Read outside the lines of the Senate’s state budget plan and a familiar question from a year ago is beginning to emerge: Does Gov. Pat McCrory have any influence?
The Senate’s budget plan takes a drastically different approach to paying teachers more money than what the Republican chief executive proposed. McCrory’s spokesman said the governor had “a different and broader approach.” (More on that below.)
Democratic blogger and strategist Thomas Mills suggested “the big loser in the plan is the governor. McCrory obviously got left out of the process again. Remember, a couple of weeks ago he rolled out his own pay plan that was really too little, too late. And he was on a podium by himself. The leaders of the Senate and House were no where to be seen. ...
“The episode is emblematic of how the senate views McCrory.” ( Read more here.)
In his first legislative session, McCrory came across as a bystander to the process as the legislature – particularly the state Senate – emerged as the driving force of the GOP agenda. The dynamic recently received national attention.
But this session, the governor suggested he would take a stronger approach.
His administration has worked with lawmakers on the fracking bill but McCrory still has concerns about a key provision that usurps local authority. And the tax bill remains an unknown. McCrory has remained uncommitted on the legislation, but his record as Charlotte mayor protecting – and increasing – the city’s privilege taxes stands as a contrast to the legislation’s direction.
The next test may be coal ash. The House and Senate introduced McCrory’s plan. But Rep. Chuck McGrady, who is leading the House effort to design new regulations, said it is merely a place holder for now. The two chambers are meeting in private to formulate their own plan.
It’s too early to write off McCrory. The House has appeared more cozy with the governor, so he may be able to influence lawmaking on that side. But the question that plagued him last year is beginning to form again.
The Senate budget committee started first thing at 8:30 a.m. Two more Senate committees will look at the proposal today and send it to the full chamber, which is in recess for the time being.
The Senate Finance Committee also will hear a bill to clarify the Read to Achieve initiative at 1 p.m. in 544 LOB.
The House Government Committee will meet at 10 a.m. in 1228 LB to hear a long list of local measures. The House Environment Committee meets at the same time in 544 LOB. A House military panel will meet at noon in 421 LOB.
A rally against fracking will take place at the General Assembly at 12:15 p.m. ahead of the House’s 1 p.m. session, where lawmakers will take a final vote on the legislation.
It’s rare for Tillis to take votes on legislation as House speaker but he said he wanted “to make it very clear where I stood on the issue.”
Hagan, a former 10-year state senator seeking her second term in the U.S. Senate, said she supports fracking but believes the chemicals used in the process need to be public. She objected to a provision in the fracking legislation that makes it a misdemeanor to disclose the chemical mix.
Tillis said he is comfortable with the disclosure rules proposed. “The materials data sheet and other information that will be available to early responders in medical situations address the concerns around the disclosure of the information,” he said.
“With innovation we are talking about future chemicals ... in the not-to-distant future that are safe, they are saying even food grade,” Tillis added. “Hopefully this addresses the short term concern, long term I think it will be a non-issue.”
Tillis also defended the change in law that will no longer require the General Assembly to approve the rules, as Republican lawmakers had promised. Tillis said lawmakers can still object through what is know as disapproval bills — but such measures are unlikely to win support in both chambers.
He said the about face was needed to give the industry more certainty. “We need to get the industry interested in the research and the necessary steps to really determine the extent to which this is a viable industry in North Carolina,” he said. “What we are trying to do is provide certainty to the industry so that we are likely to see that kind of investment and ultimately the job creation that comes from it.”
As for the speed at which the bill is moving this session, Tillis said: “I think it’s just a matter of why not get it done. It’s time to move forward.”
State funds for teaching assistants will be cut nearly in half, by $233.1 million, in the year beginning July 1. The state will fund teaching assistants for kindergarten and first-grade classes only. Teaching assistants, who are used in kindergarten through third grade, have been continuously pared in recent years.
The Department of Justice, run by Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, would take a bigger hit.
According to a budget outline released after 8 p.m. Wednesday, the state Justice Department would be cut by more than half, from $82.3 million to $34 million, with 638 jobs lost. Some of those positions would move to the Department of Public Safety, because the Senate has proposed transferring the State Bureau of Investigation to Public Safety, something it tried to do last year. The budget also moves the State Crime Lab to Public Safety.
With a vote of 63-52, House lawmakers gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a Senate bill that fast tracks fracking, ignoring complaints by Democrats that the bill was being rushed through with too little public notice and study. ...
Fracking opponents saw it differently, charging that lawmakers reneged on promises to allow no drilling permits until rules that are still in development are in place. If the bill passes, they say, those rules could take effect with no further action by the legislature. Read more here.
No final name has been set for the project, now dubbed Spectra Carolina, which is tentatively set for service in late 2018, spokesman Arthur Diestel told NGI’s Shale Daily. ... The proposed pipe would begin at subsidiary Texas Eastern Transmission LLC compressor station 220 in Bedford County, Penn. Based on a natural gas pipeline study of the corridors, the pipe would extend into Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia before terminating in North Carolina. Read more here.
The state Senate on Wednesday voted 37-9 to give preliminary approval to a wide-ranging tax bill that includes a provision to revoke the authority of municipalities to levy privilege taxes on businesses beginning July 1, 2015.
It’s a significant step further than the version approved by House lawmakers last week. Their version capped privilege taxes at $100, but House members are expected to agree to the Senate’s changes. ...
“The only tool we have to make that up is to increase property taxes,” said Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane. “So the bottom line is that the General Assembly is saying that businesses don’t have to pay, but people have to pay more.” Read more here.
But in the early hours of Wednesday morning, 14 people were arrested after refusing to leave the office suite of House Speaker Thom Tillis. Read more here.
A group of 50 students from Carrboro lined the House balcony holding signs that said “I don’t want my teacher to move to (state name).” It came after Houston’s school district advertised a job fair for North Carolina teachers, touting a higher starting wage.
Tillis took a moment at the end of session Wednesday to tell them that the big signs violated the rules but he was glad to see students being active in the process. “We appreciate you trying to advocate for teachers. We are trying to do our best as well,” Tillis said. The House members rose to give the students an ovation.
Bob Orr to step down as interim DA next week. Read more here.
House gives final approval to Allen nomination. Read more here.
Jennifer Roberts will seek Charlotte mayor’s post next year. Read more here.