Carolina Journal News Reports
RALEIGH — House Republicans spent much of the week hammering out a counter-proposal to Gov. Bev Perdue’s budget. So far they’ve found $1.4 billion in additional cuts they think could be made in areas including education, health care, transportation, and prisons.
Education — the largest chunk of state spending — would be cut by 10.5 percent if current budget levels were not altered. An analysis by the conservative Civitas Institute concluded instead that K-12 schools would receive 2.2 percent more than was actually spent in the current year appropriation.
The House Republican plan would provide less funding for teachers’ assistants, assistant principals, and custodians. It also would reduce funding for the UNC system. Other programs to be cut include Smart Start, Medicaid, and mental health. Grants to Planned Parenthood would be banned.
Democrats claim the cuts would eliminate 15,000 government jobs and proposed extending temporary taxes approved in the 2009 budget instead.
Republicans briefly faced pressure early in the week to extend those taxes to cover the state’s share of disaster relief for the areas affected by last weekend’s tornadoes. Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, quickly put a stop to that talk, saying that the money could be found from existing revenues.
Budget resolution/jobless benefits
Drama unfolded Saturday when Perdue announced a veto of House Bill 383, a measure both extending long-term unemployment benefits for 37,000 North Carolinians and imposing a continuing resolution on state government if a budget for the next biennium is not in place by June 30.
Perdue called the bill “extortion,” but Republicans refused to separate the two components and send new versions to the governor. No deal had been made when lawmakers went home for the Easter holiday weekend.
The Unborn Victims of Violence Act, aka Ethen’s Law, became law this week, passing both the House and Senate with veto-proof margins. The law recognizes unborn children, along with their pregnant mothers, as potential crime victims. Because of its implication that life begins at conception, the law makes pro-choice advocates uncomfortable. It is unclear whether Perdue will allow the bill to become law.
A bill subsidizing smart grid technology was ratified Thursday. Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, said the bill is intended to give utility companies an alternative to the renewable energy mandate enacted by the General Assembly in 2007. The law’s effect is a likely reduction in overall energy consumption in the state, while raising the price of electricity to consumers.
Rep. Ric Killian’s effort to derail high-speed rail in North Carolina hit a road bump this week. The Republican from Mecklenburg County wanted to prohibit the state Department of Transportation from accepting federal funds for high-speed rail projects without explicit authorization from the General Assembly. An amendment by Democrat Becky Carney, also from Mecklenburg, initially changed the bill so that DOT would be required only to “report to” and “consult with” the legislature on federal rail projects, but would not need its approval to go ahead with them.
Killian is attempting to restore legislative approval for projects of more than $5 million; the consultation requirement would cover projects ranging from $3 million to $5 million.
A significantly weakened tort reform bill passed the House Wednesday. Senate Bill 33, Medical Liability Reforms, was supposed to put a cap on non-economic damages — such as pain, suffering and emotional distress — in medical malpractice cases. But an amendment by Rep. Grey Mills, R-Iredell, made exceptions for a number of maladies including scars, disfigurement, loss of use of part of the body, permanent injuries, and death.
The amended version of the bill now will go back to the Senate for concurrence before making its way to the governor’s office.
Action on other bills
Other bills that moved this week include:
Senate Bill 687, State Retirement Changes, passed its first reading in the House and was referred to the Committee on Pensions, Retirement and Aging. The bill would reduce retirement benefits to teachers and state employees hired after Aug. 1.
House Bill 709, Protect and Put NC Back to Work, passed its first reading and was referred to the House Select Committee on Tort Reform. The bill would ease worker’s compensation requirements on employers.
Sara Burrows is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.