Rumors about a special transportation session for the Legislature are bubbling in Raleigh. Attending such rumors is a pervasive myth about how roads, bridges and highways will have to be funded. For example, David Ingram writing in the Observer says: “Policymakers in Raleigh can raise the taxes that pay for infrastructure, such as the gas tax, at the risk of alienating many voters. Or they can cut money from other programs, such as health care for the poor.” It’s true that our transportation system is broken. What’s not true, however, is that roads must be fixed at the expense of welfare programs or else new taxes.
This year’s $20.7 billion budget largely neglected core infrastructure needs, choosing instead to expand state funding on many programs that will benefit special interests. This neglect is no more obvious than in the area of transportation. While a number of transportation bills were offered during the 2007 legislative session, most were overlooked or shelved for subsequent sessions.
The Civitas Institute has identified $205.4 million in new “pork barrel” spending in the FY2007-2009 expansion budget. In addition, the budget contains $155 million in new debt authorized for pork projects.
During the 2007 long session, legislators considered several bills pertaining to voter registration and identification laws, taxpayer-financed campaigns, and the assignment of North Carolina’s Electoral College votes for president. In particular, lawmakers passed legislation permitting people to register and vote on the same day at one-stop locations. Other legislation introduced, but not passed, would have required voters to show identification at the polls.
Judicial Spending Up, Sex Offender and Gang Legislation Still Under Consideration The 2007 session saw dozens of bills introduced on criminal justice issues, but very few became law. Proposed legislation ranged from tougher penalties for sex offenders to the forgiveness of nonviolent crimes. In order to be heard during the 2008 session, bills must either have passed one chamber (“crossed over”) or have an appropriations or revenue element. Because criminal justice bills tend to cost money, most legislation still has the potential to pass next year, even if it didn’t cross over from one chamber to the other.
The 2007-2008 General Assembly Session resulted in the passage of a budget, as well as a number of other bills, that increased funding for a number of environmental initiatives with little to no benefit.
While we reflect on the legislation that passed during this year’s long session, it is important to keep an eye on bills that are potentially on the table for the upcoming short session beginning in May 2008.
As might be expected, education remained a top priority for lawmakers during the 2007 long session. What is perhaps more surprising is that even as education spending increased by 15 percent over the previous year’s budget, the General Assembly neglected to pass legislation aimed at fundamental reform. While the rise in spending is disturbing, progress was made in some areas. The legislature did allow school districts to pilot alternative pay plans for teachers and also called for the development of lateral entry teacher education programs. But all in all, there was little real innovation. Unlike more recent legislative sessions, lawmakers failed to pass any signature pieces of education legislation. The bills that did pass proved limited in scope and financial impact. Many programs funded via the budget also represented a continuation of the same old themes.
One of the main sticking points during this year’s contentious and drawn out budget process was the debate over whether the “temporary” sales and income tax rates should be allowed to expire. In the end, the top income rate was allowed to return to 7.75 percent, while the remaining 1⁄4 cent “temporary” sales tax rate was made permanent.
With the U.S. Congress, as well as the Bush administration, having failed to pass an immigration reform bill in 2007, many states took it upon themselves to pass legislation regarding illegal immigration. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, more than 1,000 bills and resolutions related to illegal immigration have been introduced in all 50 state legislatures this year. As of April 2007, 18 states had enacted 57 different pieces of legislation. Here in North Carolina, the General Assembly managed to pass – only at the last minute – one bill directly related to illegal immigration. The budget also included $750,000 to essentially fund an expansion of the 287(g) program. In spite of strong popular support for illegal immigration reform, numerous attempts at reform died in committee. In the Senate, Robert Pittenger (R-Mecklenburg) was a chief sponsor of many of these measures while George Cleveland (R-Onslow) led the way in the House. It is worth noting that some of the bills below, such as HB 1485, not only seek to reduce illegal immigration, but also provide protections for legal immigrants.
This article was originailly published in the Fayetteville Observer, August 2007 We are often treated to editorials about "desperately needed" programs like children’s Medicaid. This year’s state budget expanded the program to 300 percent of poverty via a program called N.C. Kids’ Care. But do working families in North Carolina really need these programs? Contrary [...]
The General Assembly violated its own rules more than 100 times when it passed the budget last week. At the eleventh hour, legislators added new pork projects that had not been debated on the floor, made major changes to budget provisions, and inserted new laws into the budget bill. While some of these provisions are unquestionably pork for legislators, other insertions may even be good public policy. But to create laws in such a haphazard manner – without formal review or public debate – is a violation of the public trust.
Thanks to the new state budget just passed by the General Assembly and signed by Governor Mike Easley (D), North Carolinians must brace themselves for another significant tax increase. The new budget authorizes tax increases of well over half a billion dollars for FY2008 alone. All of this comes in spite of a budget surplus of nearly $1.4 billion.
A North Carolina moratorium on the construction of new landfills expired on August 1, 2007. With the moratorium’s expiration, state legislators are now proposing the Solid Waste Management Act of 2007 (SB 1492), a bill that would not only deny counties the right to approve their own landfill construction projects, but also mandate additional landfill fees and a $2 per ton state tax on waste. Revenue from the legislation would go to recycling programs and cleaning up old and abandoned landfills. SB 1492 would also require counties to seek state-issued permits for new landfill construction – introducing yet another layer of waste management oversight in a regulatory area already supervised by counties.
As part of the “Medicaid Swap” plan the budget conference committee is reportedly considering, the General Assembly would give counties the authority, with voter approval, to triple the land transfer tax from 0.2 percent to 0.6 percent. Alternatively, counties would have the option of increasing their local sales tax rate by 1⁄4 cent. At the same time, legislative leaders hope to make the “temporary” sales tax increase of 1⁄4 cent permanent. The choice, then, would be between a tax increase on selling a home or a tax increase on consumer goods. Either way, North Carolina’s poorest citizens will suffer most.