SUMMERTIME … AND THE LIVING IS EASY(IER)

AND THE LIVING IS EASY(IER): The official arrival of the season arrive this week and the pace in the North Carolina Legislature reflected a slower pace. At least on the surface.

Committee meetings are shorter. Some bills are adopted with little or no discussion. With Republicans holding overwhelming majorities in both Chambers, Democratic voices are mostly muted.

But out of sight, House and Senate conferees are hashing out differences in their budget drafts. House and Senate leaders earlier this year were confidently predicting that a 2013-14 budget would be on the governor’s desk by mid June. But this week the Senate Appropriations Committee adopted a resolution authorizing the state to pay its bills at the current rate for another 30 days. Late July or early August looms as the likely adjournment date.

GOVERNOR ENTERS THE TAX FIGHT

This week the Governor’s office sent to the Senate a document endorsing a tax package more in line with a House version that backs away from deep cuts.

The plan drafted by Art Pope, the governor’s budget director, would gradually reduce the income tax and expand the consumer (sales) tax to more services over the next three years. The proposed personal income tax would cap at 5.6 percent, lower than the 5.9 percent proposed by the House and higher than the 5.25 offered in the Senate plan. Corporate taxes would be lowered from the current 6.9 percent to 5 percent. The taxes would go into effect in 2016 when Gov. Pat McCrory runs for re-election.

House and Senate conferees also are working on a compromise tax package. But it appears that true reform of the state tax code is in a can that is being kicked down the road. And this dismays Sen. Bob Rucho who as Senate Finance Chairman, worked hard to put forth a new concept.

REGULATORY REFORMS AT DENR

The Senate committee this week cleared the way for legislation to amend laws and regulations under the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. The 43-page bill repeals rules adopted in 2008 requiring that no heavy-duty diesel engines can operate or be leased in the state unless they are certified by the California Code of Regulations. Also there are extensive changes in air quality permits, Coastal Management rules, wastewater systems, and drinking water controls.

Other targets in the bill are rules pertaining to venomous reptiles, the N.C. Zoo, fracking, brownfields, and pruning of highway right-of-way vegetation obstructing view of “agritourism activities.”

The bill would eliminate or modify hundreds of regulations that have been added to DENR over the years.

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