Under the Dome

Dozens of unfilled environmental jobs would be cut in House budget

The budget recommended by the subcommittee on the environment takes a big swipe at unfilled jobs, rejects a key proposal of the governor’s efficiency program and spares the state parks some painful cuts.

▪ The initial proposal would have eliminated 70 vacant positions in the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources, but nine of those positions were restored. Rep. Bobbie Richardson, a Democrat from Louisburg, saved saved those jobs from the 36 ½ state parks positions proposed for elimination.

Many of the cuts would be to jobs that have been vacant for at least a year, but the cuts also include positions empty only for six months.

Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a Republican from Warsaw and a co-chairman of the committee, said the chairs aggressively looked for cuts down to the six-month level, but agreed to Richardson’s request, saying in some cases they might have been too aggressive.

The governor told state agencies he would reduce the number of positions that have been left open for a year if agencies can’t justify them.

▪ The committee rejected the governor’s N.C. GEAR efficiency recommendation to move the zoo, aquariums, natural sciences and parks from DENR to the Department of Cultural Resources.

▪ In another helping hand to the state parks system, the subcommittee increased the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, committing $12.5 million to it in the first year and $1.5 million in subsequent years. That would bring the fund up to about $42.5 million.

▪ The Wildlife Resources Commission would take a 23 percent cut to money it receives from the general fund, although its overall budget would increase slightly. The commission is concerned that cut will become a problem in a few years as federal revenue is expected to be reduced.

As WRC Executive Director Gordon Myers explained later to Dome in an email:

“The Wildlife Resources Commission is proud of its progress toward self-sufficiency. In the past five years we have decreased our reliance on the General Fund 55% and we are prepared to take more steps in the upcoming biennium, but absorbing the entire $3M reduction (23% of General Fund support) on a recurring basis is likely too much, too fast. This is due in part to four consecutive quarters of declines in federal excise tax collections, which comprise our largest source of wildlife restoration funds. We anticipate that source of funds may decease by $6M in 2016.”

Committee co-chair Rep. Pat McElraft, a Republican from Emerald Isle, said that was an unanticipated consequence and she would discuss it with Senate budget-writers.

▪ Rep. Pricey Harrison, a Democrat from Greensboro, saved funding for three university centers that work on energy issues, at N.C. State University, Appalachian State University and N.C. AT&T State University. They faced recurring 7 percent cuts. Harrison said the cuts would jeopardize federal funding.