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RALEIGH — There’s a pause in the action in Raleigh this week as the North Carolina General Assembly takes its first-ever spring break, but when lawmakers return next week expect the pace to pick up.
With additional guidance from April revenue numbers, budget writers should have a better sense of their spending targets. But ahead of the lengthy — and often drawn out — budget process, committees are digesting a huge number of local bills.
So far, the legislative delegation from Western North Carolina has filed more than 40 bills on local issues ranging from dissolution of the Rutherford Airport Authority to several measures giving most WNC counties greater flexibility setting up school calendars.
The 40 bills likely represent the bulk of local changes outside of the budget process, but there could be more to come. Although the state Senate wrapped up its filing season for non-budget related bills, the House still has one week to go.
Legislators in both chambers are facing a May 7 crossover deadline. Local and non-budget related bills must pass at least one of the chambers by then to remain viable for the rest of the session.
Elections and selections
Throughout the state, several local acts introduced would imposed changes to the make up of local boards, including changes to the manner under which some boards are elected. While the more high profile controversies of the session so far have revolved around redistricting and election changes in Wake County and the city of Greensboro, WNC has its share of proposed changes to local government. Here’s a breakdown:
• H492, Rutherford Airport Authority: Filed last week by Rutherford County Republican Rep. Mike Hager, the bill sets up a process for terminating and dissolving the Rutherford Airport Authority and moving management, ownership and fulfillment of any contracts to the Rutherford County Board of Commissioners.
• H188, Board of Trustees Isothermal Community College: Also filed by Hager, the bill expands the number of seats on the board of trustees from 13 to 15, with seven members elected by the Rutherford County Board of Commissioners and three by the Polk County Board of Commissioners. Four members would still be appointed by the governor. The bill passed the House last week and is now in the Senate Rules Committee.
• H110, Cherokee/Rutherford Boards of Education: Introduced by Rep. Roger West, R-Cherokee, the bill changes the election of both boards from non-partisan to partisan and requires that future vacancies on the boards would be filled through a partisan election as well. The bill was passed by the House on March 31 and is in the Senate’s Committee on State and Local Government.
• H393, Tri-County Community College Board of Trustees: Also filed by West, the bill changes the number of groups of trustees from four to three and the number of board members elected in each group. It requires that at least eight members of the board are elected by the Cherokee County Board of Commissioners. The bill has not yet been heard by the House Committee on Education.
• H243, Modify Macon County Economic Development Commission: Amends the law that set up the board to allow for up to 12 members instead of nine. The bill, filed by West in mid-March, passed the House last week and has been referred to the Senate Committee on State and Local Government.
Sales tax update
A quick apology to the town of Highland, which Raleigh Report temporarily relocated from Macon County to Jackson County in a breakdown on the potential impact of a sweeping change to sales tax distributions introduced two weeks ago by the Senate leadership.
However, it should be noted that the breakdown, which outlined the impact on dozens of towns and counties in WNC, could change considerably under new proposals unveiled last week.
Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenberg, co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, said he agrees with the basic idea of moving to a system that distributes sales tax revenue based on a per-capita basis rather than the current system, which distributes most revenue based on the location of the sale.
But Rucho said the plan put on the table in late March by Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown, R-Onslow, would have too negative an impact on most cities. An analysis of Brown’s bill by the legislature’s Fiscal Research Division showed that while 93 out of 100 county governments would see an increase, a majority of municipal governments in WNC would see a loss of revenue. Asheville, for instance, would lose roughly $4 million in annual revenue, according to analysis of Brown’s plan.
Rucho said last week his bill, S608, makes the change to per-capita distribution in a way that reduces the hit to cities and the seven counties, including Avery, Buncombe, Macon and Watauga, that stand to lose revenues once the formula changes. Under Ruchos plan, some services that are not currently subject to sales taxes would have to start charging them.
Another sales tax bill introduced in the House would allow counties to raise local sales taxes by 1/4 cent without holding a voter referendum.