Last week at the North Carolina General Assembly was the third week of what is known as the “short session”. We were deep into meetings on the 2022 – 2023 budget, and we voted on several bills concerning arson laws, sex offender laws, virtual learning, and sales tax policy.
The state budget in North Carolina is biennial, meaning it is a two-year budget. So, the budget for 2021 – 2022 and for 2022 – 2023 was done last year. However, in April we got a revised revenue forecast for 2022 – 2023, which means we have more funds to appropriate. This appears to result from a better recovery from the pandemic economy than anticipated last year, and the favorable tax rate reforms we have been putting in place for several years. To adjust the budget, our leadership has been meeting since early May to agree on the big picture, and our individual area committees got into the details the past two weeks.
My committee works on the Transportation budget, and others work on Education, Public Safety, Health and Human Services, Environment, and other areas of state government whose operations must be funded. In Transportation, we put more money into the Strategic Transportation Investment Plan (STIP), which pays for building roads, bridges, and other infrastructure to improve transportation, mobility, and economic development across the state. This fund has been impacted severely by material cost inflation and labor shortages. Again, much of the funding for many areas within the Dept. of Transportation is already in place, but we added some funds for inflation to such divisions as aviation, ferry, and rail. Caution: the budget adjustments are not finalized and could change.
Many bills have been in committees since last year, and several new ones have been introduced. Some came to the House floor last week. House Bill 315 – Arson Law Revisions increases penalties for arson and fires that injure first responders. It passed the House 104 – 12. Having already passed the Senate 42 – 1, it was sent to the Governor for his signature.
House Bill 1046 – Expand Aviation Sales Tax Exemption expands the tax exemption on aviation parts to attract more aerospace jobs to the state. It passed the House 96 – 5 and was sent to the Senate. House Bill 1008 – Clarify Sex Offender Registration strengthens the sex offender registration process. It passed the House 99 – 1 and was also sent to the Senate.
Two education bills passed the House. House Bill 1008 – UNC Non-Appropriated Capital Projects signs off on construction of buildings on UNC system campuses. It passed the House 100 – 1 and went to the Senate. Senate Bill 671 – Virtual Education/Remote Academy/Virtual Charter improves virtual learning options for public school students. It passed the House 73 – 22 and went back to the Senate for their approval, since the content of the bill had been changed by the House.
There is a bill that promotes clean water and holds polluters more accountable, House Bill 1095, that we hope can proceed through the process soon. Both Rep. Miller and I are primary sponsors of the bill, and it has received strong bipartisan support from citizens in our area and across the state. It is still being debated in committees.
This week we expect many more committee meetings, as well as floor votes on bills in both the House and Senate. Work continues on the budget, and we hope to finish it on time by July 1st.