The North Carolina General Assembly in Raleigh. File photo by Angie Newsome/Carolina Public Press

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RALEIGH — This week marks the start of regular meetings of appropriations committees, with House and Senate members sitting down together to go over the main task of the session: the biennial state budget.

The committee work will lay the groundwork for drafting a spending plan in anticipation of Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget proposal, which the governor says will be ready later this month.

In addition to the spending plan, at least one major restructuring is in the works.

Following on a proposal outlined by the governor in his State of the State speech last week, administrators at the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources are working on a plan to move the state park system, natural sciences museums and the zoo and aquariums from DENR to DCR.

Memos went out shortly after the governor spoke last week confirming that a plan for the move is being drafted and would be a key part of the administration’s budget proposal this year.

McCrory says he wants to make the change in the name of efficiency and to put all the state’s attractions under one roof.

Queen says bonds a tough sell

At least one major part of the governor’s budget plan is already facing some serious questions, especially in WNC.

Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Haywood

Rep. Joe Sam Queen, D-Haywood, said last week that legislators on both sides of the aisle appear cool to the idea of two massive bond proposals from McCrory.

The governor wants to put a $1.2 billion bond package for transportation before the voters and is asking the state legislature to approve another $1.2-$1.4 billion in bonds for improvements to state properties.

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Queen said that, during McCrory’s speech, it was clear that many members were skeptical, including the Senate leadership.

With fewer state properties and almost no transportation projects on the new priority list, the western region, he said, would not see much from either bond program.

Although he expects a major push from the administration, right now the chances of the governor getting the idea though the legislature are not good.

“It’s not a even a 50-50 bet,” he said.

Overall, Queen gave the governor high marks for delivery, but said the governor’s record, especially on the economy, isn’t as stellar as claimed. WNC, he said, is still struggling.

“It was a silver-tongued speech,” he said. “But his rhetoric doesn’t stand up to his performance on the job.”

Keever wins Democratic Party chair

The leadership of the state’s Democratic Party took a decidedly western swing over the weekend with the election of former state representative Patsy Keever, of Asheville, as party chair.

Keever, who has served as the party’s first vice-chair, was elected Saturday at a meeting of Democrats held in Pittsboro.

Keever, who served one term in the state House, three terms on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and ran unsuccessfully for Congress twice, takes over a state party that is roughly $260,000 in debt.

She’ll be joined in the party’s leadership by Boone Mayor Andy Ball, who was elected third vice chair.

Keever’s first task will be finding a new executive director. At the meeting in Pittsboro, state party Executive Director Casey Mann announced her resignation, saying she wanted to clear the way for the new leadership.

Henderson County redistricting split

Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson

There’s a constitutional provision requiring that counties remain whole in redistricting and, in general, that’s the case, especially in smaller counties like Henderson.

But when it comes to the latest redistricting discussion, Henderson is split in at least one way.

Not long after the county’s House member, Rep. Chuck McGrady, joined in a bipartisan movement calling for an independent commission to redraw district lines, county Sen. Tom Apodaca, who proposed similar legislation when his party was in the minority, dismissed the idea, telling WRAL: “It’s dead. It’s not going anywhere.”

WNC legislation

McDowell County legislators Rep. Josh Dobson and Sen. Ralph Hise have filed bills in their respective chambers — H52 and S48 — which, if passed, would make the Old Fort Gold Festival the state’s official gold festival.

The McDowell County town hosts the festival, sponsored by the North Carolina Gold Foundation, each year on the first weekend in June.

Also filed last week:

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• H56 — McGrady was one of four main sponsors filing legislation that would allow state retirees who are rehired for nonpermanent positions to retain their coverage options under the state and teacher health-care plan;

• H36, S25 — Rep. Jonathan Jordan, R-Watauga and Apodaca are main sponsors of legislation that would limit the authority of cities and counties to regulate design and aesthetics under zoning laws;

• S37 — Apodaca filed a bill waving tuition at UNC system campuses and state community colleges for survivors of law enforcement officers, firefighters and rescue squad workers who died while performing their duties; and

• S22 — Sen. Dan Soucek, R-Watauga, and Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon, filed a bill to establish a flag retirement program through the N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs for the disposal of worn and tattered United States flags.

Kirk Ross

Based in the Triangle, Kirk Ross is the capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at kross@carolinapublicpress.org.

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