THE RALEIGH REPORT
August 6, 2014
Legislators, staff members, advocacy groups, lobbyists and members of the Capitol Press are taking a welcome break from unsuccessful attempts to close out the 2014 short session of the NC General Assembly. Staff members especially were exhausted from multiple nights working until after midnight and returning the next day.
It is unusual; but not unheard of. The 1998 session drug on until after Thanksgiving and the 2002 special session saw more than one recess.
The Short Session May be Longer the Long Session
When state legislators pass a budget in the short session, we usually adjourn “sine die” – “without day” - without any definite date to reconvene. It’s the legal end of the session. Not so this year. This year, the NC House adjourned to an indefinite date – either August 6 or August 14 or November 17. Meanwhile the NC Senate adjourned to a date certain – November 17 – thirteen days after the General Election.
Until the adjournment issue is resolved by joint action, the House and the Senate acting independently are required by the state constitution to “adjourn for a period not in excess of three days.” That likely means both chambers will convene short non-voting sessions twice a week until House and Senate leadership resolves their differences.
NC Senate Republicans want to delay controversial decisions until after the 2014 General Elections. Meanwhile it’s in the best interest of House Speaker Thom Tillis to get the coal ash issue resolved before he faces the voters in the fall election running against incumbent US Senator Kay Hagan.
Multiple, Hard to Solve Problems
But the problems are bigger and more complex than coal ash and the US Senate race, and they have thrown the Republican majority into disarray.
When Republicans won the Governor’s seat and the majority in both chambers of the General Assembly, their goal was to reduce the size of state government and let the “free” market work its magic.
They said cutting state income taxes would stimulate the economy, create new jobs, employ more workers and bring in more revenue – enough to cover the cuts. When that didn’t happen, they ended up with problems not easily solved without raising taxes.
They seemed surprised that public school teachers objected so strongly to having their salaries cut to 48th in the nation, their class sizes increased and some of their teacher assistants eliminated.
They were not prepared for the almost unanimous opposition to their plan to hand the State’s growing Medicaid program over to out of state commercial managed care. They could not get a handle on how to run the complex and unpredictable state/federal programs in the NC Department of Health and Human Services.
They have not agreed on a fix for Duke Power’s coal ash spill on the Dan River or the ensuing discovery that all the coal ash pools in the state are leaking poison into streams and groundwater.
A late piece of bad news was that the tax cuts that went into effect on January reduced state revenue for the 2014-15 fiscal years by 200 million more than originally projected. With the second round of tax cuts going into effect next January, it is unlikely we will have adequate revenue to maintain programs based on population growth and inflation. That will set us up for another round of cuts in the 2015 session.
Four Republicans Vote Against the 90-Day Budget
The discovery that state revenue for FY 2014-15 was less than originally projected didn’t produce the public debate I expected based on our constitutional requirement for a balanced budget. Nothing in the State constitution requires budget writers to change their original, mutually agreed upon availability, and further analysis didn’t provide enough evidence to require a change.
Rep. Larry Hall, the House Democratic leader, said the Republicans had passed a 90-day budget, one that would get us past Election Day before people became aware of the house of cards he believes it represents.
The budget we passed makes small cuts to many programs throughout the budget and by funding recurring expenses with one time money. That might have worked had we not cut taxes even more by passing several tax credits for businesses to keep them in North Carolina.
Four House Republicans were so unhappy with the budget conference report; they joined all the Democrats in voting against it. Rep. Julia Howard, the most senior Republican in the House, chair of the House Finance Committee and architect of the tax reform bill, called the budget “unsustainable.”
Possible Impact on 2014 NC House and Senate Elections
The prolonged short session is sure to have an impact on fundraising and candidate success in November. Many legislators and candidates depend on PAC money to fund their campaigns; but, we are not allowed to receive or even talk about PAC money while we are in session. Here is the General Statute dealing with this issue:
While the General Assembly is in regular session, legislators cannot solicit or accept contributions from lobbyist principals or a political committee that employs or contracts with, or whose parent entity employs or contracts with, a registered lobbyist.
(G.S. 163-278.13B). The 2014 session of the 2013 General Assembly is currently in regular session.
As always, thank you for your support of my work in Raleigh as your representative. Please let me know of your position on issues, your suggestions for legislation and your requests for help.