Over 500 bills have passed either the Senate or the House in the North Carolina General Assembly. Almost 200 of these bills were approved in a marathon session on April 30 which lasted until 2:30 a.m. in the House. Sometimes it is true: watching laws being created in the Legislature is like watching sausage being made. Not pretty.
A number of bills did not make the crossover deadline. Among them was the Religious Freedom Reform Act which allowed businesses and government officials to refuse to provide services to same-sex couples, similar to the Indiana legislation. North Carolina lawmakers listened to to opposition from some of the state’s leading business leaders, including Jim Goodnight of SAS Institute, and top executives from IBM and Red Hat. After that, House Speaker Tim Moore declared the bill dead.
Still alive is a bill that would allow magistrates to refuse to conduct marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples on religious principles.
Dead bills have a way of coming back to life even if they died in the crossover process. They can be inserted in the budget. Or the language can be inserted in a bill that has been altered. Slight-of-hand is an art form in politics.
House Speaker Moore has announced the first version of a budget will be rolled out on Monday, May 18, with floor votes scheduled for May 20-21. The budget goes to the Senate where it will meet revisions. The House will reject it and then it goes to conference. The official date for approval of a budget is July 1—the beginning of a new fiscal year. However, budget negotiations have been known to go on months after July 1.
A CAUSE FOR CELEBRATION
State officials this week celebrated a milestone. The $2.8 billion unemployment insurance debt the state owed the federal government has been paid. The state ran up the debt in the midst of the Great Recession when thousands of workers filed for unemployment compensation, drawing checks for six months or longer. The GOP -controlled Legislature approved major changes to the unemployment insurance laws and made paying off the debt a top goal. The $2.8 million is almost 12 percent of the annual state budget.
WHO PAYS FOR WHAT?
Budgets require revenues and state and local governments are frustrated over how much taxpayers are to pay and to whom. Cities and counties are approving budgets not knowing if sales tax revenues are to be re-distributed. And will local governments have to raise ad valorem tax rates to fill the gaps? Major changes are on the table to boost revenue for the Department of Transportation, including higher auto insurance assessments, user rates and more. The changes proposed by the House Transportation Committee would add anywhere from $368 million to more than a half billion to the annual revenues to the State Department of Transportation.
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