Would the real budget deficit please stand still

In a bit of a shell game last week in the N.C. General Assembly, legislators continued to look for their own approach to the state’s budget deficit while the governor announced new deficit projections had erased $1 billion of the original $3.7 billion shortfall for the coming fiscal year. Meanwhile, the Legislature passed a Balanced Budget Act of 2011 (SB 13) aimed at paring that original $3.7 billion by reducing expenditures for the remainder of this budget year. Specifically, $400 million would be transferred out of various fund allocations such as the economic-incentives pots for Job Development Investment and the Golden Leaf Fund. Gov. Bev Perdue is on record as opposing deductions from the economic-incentives money, so a veto is a possibility.

Another example of moving targets involved the Farmers Freedom Protection Act, introduced to prohibit enforcement of federal statutes regarding food production and packaging in this state — if the foodstuff is produced in and remains inside state borders. (Violation would be a class 1A misdemeanor.) The bill passed its first reading in the House, and it moves forward in juxtaposition to last fall’s bipartisan leadership by the state’s two U.S. senators, Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Richard Burr, in passing a major food-safety bill in the U.S. Congress. Should the Farmers Freedom bill become state law, it could set the state at odds with provisions of the federal bill and its enforcement, despite Burr-Hagan cooperation on inserting small-farm exemptions in the federal law. Ultimately it could test the constitutional grounds for the concept of nullification — a state’s perceived power to overrule federal law.

One further juxtaposition concerned legislation to amend the N.C. Constitution by adding provisions of the state’s current open-meetings law to the Constitution itself. As this bill was being introduced, adherence to the current law by members of the General Assembly was being challenged because of a closed-door Republican meeting with lobbyists about the pros and cons of legalizing video poker (see News & Observer report). House Speaker Thom Tillis defended the closed-door session as a means of collecting information. Then it was further reported by the N&O that the leader of the session, Republican Mike Stone of Sanford, had video-poker-style machines in his own small grocery store, but removed them last Friday.

More specific to Western North Carolina, legislation moved forward to prohibit the French Broad river-basin rule approved last year by the Environmental Management Commission to change the water-quality designation of Boylston Creek from a Class C tributary to the more restrictive Class C Trout (HB 64), see details below). The creek runs through both Henderson and Transylvania counties; the new designation would mandate 25-foot riparian buffers to mitigate siltation and other water degradation. (A bill to nullify failed to pass in last year’s legislative session, although the effective date of the reclassification was delayed.)

Last week’s bills of interest and WNC legislator sponsorships included the following:

HB 55 (Relief from Incorrect Paternity Determination): Would offer relief from child support order based on finding of nonpaternity as a result of a valid genetic test or other stipulations regarding acknowledgment of paternity. Passed first reading. WNC co-sponsors David Guice, Republican of Brevard and Majority Whip Jonathan Jordan of Jeffersonville.

HB 59 (Sex Offenders Can’t be EMS Personnel): Persons required to register as sex offenders would not be granted EMS credentials nor have credentials renewed.
Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Judiciary, Subcommittee B. WNC sponsors: Reps. Chuck McGrady, Hendersonville Republican, and Phil Haire, Sylva Democrat; co-sponsors Phillip Frye, Republican of Spruce Pine, Guice, Jordan and Ray Rapp, Mars Hills Democrat.

HB 61 (Speaker/Pro Tem Term Limits):
Amend the Constitution to limit the speaker of the house and president pro tempore of the Senate to serving only two general assemblies. Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Judiciary. WNC co-sponsors Frye, Guice, Jordan, Hendersonville Republican Chuck McGrady.

HB 62 (Prohibit Boylston Creek Reclassification): See story above. Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Environment. Primary sponsor, Guice; co-sponsor, Frye. (Companion bill, SB 64.)

HB 64 (Restore Partisan Judicial Elections): Would return the state’s nonpartisan judicial elections (judges for the Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and the regional/local superior and district courts) to partisan contests. Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Elections. Co-sponsors: Frye and Jordan.

HB 65 (North Carolina Farmers Freedom Protection Act): (See story above.) Passed first reading; referred to Committee on Agriculture. Co-sponsors Frye, Jordan.

HB 87 (Sunshine Amendment): See story above. Filed.

SB 47 (Restore Partisan Judicial Elections): SB 47 (Restore Partisan Judicial Elections): Companion bill to HB 64. Passed first reading; referred to Judiciary I. Co-sponsors Tom Apodaca, Hendersonville Republican; Jim Davis, Franklin Republican, Ralph Hise, Spruce Pine Republican.

SB 62 (Make Up Snow Days with Distance Learning): Would allow local school administrative units to make up snow days with online lessons for students, maximum of five days. Filed.

SB 64 (Prohibit Boylston Creek Reclassification): Companion bill to HB 62 above. Filed. Primary sponsor Jim Davis, Republican of Franklin.


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4 thoughts on “Would the real budget deficit please stand still

  1. Aaron Sarver

    The article gets a couple of things regarding SB 13 confused.

    The bill allows Perdue to cut $400 million from the current fiscal year budget which ends June 30th. Those savings come from 5 percent reductions to the Department of Agriculture, Department of Public Instruction and UNC system schools.

    The bill also calls for transferring cash balances from different reserve funds to put another $142 million in savings towards next year’s budget. The Golden Leaf Fund loses its entire yearly allocation of about $68 million. The Health and Wellness Trust Fund would lose half its annual allotment, more than $17 million.


  2. Nelda Holder

    Thank you for clarifying a muddy description. The bill was indeed aimed at savings in the current fiscal year, authorizing the following:

    “This grant of authority includes all powers to balance the budget granted the Governor under Article III, Section 5 of the Constitution. For the remainder of the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the Director of the Budget shall exercise these powers with a goal of reducing recurring expenditures by at least four hundred million dollars ($400,000,000).”

    SB 13 further directs the governor to make specific fund transfers, which included those described in the article. The full list can be studied in the bill text.

  3. Nelda Holder

    On a lighter note — we can all take the “Balance the State Budget Challenge” http://www.governor.state.nc.us/budgetapp/default.aspx and see just what we would individually choose to do in order to reduce the deficit.

    Introduced online yesterday by Gov. Bev Perdue, Charlie the plotthound (the N.C. state dog) is available to help individuals through a series of choices aimed at decreasing (or increasing) state allocations in several areas. I took the challenge and carefully tried to leave people’s jobs and benefits in place, only to find that I had cut 13,972 jobs! Maybe it was that early retirement incentive that convinced them to leave. At any rate, there are some interesting choices. See how you’d do. I wound up making money for the state — almost an extra $1 million. But there would be 4,000 prisoners back on the streets . . . .

  4. Jeff Fobes

    The North Carolina Press Association sent out this press release regarding HB 87:
    Lawmakers file ‘Sunshine Amendment’ bills; NC Press promises full support

    North Carolina legislators today filed bills aimed at amending the state constitution to protect the public’s right to know.

    The amendment, filed in the House with a Senate version expected soon, would guarantee that every person has the right to inspect and copy public records, and attend all public body meetings, except as exempted by the General Assembly. It also would require a two-thirds “supermajority” vote of the each chamber to pass any bill that would reduce the current level of access to public records and meetings.

    Principal House co-sponsors are Reps. Stephen A. LaRoque, R-Kinston, and Tim Moore, R-Kings Mountain. Sen. Debbie A. Clary, R-Shelby, is expected to file a companion bill.

    Once the measure clears both chambers, it could go on the statewide ballot as early as 2012. Hearings will be scheduled. Under state law, only the North Carolina General Assembly can place a Constitutional Amendment on the ballot. Amendments cannot be added to the ballot by petition.

    North Carolina Press Association Executive Director Beth Grace announced the filings on behalf of the 200-member trade association that advocates for daily and community newspapers statewide.

    “This is a victory for the public and for newspapers in North Carolina, which have worked toward placing an amendment on the ballot for many years,” she said. “If this passes, the public will be guaranteed its rights and will be protected from any efforts to keep the business of government from the people.”

    John Bussian, the NCPA’s legislative liaison and First Amendment counsel, praised the sponsors for stepping up without hesitation in support of openness.

    “We applaud these lawmakers for their dedication to taking open government to the highest ground possible in this state,” Bussian said. “This, quite simply, is good government at its best.”

    Other states – most notably California and Florida – have passed similar amendments.

    Grace said the NCPA will put the full support of its membership behind the amendment and will place public service advertising in print newspapers and online through its subsidiary, North Carolina Press Services, in support to educate the public in advance of a statewide vote.

    NCPA is one of the oldest newspaper advocacy organizations in the nation. Founded in 1873, it lobbies for newspapers and open government, provides a free right-to-know legal hotline and open meetings/records access brochures to newspapers, offers professional development opportunities for members and administers one of the largest editorial contests in the nation.

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