This week, negotiators continued to move closer to a final budget plan.
The job is more difficult than it has been in previous years because of a dramatic drop in state revenue. We have already agreed to eliminate dozens of programs and have proposed deep cuts in many of those programs that remain. At the same time, we must meet our federal obligations to fund Medicaid and to educate our continually growing number of students. Those two budget areas combined — education and Medicaid — comprise about 70 percent of our budget, giving us little leeway as we look for additional savings and efficiencies.
Some critics have said that budget writers in the General Assembly have exaggerated the level of cuts that are needed. As someone who is working closely with the budget, I want to assure you that this is not true. Budget writers had to cut more than $2 billion in spending, which meant carefully scrutinizing items even as little as a few hundred dollars. The state also must rely on more than $1 billion in one-time federal stimulus money to pay for some programs. This money has to be used carefully. It is not an ongoing revenue source that we can rely on in future years. To replace some of that non-recurring money, legislators are reluctantly proposing some tax increases. The size of the tax package has not been determined, but whatever amount is added to the budget will help the state preserve programs in education and health care. It is critical that we act, rather than simply do as our critics have done and both complain that the cuts are too deep and refuse to act to restore some of the lost money.
We did receive a bit of good news this week. After examining corporate returns, the NC Department of Revenue determined that next year the state will get about $150 million more in one-time revenue than had previously been expected.
Outside of budget negotiations, several important pieces of legislation were approved by the General Assembly. The following information highlights some bills of interest that the House has taken up throughout the week.
I hope you will contact me if you have questions or if I can be of service. Thank you as always for your support and your interest in our state.
Boating safety education would be required prior to operating a vessel with a motor of 10 horsepower or greater under a bill that has passed both bodies of the legislature (SB 43). The legislation would require a boater safety education course of anyone born after Jan. 1, 1984. It now returns to the Senate for a concurrence motion.
A new anti-bullying law has been ratified by the General Assembly and now goes to Gov. Perdue to be signed into law. The legislation (SB 526) would require public school districts to approve anti-bullying measures that name specific groups as possible targets. Supporters of the bill contend that the legislation helps protect students from potential prejudices. Opponents argue that the legislation creates special protected classes of students. The legislation defines bullying as behavior that places students or school employees in fear of harm or damage to their property.
Water quality in the Jordan Reservoir would be improved under a bill that has been ratified by the General Assembly (HB 239). Jordan Lake is an important drinking water source for many Triangle-area communities. The legislation has now gone to Gov. Perdue to be signed into law.
State lawmakers have ratified legislation that will direct the NC Department of Administration to consider fuel economy when purchasing state vehicles (HB 1079). Under existing law, the department is not required to consider fuel economy when buying passenger vehicles. The intent of the bill is to reduce the state’s carbon footprint and reduce fuel costs. If the bill becomes law, the department would be directed to submit a report outlining how much fuel and money the vehicles save. The bill has now gone to Gov. Perdue to be signed into law.
North Carolina charter schools will now be authorized to give multiple birth siblings some priority for admission to charter schools. Under the legislation, multiple birth siblings applying to a charter school through a lottery would have one chance for admission, just like other students. If they were selected, all of the siblings would be admitted. The legislation will apply beginning with the 2009-2010 school year. The bill (HB 316) now goes to Gov. Perdue to be signed into law.
The “Healthy Youth Act” has now passed both bodies of the legislature (HB 88). Under the newly modified legislation, all students will be exposed to both abstinence-only and comprehensive sex education. The proposal also allows parents to remove their children from any portion of the course. The bill has generated a significant amount of debate, with supporters saying that the current abstinence-only curriculum lacks important information. Opponents argued that the existing curriculum provides students with all the information they need. The bill now goes to Gov. Perdue for her signature.
North Carolina will establish a Financial Literacy Council to coordinate and expand the financial education available to all North Carolinians. The legislation is meant to promote financial education in public schools and across the state. The bill has now passed both bodies of the legislature and will go to Gov. Perdue to be signed into law (SB 1019).
Uniformed public safety officers will now be officially authorized to wear military service medals during the business week prior to Veterans Day and Memorial Day, the day of Veterans Day and Memorial Day, and the business day immediately following Veterans Day and Memorial Day (HB 631). The legislation includes a safety measure that allows employers of a uniformed public safety officer to prohibit the wearing of service medals if the employer determines it poses a safety hazard. The legislation must now be signed by Gov. Perdue before it becomes law.
SB-43 (HB-39) Require Boating Safety Education
HB-866 Community Development Target Areas
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