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House bond plan details potential funding throughout WNC

RALEIGH — If you’re wondering why there’s been very little movement on the state budget stalemate, consider the page count in the two versions on the table.

The House version, passed in late May, runs 329 pages. The Senate plan, minted a month later, runs 508 pages.

The additional pages are indicative of a long-running philosophical difference between the House and Senate. Although both chambers infuse public policy in their spending plans, the House is far more reluctant to use the budget to enact sweeping reforms.

Holding up negotiations over an agreement on this session’s two-year budget are key policy changes on Medicaid and education pushed by the Senate. But the main hiccup for budget conferees, so far, has proven to be on the revenue side of the equation.

The Senate has proposed an extensive rewrite of sales taxes, expanding the range of commercial activity subject to the taxes to include services, repairs and a handful of other categories. The plan also alters how sales taxes are distributed, creating winners and losers among local governments.

(Left to right) Reps. Chuck McGrady (R-Henderson) and Chris Whitmire (R-Transylvania), go over an amendment during the discussion over the proposed House version of the state budget last May. Kirk Ross/Carolina Public Press

In an interview late last week with Carolina Public Press, Rep. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, one of the lead negotiators for the House, acknowledged that the tax issue is so thorny that talks had yet to begin on the appropriations side of the budget.

“The Senate’s put a lot into the budget, including tax reform,” McGrady said. “You really can’t set targets for all the various parts of the budget until you know what your revenues are, and you don’t know your revenues until you figure out what parts of of this tax reform package might make it into the budget.”

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McGrady said finance discussions had started, but have yet to reach an agreement. Once that’s done, he said, there were a number of other policy decisions to make.

“The House left its policy out of the budget, passing individual bills on economic development, education and Medicaid,” he said. “What the Senate did was put all that plus more into the budget.”

McGrady said that’s complicated the process.

“Rather than deciding what we’re going to do about Medicaid and plugging those number in in a two-step process, we’ve got everything together,” he said.

Negotiators on both sides say there won’t be an agreement before Aug. 14, the deadline in a continuing resolution to fund the government that was passed at the end of the fiscal year in June. A new continuing resolution is likely to give negotiators at least another month to hammer out a deal.

Meanwhile, the rest of the session is in wrap up mode, with conference committees appointed to work out differences in other bills.

McGrady said the House and Senate budget impasse is an old story in the General Assembly.

“The public looks at these two chambers and says, ‘Well, how could this be, they’re all Republicans?’” he said. “But the chambers are very different in their culture, and the culture of the two chambers doesn’t really depend upon which party is in charge.”

House says ‘yes’ to bonds

House leaders rolled out a $2.9 billion bond program Monday afternoon with a little bit of funding — and, in some cases, a lot — for repairs, improvements, infrastructure and transportation projects across the state.

House Speaker Tim Moore said that, with interest rates at historic lows and the state running a surplus, a major bond program makes sense.

The move by the House is a victory for McCrory who has toured the state in his push for a 2015 bond referendum.

“We’re pleased that the Connect NC bond proposal continues to gain momentum. I applaud the House for listening to the people across our state who want to prepare North Carolina for the next generation,” McCrory said in a statement released Monday evening.

The bill, the ConnectNC Bond Act of 2015, was introduced Monday night and is scheduled to be heard in the House Finance Committee this morning (Tuesday)  in what is expected to be a quick trip through the chamber. The package, which would go before the voters in November, includes $400 million in additional highway funding, $500 million for local school districts and more than $1 billion for university, parks and infrastructure.

Western region funding on the list include:

Parks and attractions

• $4 million for Lake James;

• $800,000 for Mount Mitchell;

• $1.2 million for Elk Knob;

• $3.3 million for Gorges State Park;

• $3 million for Yellow Mountain Natural Area;

• $800,000 for Beech Creek Bog Natural Area;

• $2 million for Chimney Rock;

• $2 million for Grandfather Mountain; and

• $10 million for disability improvements to parks statewide.

Universities and community colleges

• $8.1 million for Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College;

• $2.6 million for Blue Ridge Community College;

• $2.4 million for Haywood Community College;

• $4.2 million for Isothermal Community College;

• $2.8 million for Mayland Community College;

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• $2.7 million for McDowell Technical Community College;

• $3.3 for Tri-County Community College;

• $70.8 million for a health sciences building at Appalachian State University;

• $58.8 million for a Western North Carolina School of Science and Math in Burke County;

• $15.2 million for Owens Hall at UNC Asheville; and

• $102.9 million for a science/STEM building at Western Carolina University.

To read the full bond proposal, click here [PDF].

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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