It’s called House Bill 200: “A bill to be entitled ‘An Act to Make Base Budget Appropriations for Current Operations of State Departments, Institutions, and Agencies; to Enact Budget Related Amendments; and to Reorganize State Government.’” (The short version is Appropriations Act for 2011.) It’s 279 pages long; it appropriates $19.3 billion for the 2011-2012 general fund; and among other program and policy changes, its cuts to public education just may send North Carolina to the back of the class. It passed in the House on May 4 by a vote of 72 to 47, and it’s now being revamped according to Senate preferences.
In the beginning, the N.C. Board of Education asked for $8.28 billion to fund kindergarten through 12th grade in the state next year. The governor’s proposed budget offered $7.57 billion instead. The House then set K-12 education funding at $7.16 billion. Now the Senate expects to show up the House by whittling away another $106 million, conceivably pushing the state — currently in 46th place — to the bottom of the list in national per-pupil spending. The Raleigh News & Observer actually calls it just that: “Rock Bottom” — the title of a pointed editorial published May 12 that characterizes the proposed education budget as “reckless” and declares it a “betrayal of North Carolina’s aspirations to be a better place to live and work.”
In the Republican-majority Legislature, the House bill passed along party lines and the same is expected in the Senate, which is aiming to complete its action by the end of this month. Republican Rep. Tim Moffitt of Buncombe County explained the House’s education budget in his newsletter by pointing out his belief that “throwing money at education” is not the solution. “This is about more than money; this is about reversing the trend of continued increased spending,” he said. Area Democrats didn’t agree. In the weekly “Ray’s Raleigh Report,” Rep. Ray Rapp of Mars Hill pronounced the additional Senate rollback “another legislative riptide.” And Rep. Susan Fisher of Asheville sent out a link to a Democratic Party video about the history of education in the state, featuring former Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt — and including a cameo appearance by Buncombe County’s Rep. Patsy Keever of Buncombe County, a retired teacher. (Setting aside partisan positions, the video contains some portraits of North Carolina over the years that evoke quite a sense of place.) Ultimately, as the video intimates, Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue is expected to veto the final outcome. It could be a lengthy legislative session.
WNC action pending this week
With the crossover deadline of June 9 on the horizon, several bills supported by Western North Carolina legislators are on the legislative hearings docket this week. Rep. Moffitt’s bill to institute district elections for Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, HB 471, which has cleared the House, will be heard in the Senate’s Committee on State and Local Government at noon tomorrow. HB 145 (Phoebe’s Law), is scheduled for Wednesday at 10 a.m. in the House Judiciary A. Sponsored by Rep. Rapp and co-sponsored by Rep. Fisher, the bill would establish a pilot program of electronic speed-measuring devices to detect speeding in highway work and school zones. And HB 762 (Landowner Protection Act), co-sponsored by Rep. Moffitt, will be heard tomorrow at 1 p.m. in the House Agriculture Committee. The bill would require written permission to hunt on the land of another and prohibit hunting from the right-of-way. (Its companion bill, SB 374, is sponsored by Republican Tom Apodaca of Buncombe/Henderson District 48, and co-sponsored by Republican Ralph Hise of District 47 (Avery/Haywood/Madison/McDowell, Mitchell/Yancey counties).
Rep. Moffitt has signed on as a co-sponsor of HB 823 (Governance of the Department of Public Education), which was discussed in NC Matters last week (”Under the Radar”). There will be a hearing on that bill tomorrow at 10 a.m. in the House Health and Human Services Committee. Moffitt is also co-sponsor of HB 585 (NC Energy Independence Study), which calls for a study of development of natural gas, oil, wind, solar, and other energy sources capable of energy production in North Carolina. That bill was placed on the House calendar for today.
Finally, Sen. Apodaca has seen his SB 321 (Surplus Lines/Premium Tax.-AB) pass the Senate and move to the House, where it was referred to the Committee on Insurance. The bill would conform provisions of N.C. and federal insurance laws and streamline applications for commercial purchasers.
by Nelda Holder, contributing editor