Archive for May, 2018

SUNLIGHT ON RAINY DAY FUND

Contributions this year to the state’s reserve account—the “Rainy Day Fund”–will push the total to $2 billion. This is a record high and it gives the state a cushion in case of an economic downturn or natural disaster. When the Great Recession hit 10 years ago, Democrats were in control and had to increase sales taxes to cover state appropriations to education, corrections, and other state agencies. Voters in the next election put Republicans in control of the Legislature.

LOCAL SALES TAXES FOR SCHOOLS

Senate Bill 746 would allow Cabarrus County to adopt a local option sales tax of one-quarter of a cent to support schools. Proceeds can be used for capital projects and the county cannot divide proceeds to districts. The author of the bill is Sen. Paul Newton, a former Duke Power Co. president who supports charter schools. A similar bill reportedly is on the drawing board for Mecklenburg County where two municipalities want to establish charter schools independent of the CMS system. The bill requires county commissioners to call for a public referendum. The tax would not be levied on prepared food in restaurants etc.

HERE IT IS. LIKE IT OR…

Yesterday, Tuesday, May 29, the Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly rolled out their $23.9 spending plan for the state. No debate was allowed and no amendments permitted. Questions were heard, mainly from Democrats who were shut out of the process.

The budget this year embraces the $15 per hour minimum wage. The starting wage for state employees including maintenance personnel, will be $31,200. Some current employees will get a 30 percent wage increase when boosted to the new minimum. Teachers will get a 6.5 percent increase in starting salaries and the top echelon teachers will be raised to $52,000. Some $22.5 million is included for bonuses to teachers who improve reading and math scores in elementary schools. Veteran state employees will get a 2 percent wage increase. Law enforcement and security personnel also were targeted for higher than average increases. The starting wage for a highway patrol officer was boosted to $44,000 and corrections center guards receive increases.

The budget will be taken to the floors of the House and Senate this week for approval, expected to be along party lines. The leaders reportedly have selected a recess—or maybe adjournment—date for the third week of June. Still to come are proposed amendments to the State Constitution, including one that would set a cap on state income taxes.

LEGISLATIVE DAY CANCELLED

The announced June 6 day for hosiery and textiles executives to visit the General Assembly has been canceled. The budget deliberations will have concluded and debates will be concluding during the week. Also the major initiative to create a N.C. Fabric Discovery and Enhancement Center under N.C. State University College of Textiles has been suspended. The center would combine the resources of NCSU, the Manufacturing Solutions Center, and the Textile Technology Center to expand services to the textile industry and the participating community colleges.

The College of Textiles withdrew the proposal for the current session when it was confronted by opposition of Sen. Kathy Harrington, an appropriations chair, from Gaston County.

This week House members urged the supporters to bring the proposal to the 2019 session.

REVENUE PICTURE. COLOR IT GREEN.

Tax collections in April gave the state about $500 to $600 million in additional money for the current biennium budget. With a competitive election season ahead, Republican leaders are considering changes to the tax code. But they will not have a major impact as pressure for more money for education builds. The legislature will use this one-time money to increase teacher salaries and other needs.

SHORT SESSION MAY LIVE UP TO ITS NAME

After primary elections that sent a few veteran legislators packing, there seems to be consensus this week that the “short session” of the General Assembly may, indeed, be…short. Maybe 35 to 40 days. Senior members in the Senate and House insist the goal is to adopt budget adjustments by June 20 and recess. The lawmakers would return 10 days later to override a veto of the budget by Gov. Roy Cooper. Cooper wants significantly more money for education and security in N.C. Prisons than legislators are likely to approve.

Court reform measures, including selection of judges and judicial redistricting, are on the agenda but the defeat of a major proponent in the primary, Rep. Justin Burr of Stanley County, dims the prospects.

And, with the new normal, surprise bills are expected. There is a widespread belief that the GOP will lose the super majority to override gubernatorial vetoes. This could mean partisan bills could suddenly appear on the calendars.

DETOUR AHEAD

Efforts to unite the services of N.C State University College of Textiles, the Textiles Technology Center, and the Manufacturing Solutions (hosiery) Center have been interrupted by the opposition of a Piedmont GOP senator. The opposition reportedly was based on personality issues and protocol according to some manufacturers. Catawba Valley Community College and the Manufacturing Solutions Center enthusiastically backed the creation of a N.C. Fabrication Enhancement and Discovery Center endorsed in the last session by legislative leaders. The imitative was led by the College of Textiles. Proponents reportedly are continuing to explore the concept.

WOMEN POWER DEMOCRAT POSTS

As columnist Thomas Mills writes in his blog “Politics North Carolina,” Democrats are pinning November hopes on women candidates. Five of the 12 Democratic candidates for congress in North Carolina are women. In Ohio it is 10 of 16 and in Indiana 5 of nine. About half of the Democratic candidates for N.C. Legislative seats are female.

CHANGES IN THE LEGISLATURE

For almost a dozen legislators, changes that were blowing in the wind prior to the primary elections became a gale force when voters turned out Tuesday.

Five Republican lawmakers will not return after November. Rep. Justin Burr, who has led the fight to implement major changes in the state judiciary, lost to pharmacist Wayne Sasser. Lawyers were opposed to Burr’s concept which would have legislators electing judges. Sasser’s win was decisive.

Sen. David Curtis, Lincoln County optometrist, also was defeated. Eye doctors spent over $100,000 to oppose Curtis who had introduced a bill to let optometrists perform some procedures restricted to ophthalmologists. Sen. Dan Barrett, a Davie County accountant once active in the Carolina Hosiery Association, was defeated by Sen. Joyce Krawiec, another incumbent. Rep. Beverly Boswell who made controversial posts about students in the gun control movement was defeated by Dare County commissioner Bobby Hanig in the GOP primary. And Charlotte dentist Robert Rucho, a former powerful Senate Rules Committee chairman, failed in his bid to make a comeback in an Iredell County district.

Three so-called firebrand House members—George Cleveland of Onslow, Michael Speciale of Craven and Larry Pittman—garnered enough support from GOP most conservative voters to survive for the November election.

Two Mecklenburg Democrats, Sen. Joel Ford and Rep. Rodney Moore, were ousted Tuesday as was Rep. Duane Hall of Wake County who was accused of molesting women.

Rep. Bob Steinberg of Elizabeth City won the GOP nominate for the Senate First District seat held by retiring Bill Cook. Steinberg’s opponent had been backed by well-known Republicans, including Sen. Harry Brown of Onslow, a senior budget writer.