Last week the North Carolina General Assembly began to heat up, just as the temperatures in the state passed 90 degrees. We got deep into the state budget adjustments for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1st. We also were handling bills in committees, some of which were carried over from the 2019 long session, and some newly written to deal with the current COVID economic situation.
The streets of Raleigh were heating up also, with honest protesters organizing peaceful marches, and others intent on looting and burning. This column has always been informational and as non-political as possible, so I will not comment further here.
As one of the Chairmen of the House Transportation Appropriations Committee, I was responsible for meeting with House and Senate Chairs to balance the 2020 – 2021 state budget. In the budget meetings we were charged with finding $513.3 million reductions from the previously approved budget in the Highway Fund (maintenance fund) and the Highway Trust Fund (construction fund). Meetings began between 8:00 and 9:00 each morning and lasted until we reached certain goals in the afternoon. By Wednesday afternoon, we were balanced with the money portion, and Thursday began with the detailed provisions to go into the bill. They will be completed this week.
The other areas of the budget, known as the General Fund, are wrestling with a $2.6 billion shortfall in the coming year. We are hopeful the entire process will be completed by June 30th, before the 2020 – 2021 fiscal year begins.
One important point: this is the budget, not the cash flow, which has been controversial in the transportation area, and is managed by the N.C. Dept. of Transportation. In short, they can’t spend a dollar until they receive it from the motor fuels tax, highway use tax, and DMV fees. Their cash flow has been negatively impacted by the reduced activity during COVID 19.
Some of the bills we passed last week will impact the funding for public schools, help support distressed water and wastewater systems, and help drivers trying to obtain their drivers’ licenses. House Bill 1071 – Funds to DPI for ADM Growth allocates funds to the Dept. of Public Instruction (DPI) for growth in their average daily membership (ADM) projected for the 2020 – 2021 fiscal year. Due to the vetoed budget, these funds were not going to be paid for student enrollment for the next school year. This includes $75 million for all schools and $22 million for low-wealth counties.
House Bill 1087 – Water/Wastewater Public Enterprise Reform establishes a process for cooperation between water systems, and a process for identifying distressed water systems. It also transfers $9 million from the One NC Fund to the Viable Utility Fund for the benefit of distressed water/wastewater systems.
House Bill 1189 – Driver Education COVID-19 Response makes accommodations for students enrolled in a driver education course in the spring semester of 2020. It also requires the Dept. of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to waive the road test temporarily for license applicants that meet certain requirements.
Last but not least: In response to the current unrest in our communities, the House Speaker has appointed a task force that will include members of both parties, members of the public, and possibly members of the Senate. It will focus on community relations, law enforcement, and criminal justice. We can expect more details to come out this week.