertising funds to pay for their more modest teacher pay raise proposal of 5%. The House proposal would give teachers a smaller increase but keep the teaching assistant positions and not make such drastic reductions to Medicaid.
The Governor has made his support for the House version of the education budget known by first, roundly criticizing the Senate for walking out on House negotiations on Wednesday and then today threatening to veto any budget that resembled the Senate proposal for teachers. Senator Phil Berger fired back that he was "surprised by (McCrory's) demand for a budget without cuts to teacher assistants and Medicaid -- given that his own budget included almost $20 million in cuts to teacher assistants along with significant, though ultimately unachievable, cuts to Medicaid."
The high points of the budget negotiations have been few but significant. The Senate has agreed to drop the provision that would have tied teacher pay raises to the requirement to give up tenure. The House has agreed to drop their increased lottery advertising projection to pay for teacher pay increases after being criticized by the Senate for revenue that they say could not be realized given the restrictions placed on lottery advertising rules.
What’s next? The House budget conference committee scheduled a meeting for 10 a.m. today inviting, "All members of the General Assembly to attend," but Senate Republican leaders promptly said they didn't plan to be there. The full Senate won't meet again until Monday night, with the coal ash concurrence vote and a couple of other bills on the calendar. The full House is scheduled to meet at 4 p.m. Monday, but the calendar is empty.
NC Senate to Reject House Coal Ash Bill
The Senate has problems with the House version of a coal-ash regulation bill, which comes as no surprise since the House rewrote significant portions of the Senate’s plan.
PENC Position: While PENC has not been directly involved in the development or negotiation of either chamber’s bill, the most knowledgeable PENC members following this process support the House version rather than the Senate. Our concerns are over the strict timelines for clean-up proposed in the Senate bill (House version allows Duke to take longer) and the appointment of an outside Commission that would be under the jurisdiction of Department of Public Safety (the House version puts this Commission under NCDENR).
A fleet of solar-powered water pumps has been cleared for deployment in the Jordan Lake reservoir. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has approved the hotly debated SolarBee project, finding that the floating devices won't significantly affect the lake's "human or natural environment." Environmental groups and other critics of the state's new approach to the Jordan Lake cleanup had hoped that the federal review might derail the project. The state legislature last year offered up the SolarBee as a technological solution to improve water quality (Andrew Kenney, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/11/14).
Charlotte is adding jobs at a faster clip than the nation as a whole in 2014, a report from PNC economist Gus Faucher says. The city's exposure to industries such as finance, homebuilding and transportation contributed to a steeper economic decline during the recession, but those industries are now fueling the rebound, the report says (Andrew Dunn, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 7/10/14).
The Army Corps of Engineers has awarded a $20 million contract to do beach renourishment work along the Outer Banks. Officials said the work north of Rodanthe on Hatteras Island will help protect a vulnerable stretch of N.C. 12, which often suffers washouts during storms (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 7/09/14).
The Wilmington City Council voted unanimously Tuesday to place a referendum for a $55 million transportation bond package on November's ballot. If voters approve the referendum, the city would borrow $44 million and leverage other funds to complete $55 million worth of projects (Julian March, WILMINGTON STARNEWS, 7/08/14).
N.C. State University economist Michael Walden said this week that North Carolina will see economic and employment growth during the second half of the year, as well as a continued job disparity between urban and rural areas. Those findings were part of Walden's biannual report on economic predictions. Walden said economic growth will pick up in the second half of the year, continuing the five-year economic expansion since the end of the recession (Corinne Janney, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/09/14).
A court on Tuesday rejected a challenge to a decision by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to place a contaminated Superfund site in Buncombe County on the National Priorities List for cleanup. CTS Corp. last year appealed the inclusion of the Mills Gap Road site on the list, claiming that EPA succumbed to "mounting political pressure" and ignored evidence of other potential sources of toxic chemicals found in wells (Clarke Morrison, ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES, 7/08/14).
Gov. Pat McCrory has signed a bill authorizing approximately $376 million of improvements for six schools in the University of North Carolina system. A statement from the governor's office says the money for the improvements will come from various fees, receipts, grants and fund raising income and not from tuition or taxpayer money (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS, 7/07/14).