Eleven weeks after the start of the fiscal year, during which time select House and Senate budget writers worked behind closed doors to negotiate huge differences between the House and Senate budgets, the House passed the conference budget after midnight on Friday, September 18 on a 81-33 vote.
Over the three legislative days between the budget release and the budget vote, I attended multiple caucus meetings where legislative staff walked through the 429 page budget and the accompanying 178 page ‘money report’, and many caucus meetings (without staff) devoted to caucus members’ questions and concerns. One particularly helpful caucus meeting featured the Speaker, Rules chair and chairs of the House Finance and Appropriations committees who answered questions about budget specifics and described aspects of the difficult negotiation process. I discussed the budget with fellow House members, municipal officials and public school, UNC system and community college educators.
Constituents weigh in
Before the April 15 income tax deadline I had a flurry of emails, letters and calls (mostly from seniors) about the devastating effects of the loss of the medical tax deduction as a result of 2013 tax reform. When the Senate budget was released and some of the most worrisome differences between it and the House version became public, constituent email and office visits again dramatically picked up. The loss of drivers’ education funding, the elimination of 5000 TA positions and sales tax distribution were the most pressing topics. Parents, teachers/TAs and municipal officials I talked to were upset; some were panic stricken. I heard from dozens of these individuals questioning the legislature’s judgment in even suggesting such dramatic changes. They asked me to do all that I could to prevent these terrible things from happening.
Doing all that I could
I spent a lot of time reflecting on these conversations and the ones I had when running for this seat last year. When talking with voters, during forums, and in print and TV communications I stressed that I could not achieve anything alone but that I would do all that I could to address the issues they were most concerned about. That I would do all that I could to raise teacher pay. That I would do all that I could to provide students with needed textbooks. That I would do all that I could to strengthen our economy. My message was that doing all that I could would mean working with other legislators including across the aisle to reach compromise when necessary. It still means that to me.
And in the end that is what my budget vote came down to—following through on my commitment to do all that I could. And since I was not on the budget negotiating team all that I could do was vote it up or down. Without a doubt the budget does not do all of the things I’d want if it were solely up to me, if there were not 169 other legislators each with their own wish list and priorities and if no negotiations were needed. But, among other things, my yes vote on the budget does the following:
- Funds drivers’ education through 2017
- Restores the medical tax deduction without a cap for all ages, retroactive to 1/1/15
- Retains all TA positions at the same funding level as the 2014-15 budget
- Fully funds new K-12 enrollment
- Increases starting teacher pay from $33,000 to $35,000; funds the step system for teachers, principals and assistant principals
- Increases funding for K-12 textbooks and technology, including wireless broadband for all public schools
- Funds summer curriculum for the community college system, staff raises, increased technology, and tuition for veterans
- Retains historic preservation tax credits
- Increases funding for the court system
- Provides raises for the highway patrol and establishes differentiated pay for corrections officers
- increases transportation funding & ends transfers from the highway fund to the general fund
- Increases workforce housing funding
- Funds $30M in film grants
- Improves the State Medical Examiner system and electronic records
- Distributes new sales taxes on personal property services to poorer counties using a new formula but does not alter the distribution of current sales taxes
- Stabilizes funding for East Carolina University Brody School of Medicine
- Increases the state rainy day fund to $1 billion
To read the budget bill click on https://act.myngp.com/el/-3057228842570217472/-2615050367330285568
To read the budget money report click on https://act.myngp.com/el/-3057228842570217472/-2542992773292357632
For a summary of county budget impacts click on http://us8.campaign-archive2.com/?u=76b361d18d43bc40cdfb76f2f&id=627b459081&e=554781d925.
For a WRAL article that describes key provisions click on https://act.myngp.com/el/-3057228842570217472/-2470935179254429696
It took determination and hard work by a handful of House members to craft the budget the remainder of us ultimately received. Over the three days that the House had to read and digest the budget, I saw members work hard to understand the details and ramifications of the budget and struggle with their individual decisions about how to vote. In the budget negotiators I sensed a certain amount of relief, pride in many parts of the budget and, frankly, disappointment in many others. Like all of these individuals, I wanted to do more with this budget. Ultimately, all I could do was vote and I did all that I could.
We expect to end the long session by the end of September. There are dozens of bills still in committee; many of them will not see action until the short session. I expect that before we adjourn we will vote on Medicaid reform, economic incentives, transportation and infrastructure bonds, deregulation/environmental protections, primary elections and deer farming.
I enjoy giving you my perspective on life in the General Assembly and I appreciate the feedback I receive each time this newsletter goes out. As always, please let me hear from you, too.