NC Senate Budget Proposal Shifts Tax Revenue

senate_updateRALEIGH — The state Senate has released what it is calling a compromised state incentive proposal.

Senators say they believe the proposal answers requests made by both Gov. Pat McCrory to help recruit business and also takes into consideration some of the ideas the House is looking for.

The issue of incentives and taxes has been one of the most controversial  and difficult issues lawmakers have been dealing with this session. On Wednesday, senators announced their first step in moving the compromise process forward when they agreed to remove the issue from the state budget proposal and allow it to be negotiated separately.

On Thursday, they unveiled a new proposal that they are calling a compromise in hopes of helping to finalize this fight.


• Adds money to the governor’s job recruitment fund, known as J-DIG.
• Guarantees J-DIG for three years.
• Extends the current sales tax refund for airline fuel and expands that refund so that more airlines and therefore airports would be affected by the change.
• Includes a controversial measure that would change how sales tax is given out to counties.

The Senate has moved from an earlier position that would have made a more dramatic change,  but some legislators from larger counties still had concerns. The bill sponsor says he believes this makes things more fair for all counties.

“What will happen over time, is those counties will continue to benefit on sales tax dollars moving forward. those small counties that have very little growth or negative growth will continue to be stagnant, even after this adjustment. This is just trying to level things back out,” said Sen. Harry Brown, Majority Leader.

The proposal does represent a change from what the Senate was originally pushing for, but still has significant difference from the house proposal. Legislators say they hope helps with the negotiation process moving forward.

– Loretta Boniti

Spending Plan heads to Full Senate Debate on Wednesday

senate_budgetRALEIGH—The state Senate is pushing its budget proposal forward.

The two-year North Carolina government budget proposed by Senate Republicans is one of the longest in recent memory, full of policy changes that contrasts with GOP declarations that the proposal is fiscally lean.

The full Senate Appropriations Committee voted Tuesday for a spending proposal that would spend $21.5 billion next year, less than 2 percent higher than the current year.

“I do understand that they have flexibility, but I also understand the limited dollars don’t give you a whole lot as well,” said Sen. Gladys Robsinon, a Guilford County Democrat.

Lawmakers were given an opportunity to raise questions about the document, many of which centered around the area of cuts to funding for teaching assistants.

Even though it could equate to thousands of fewer assistants, budget writers say local school districts can still fund the positions.

“It doesn’t really cut positions, they can still fund as many positions as they want. but they have fewer dollars per student to do it,” said Sen. Dan Soucek, a Watauga County Republican.

After questions were answered, legislators were given their first opportunity to offer changes to the plan. In appropriations, a handful were considered and approved—including one that would remove the requirement for new drivers to take driver’s education; which the Senate plan stops funding during the next budget cycle.

“It would instead change the score for passage, raise that to 85 and would add 25 additional hours driving with parents or guardians, 60 to 85 before you could move up in the graduated license,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, a McDowell County Republican.

Another amendment went through, but with substantial debate. It is simply asking for a study of student graduation timelines in the UNC system. But some say parts of what is to be look at in the study is concerning.

“In some studies it shows that students with lower than a 3.0 may have a more difficult time in graduating, maybe they need to go to an alternative to the four year schools, maybe look at a community college,” said Sen. Andrew Brock, a Rowan County Republican.

Changes were made, the bill was voted on, and moved to the next committee. The finance and pensions and retirement committees moved along more quickly.

With no amendments allowed, but there were questions and comments on some of the key areas of the bill.

More amendments will be allowed to be offered when the budget bill is heard on the floor on Wednesday.

– Loretta Boniti

NC Senate Republican Plan Spends Less Than House, Saves More

senate_budgetRALEIGH—The state Senate has unveiled it proposal for state spending for the next two years.

Senate leaders say this 21.47 billion dollar plan is responsible budgeting, that includes some teacher pay raises, and cuts on state income taxes.

“With a prudent overall increase of about 2 percent, our $21.47 billion plan keeps state government spending in line with population growth and inflation,” said Majority Leader Sen. Harry Brown.

State senators came forward with their state spending plan proposal on Monday afternoon. It is a more modest budget than the one approved last month by the House.

One area where the that modesty can be seen is in pay raises. It does include the promised starting teacher pay increase to $35,000 and provides an average pay raise of four percent for teachers.

However, the spending plan does not give across the board raises to state employees.

“We followed Gov. McCrory’s lead in providing targeted market based pay raises to attract and retain effective state employees,” said Sen. Brown.

In the area of education, the Senate is looking to reduce class sizes in Kindergarten through third-grade classrooms. At the same time, they are reducing funding for teaching assistants.

The Senate is also looking to move the discussion on Medicaid reform forward in its budget proposal. Their plan moves forward at an aggressive pace, with capitated care beginning in 2017.

It also uses a mix of out of state managed care entities and in state provider-led programs to help control costs.

In addition, it creates a board outside of DHHS to oversee the program.

“The new department is created outside of most of the acts of the state personnel act. There will be no limits on what they can set as salary and the entire department will serve as at will positions,” said Sen. Ralph Hise, a McDowell County Republican.

The Senate will move the budget along quickly now. In committee on Tuesday and voted on the floor on Wednesday and Thursday. Some items not included the Senate’s budget proposal is moving for historic tax credits or to fund the governor’s proposed transportation bond.

It does extend the current job development investment grant and make further tax cuts for individuals and corporations.

– Loretta Boniti

Bill Could Redesign Districts for Wake Co. Board of Commissioners

legislature_0203WAKE COUNTY — A bill to redesign the districts for the Wake County Board of Commissioners is on the fast track at the General Assembly.

A proposal to overhaul the current district map was introduced on Wednesday, and by Thursday afternoon, it was in committee getting public comment.

After last fall’s election, the entire Wake County Board of Commission turned blue, every member a Democrat. On Wednesday, Wake County State Sen. Chad Barefoot, a Republican, introduced a bill to re-draw the districts in Wake.

“What this bill is seeking to do is provide more representation for eastern Wake County’s rural communities and the small towns in Wake County, which I might add, make up half of the population of Wake County. And right now, five of the seven members are from Raleigh,” said Sen. Chad Barefoot, Wake County.

Under Barefoot’s proposal, the current seven member board would be increased to nine members.

Right now, the current members are all elected at-large or by the full county electorate.

Under the proposal, seven districts, mirroring the districts drawn last year by Republicans for school board seats, would be elected only by members of the district.

The two new seats would be at large. Some opponents say these changes are drastic and unnecessary.

“Because you lose an election, you don’t immediately turn around and change the rules to throw out the results of that election. So you can win the next one. It’s offensive to our democracy,” said Sen. Josh Stein, Wake County.

Just one day after the bill was first filed in the legislature, it was put on a committee calendar for consideration.

While no votes were taken, members of the public were given a chance to speak, and they say this is all moving too fast.

“Complex problems require divergent solutions. And actually I don’t think that we’ve had enough time to look at this bill. I think that it needs further study,” said James West, Wake County commission chair.

The committee chair says he expects the first on this bill to be taken next week.

Under the proposal, no sitting commissioners would lose his or her seat as a result of the new districts, and the new districts would not become fully effective until 2018.

– Loretta Boniti

NC Senate Approves Magistrate Opt-Out Bill

gay_marriageRALEIGH–Some North Carolina court officials could opt out of marriage duties, including same-sex marriages, under legislation given the state Senate’s approval.

The Senate voted 32-16 Wednesday for a bill giving magistrates and some register of deeds workers the ability to remove themselves from the process because of religious objections. The bill comes after federal judges’ in October overturned North Carolina’s same-sex marriage ban.

The measure prompted two hours of passionate words in the continuing gay marriage debate. Supporter Buck Newton of Wilson said religious freedom is constitutionally protected and must be upheld for workers even as the state complies with court rulings.

But Sen. Josh Stein of Raleigh said government employees cannot selectively choose which members of the public they serve.


NC Republican Senators Offering Quick Gas Tax Cut

RALEIGH—Some state Republican senators want to offer a quick gas tax cut.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee are planning to  consider a bill on Tuesday to lower the gas tax from 37.5 cents a gallon to 35 cents on March 1. North Carolina’s gas tax was just increased on Jan.1 to where it stands now.

That adjustment was the current process that re-assesses where the tax should be twice a year.

Under a proposal that was unveiled Tuesday morning in a Senate committee, the tax would be lowered, but once it is reduced, it could not ever be reduced any further.

State lawmakers say their proposal to cut to the current gas tax will give transportation officials more predictability in how much money will be coming in for projects.

The move comes as lawmakers are expected to consider a proposal from the governor take out a $1.2 billion bond to help pay for new transportation projects. Some lawmakers say they like the idea of not allowing the tax to dip- but say perhaps the immediate lowering is not needed.

“Given the increased demands, in fact seem to be overwhelming demand on the highway fund, as well as the trust fund, why can’t we just freeze and stabilize this tax rather than cutting it,” said Sen. Dan Blue.

The legislation is proposing to make this change as of March 1. Bill sponsors say in order to move the proposal through the full legislature quickly enough with the support it needs, the cut needs to be in the bill.

But some advocates say this proposal is a bad idea.

“It appears to be a bait and switch where we are telling tax payers that they are getting a tax cut.  But it is actually keeping the rate artificially high where it could drop six to eight cents over the next year, it is going to keep it locked at 35 cents,” said Donald Bryson with Americans for Prosperity.

This bill is scheduled to move through the Senate within the next day or two and then move over to the House for consideration.

Sen. Tillis’ Hand Washing Remarks Draw National Attention

Sen. Thom Tillis, (R) North Carolina

NORTH CAROLINA — Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina drew national headlines Tuesday after comments regarding hand washing rules in restaurants.

Tillis made the remarks at a program in Washington that aired on C-Span.

He argued businesses should be allowed to opt out of rules like required hand washing after restroom breaks as an example of overreach by the government.

“I said I don’t have any problem with Starbucks as long as they choose to opt out of this policy, as long as they post a sign that says ‘We don’t require our employees to wash their hands after leaving the restroom. The market will take care of that,” said Sen. Thom Tillis.

While the comment drew chuckles in Washington, some in Charlotte weren’t laughing.

“He should not say anything that nasty,” said Ruth Davis of Charlotte.

“Health is something serious and should be taken seriously,” said Justin Banks-Walker of Charlotte.

Tillis’ hand washing comments quickly drew national media attention and picked up steam with links on social media.

“The instantaneousness right now of this kind of news cycle really helps to propel things probably above and beyond to what they should be,” said Dr. Bitzer, Catawba College professor.

Bitzer said the response from Tillis’ comments, even if tongue in cheek, is proof lawmakers face potential scrutiny with every word from their mouths.

“We do fault politicians for being too scripted sometimes, but candidness can get you into some trouble,” said Dr. Bitzer.

Tillis went on to say any easing of food and beverage service rules would be disastrous.

“Now that’s probably one where every business that did that would go out of business, but I think it’s good to illustrate the point. That that’s the sort of mentality we need to have to reduce the regulatory burden on this country,” said Sen. Tillis.

Condoleezza Rice backs Tillis in US Senate Race

CORNELIUS, N.C.–Thom Tillis has received the endorsement of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in North Carolina’s close U.S. Senate race.

Tillis’ campaign released a statement Friday quoting Rice in which she calls the state House speaker “an effective leader who can work across the aisle to solve problems and make our government more accountable to the people.”

The Rice endorsement comes in the final days before Tillis’ election with Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan.

Rice worked in President George W. Bush’s administration, also serving as national security adviser. Rice’s backing comes as national security issues, including the Islamic State and Ebola, have taken a larger role in the campaign debate.

Former President Bill Clinton was scheduled to campaign with Hagan later Friday in Raleigh.

Former Sen. Elizabeth Dole Shifts Focus To Military Caregivers

WASHINGTON — Former Republican Sen. Elizabeth Dole no longer represents North Carolina in Congress, but her life is still devoted to public service.

In 2012, she established the Elizabeth Dole Foundation to support military families and those providing care for veterans. Dole says she learned firsthand about caregivers’ challenges after her husband – former Kansas Senator Bob Dole – spent nearly a year at Walter Reed Medical Center recovering from a medical emergency.

“I felt, ‘What can I do to be helpful here?’ because they (the caregivers) were trying to coordinate across medical systems that have different structures and worrying about how it was going to be when they got home,” she said.

Recently, Dole brought together a bipartisan group of House and Senate leaders — including Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — to raise awareness about the 5.5 million Americans who care for the country’s wounded warriors.

“The four of them have agreed to co-chair the Hidden Heroes Congressional Caucus for Military and Veteran Caregivers,” said Dole. “And, already, legislation is moving through there.”

Dole left politics after losing her Senate seat to Democrat Kay Hagan in 2008. Political watchers say her decision to not participate in televised debates and a now-iconic political TV ad, featuring two older men sitting in rocking chairs outside a country store, helped Hagan win that race.

“Oh, you know, I’m sure there are always things you that look back and think you might have done it differently,” Dole said. “But in the rush of things, I was trying to … I did go to all the 100 counties, and I really enjoyed that. And so you are out there interacting, doing multiple events every day. And there are people back working on other things that you are hearing about sometimes at the last minute. And there’s not even the luxury or the time to change. So sure, it’s a tough thing.”

Dole, who worked in the administrations of five presidents, still has one of the strongest resumes in politics.

In addition to being the first woman to represent North Carolina in the U.S. Senate, she is also the first woman to be appointed secretary of the U.S. Transportation Department. Dole also served as U.S. Secretary of Labor; she was president of the American Red Cross; and, for a time, she ran for the Republican nomination in the 2000 presidential election.

But Dole says she has no intentions of returning to politics or supporting a candidate for office.

“We’re so bipartisan,” said Dole. “I think the basis of this foundation is that we’re working very closely with people on both sides of the aisle, and we’re getting wonderful results.”

She added: “It’s a mission field. And I find that through my career, I always needed that mission field.”

– Geoff Bennett

Capital Tonight Sept. 3: U.S. Senate Debate

On Capital Tonight: A recap of the first debate between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis


Watch the full episode here.