The budget-focused second regular session of the 2011-2012 N.C. General Assembly has seen heavy issue-related action since it convened May 16, both in spending authorizations and in the large number of bills fast-tracking their way through the short session—including the regionalization of the Asheville airport.
But on Thursday, lawmakers sent their modified appropriations act (HB 950) to the governor’s desk, along with bills that included changes in state air toxics requirements (HB 952, co-sponsored by Rep. Chuck McGrady, Republican of Hendersonville) and that give a first-time green light for fracking within the N.C. borders (SB 820, co-sponsored by WNC Republican Sens. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville, Jim Davis of Franklin and Roger West of Marble. Overall, according to statistics on the General Assembly’s website, some 570 bills have seen action during the past five weeks.
Gov. Bev Perdue, who wielded her veto power over last year’s budget plan (and a total of 15 bills), could disapprove of this $20.1 billion and its funding priorities, particularly its continued effect on public education. The governor has 10 days from the delivery of each piece of legislation to decide on approval or veto.
Meanwhile, the Legislature just completed its eighth override of Perdue’s first-session vetoes, mustering the three-fifths majority in both houses to give community colleges the authority to opt out of participation in federal loan programs (HB 7, co-sponsored by WNC Reps. West and Phillip Frye of Spruce Pine, Republicans.)
Democratic Rep. Ray Rapp of Mars Hill, in his weekly “Ray’s Raleigh Report,” spoke to the Democratic opposition to the budget as presented to the governor, saying it would cut an additional $190 million from the state’s public schools, reduce pre-kindergarten funding by $16 million, and cut Smart Start by $34 million (contrary to a judicial ruling in the ongoing Leandro court decision regarding North Carolina’s pre-school programs). Rapp also points out the proposed budget cuts funding to local mental health services by $20 million, and fails to allocate the necessary $664,000 match for the Help America Vote Act, which would have garnered $4 million for statewide election services (equipment maintenance and training) during this 2012 presidential election year. The House included the match; the Senate refused to go along.
The budget presented to the governor also diverts $9.6 million from North Carolina’s $338-million share of the national federal housing settlement, intended to help financially troubled homeowners, and places it into the state’s general fund. And, again contrary to the House’s proposal, the Senate refused to fund payments recommended for victims of the state’s former eugenics program.
Both houses reconvene at 7 p.m. today, with sites set on session adjournment in time for hometown Fourth of July politics. On tonight’s action agenda in the Senate is a final vote on HB 552, sponsored by Reps. Moffitt and McGrady, which would create an independent Greater Asheville Regional Airport Authority — reconfiguring governance of the airport to remove control from Asheville and increase representation from Henderson County (see Xpress report here).
The current version of the bill is a Senate State and Local Government Committee substitute. The original bill, which only authorized the entities involved with airport control to change its governance, was approved in the House last year with the support of Reps. Moffitt and Democrat Patsy Keever; Democrat Susan Fisher, originally a sponsor, abstained. Buncombe County Democratic Sen. Martin Nesbitt, Jr., voted against the current bill in its second Senate reading; Republican Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville, who also represents a portion of Buncombe County, voted in favor.
by Nelda Holder, contributing editor
Editor’s note, June 26, 2012: In the June 25 version of this story, the distinction was not made between the original airport bill, HB 552, and the committee substitute that was scheduled for a Senate vote yesterday. The original bill text and the substitute text are now referenced in the last paragraph.