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Also: Mountain Energy Act passes unanimously in both NC House and Senate

RALEIGH — Unlike a certain marsupial on New Years Eve, the North Carolina Senate’s budget proposal drops today (Monday, June 15), with reviews by appropriation subcommittees scheduled for this afternoon and a final vote likely by week’s end.

Senate leaders held off last week as both chambers pushed through a series of controversial bills, including a final override vote by the House of Gov. Pat McCrory’s veto of Senate Bill 2, which would allow magistrates and other county officials to refuse to perform civil marriage ceremonies for religious reasons.

MORE: Vote Check: How the NC Senate, House voted on same-sex marriage veto override

The Senate did release part of the budget package, however, with a major set of tax policy changes that included a revised version of a sales tax distribution proposal intended to send a larger share of sales tax receipts to rural counties.

That plan, reviewed by the Senate Commerce Committee on Wednesday, gradually increases the percentage of sales taxes distributed on the basis of population and reduces the amount distributed based on point of sale.

Although intended to aid more rural counties, the adjustments have wide-ranging consequences for municipalities depending on how they divide up local option sale taxes.

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Buncombe County, for instance, would see a surge of new revenue, while most of its municipalities would see a reduction. The county would take in more than than $8.3 million in the first year of the plan, while Asheville would initially lose $181,000, far less than the previous sales tax plans proposed this session.

Once the plan is fully phased in, the city of Asheville would see a $2.3 million reduction in revenue by 2020.

The tax proposal also seeks a cut in corporate and personal income taxes and adds sales taxes to new services such as veterinary care and repair and maintenance services.

There could be further changes in the plan as it works its way through the legislative process. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenberg, announced last week that he could not vote for the bill given the impact on larger counties with major retail centers.

Possum v. drop

As predicted, the latest version of a bill to allow for a New Year’s Eve possum drop near Brasstown produced the latest version of a lawsuit from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which charges that temporarily removing statewide protections for possums around Dec. 31 is the wrong approach.

Rep. Roger West, R-Cherokee

The bill, championed this and each of the past several sessions by Rep. Roger West, R-Cherokee, seeks to OK an annual ritual at Clay’s Corner.

West and other supporters of the bill say the possum is treated humanely and released after the festivities.

In a statement released last week after announcing the suit, PETA general counsel Jeffrey Kerr said he was disappointed the state was at it again and that lawmakers, by applying the law statewide, had produced an even worse bill than before.

“PETA will continue to fight for the right of gentle opossums to be left in peace—and for the right of North Carolina citizens to have comprehensible and clearly enforceable laws, not the vague nonsense produced by the state legislature,” he said.

Mountain Energy Act passes

Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson

A bill to convert Duke Energy’s Asheville power station from coal to natural gas and add a solar array passed both the House and Senate last week (107-0 and 47-0, respectively) and was sent to the governor.

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In addition to smoothing the conversion, which takes advantage of a new natural gas pipeline being extended to the Evergreen packaging plant in Canton, the Mountain Energy Act bill allows Duke Energy to delay the closure of coal ash basins at the plant. The Asheville facility was one of four high priority sites named in last year’s coal ash legislation.

The company would have had until 2019 to drain the coal ash impoundments and move the ash to a lined landfill. The new bill gives the company another three years.

Company officials had asked for the extension, saying it would be difficult to have both the conversion and the coal ash removal happening at the same time.

Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, was the primary sponsor of the bill.

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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