Under the Dome

Talking about the “dynamics” of the NC General Assembly‘s short session

Kevin Leonard, deputy director of the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, briefed the Wake County Board of Commissioners on Monday about the “flavors and tones” of this year’s upcoming short session of the General Assembly.

Leonard told commissioners that this year’s election cycle will have a “tremendous factor” on what legislators do when the short session starts May 14, just eight days after the May primaries. For instance, he said 55 legislators will be at the session knowing they’re running unopposed this fall while 24 legislators only have primary contests.

“2014 is an election year and some of you may be aware of that,” Leonard said to laughs from the crowd. “That is actually setting the stage down at the General Assembly for just about everything that we touch and do

Some things will be decided as we enter into the short session. There will be some people there who will not be there in the future. There will be people who are there who know they will be back.”

Leonard said that House Speaker Thom Tillis’ bid for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate is “going to flavor the dynamics, specifically in the House.” The Mecklenburg County Republican is hoping to avoid a July run-off election.

“He has stated publicly he intends to stay on as the Speaker,” Leonard said. “There are consistent rumors in the General Assembly and around the State Capitol as to whether or not he will continue to stay in that role if indeed there is a clear winner in the May 6 primary.

If not, you still have a runoff election for that post, so pay attention to that. We are as well. If that is the case and there is an open spot in the Speaker’s level, that changes dynamics in the House significantly.”

Leonard said that Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger is “primarily focused on the legislative session” since the Rockingham County Republican didn’t run for the U.S. Senate seat.

Leonard said you should also consider the relative inexperience of the legislators, pointing to how 60 percent are in their third year or less and a lot of key committee chairs are sophomores. Leonard also noted how 58 legislators have never gone through a short session.

“They want to get out of there quickly,” Leonard said. “Do they have the ability to do so is another question.”

Leonard said his “guesstimate” is that the legislature will end the session around July 4.

Leonard also briefed the Wake commissioners on one of the association’s top goals, which is to restore language in state law that says that 40 percent of the N.C. Education Lottery’s proceeds should go to counties for school construction.

Under the old “50/40/10” formula, 50 percent of proceeds would support class size reduction and prekindergarten programs, 40 percent would pay for school construction and 10 percent would fund college and university scholarships

Lawmakers had cited how the formula often wasn’t followed to change the wording last year to say that net lottery revenues should be used for “education-related purposes.” In recent years, the amount of lottery proceeds provided for school construction dropped to around 21 percent.

Leonard said the association’s top goal is to restore the 40 percent wording in state law. He said their other goal is to over time bring back funding for school construction to the 40 percent level.

Leonard said that Rep. Bryan Holloway, a Stokes County Republican, has agreed to “run a bill” in the short session to reinstate the 40 percent language. Holloway is one of the chairs of the House Appropriations Committee and the Joint Legislative Education Oversight Committee.

“That’s a big deal,” Leonard said. “We’re very pleased to have that announcement made. He said this is still a heavy lift. We’re going to have to work hard.”

Leonard asked commissioners to encourage members of Wake’s legislative delegation to sign on to the bill after it’s introduced by Holloway.