Under the Dome

Funding cut to NC Biotechnology Center in Senate budget

The Senate Natural and Economic Resources budget would transfer the N.C. Zoo, state parks and aquariums and the Museum of Natural Sciences to a new Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, replacing the existing Department of Cultural Resources beginning Aug. 1. Those attractions are currently housed under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The transfer would result in the elimination of 24 vacant and six filled administrative positions in those areas, as well as an additional eight positions from efficiencies expected from the transfer.

Sen. Andrew Brock, R-Davie, said the transfer would make DENR a “purely environmental regulatory body,” while putting the state parks and attractions under a more appropriate umbrella. “It goes back to the old concept of everybody is focused on what they do best,” Brock said.

The approved House budget would plan for a similar transfer in the 2016-17 fiscal year.

In 2015-16, the Senate budget would provide $2.25 million for 33 so-called “grassroots science museums.” In another major change, the budget would reduce funding to grassroots science museums to $2 million in 2016-17 and shift it to a competitive grant program. Brock said that would help take politics out of grant decisions and ensure the money goes to deserving museums. “From here on out, it’s competitive. If you do a good job, show us what you do, you’ll get the funding,” he said.

The Senate budget also would eliminate state funding of the N.C. Biotechnology Center of $8.6 million a year. The House provided funding for the center.

The NER budget also:

▪ Spends $100,000 a year to market craft beer in North Carolina

▪ Increases funding for the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund.

▪ Provides an additional $1 million a year to acquire buffers around military bases.

▪ Eliminates funding for the Mine & Quarry Inspection Division in the Department of Labor and eliminates about five mine safety and health consultant positions.

▪ Provides funding for shellfish rehabilitation, oyster sanctuaries and oyster research and development.

▪ Provides $1 million in 2015-16 for a new Deep Draft Dredging Fund to help improve access to the state ports at Wilmington and Morehead City.

▪ Provides additional money for shallow-draft dredging and lake maintenance, bringing total funding in 2015-16 to about $20 million.

▪ Spends an additional $1 million over two years on the High Point Market Authority.

▪ Directs the Division of Coastal Management to study and develop a strategy for preventing and reversing the effects of beach erosion.

▪ Allows various state parks and attractions to adjust admission fees to reflect market forces at various times of year, lowering or raising them to maximize revenues to the state.

Patrick Gannon writes for the NCInsider.com, a government news service owned by The News & Observer. www.ncinsider.com