Republicans, fulfilling a promise in the last elections, have demonstrated business-like efficiency in development of a business plan for the 2011 General Assembly. This week, the leadership handed out calendars for the House and Senate Appropriations process. And so far, they are on schedule.
For the past two weeks, joint Senate-House Appropriations subcommittees have been getting up-to-date figures on current expenditures and revenue projections. On Thursday, the committees had their “targets” for budget totals and for the next six weeks, spending cuts will be hammered out jointly. This is a radical departure. In past sessions under Democrats, each chamber hammered out a version before it was sent to the other. Joint reconciliation involved a month or more.
The calendar has the House committees thrashing out a final version the first two weeks of April. The House budget is published online April 17 and adopted by the full chamber on April 22. The Senate takes up the bill the following week and three weeks later–May 13–votes in the full chamber. The joint conference committee has less than one week to refine difference. The first reading in both Chambers is scheduled for Memorial Day, May 30, with final adoption June 1.
Democrats have opportunities along the way to comment and protest. But the Republican majority can control the calendar–and will.
AND THEN THERE IS ANOTHER BUDGET ISSUE…THE GOVERNOR
Gov. Beverly Perdue comes to the Legislative Building Monday, February 14, to deliver her “State of the State” address. Two days later, her proposed budget arrives. She already has released fragments of her concept.
First, the Governor will insist the budget shortfall is “only” $2.7 billion, or a billion less than estimated. She will assert cuts her agencies have made, and $500 million in higher than expected revenues are responsible. Should she recommended extending the half cent sales tax due to expire June 30, she will have reduced the gap to $1.5 billion. Controlling and taxing video poker will reduce the gap even more, she will assert.
GOP leaders in the Legislature will be skeptical. But Miz Beverly holds the veto stamp.
NEW RULES FOR FILING BILLS
For the first time, House members are limited to filing 10 bills dealing with state issues. This does not include local bills, i.e. resolutions honoring basketball teams, local revenue, enabling acts, etc. Like everything there is a loophole: House members can ask another to file the bill for him. Filing deadlines for local bills, for study commissions, and public bills extend through each Wednesday in March.
The Senate Education Committee is moving forward to lift the cap on charter schools. The State Board of Education has decided not to oppose lifting the 100 schools cap, but the governance structure has fierce opposition. Under the Senate bill, a Charter Schools Commission, independent from the state board, would oversee the standards and applications. There is no provision for bus transportation or subsidized meals. Some Democrats said this limits the choice for students. And there is the fear of re-segregation.
Also in the House and Senate are bills to accelerate industrial waste clean-up in sites that often are referred to as brownfields. The State Department of Environment and Natural Resources would be given the tools and the mandate to move forward without some of the constraints in the past.
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