This is a report of what the Assembly accomplished during its “Short Session” of May 10 – July 18, 2004. The main purpose of the Short Session is to “adjust” the Budget. I voted against the “adjusted” State Budget, (HB 1414- will spend $15.9 billion this year of state funds), for the following ten reasons:
- It continues the same “temporary” tax increase that we voted against in 2003 – higher sales and income tax rates – about $445 million on a fiscal year basis. Since these higher rates are set to expire in 2005 the budget is fundamentally flawed because it funds recurring expenses with this huge sum of nonrecurring revenue, unless one plans to make these “twice-temporary” tax increases permanent by a third extension.
- Adds $9 million for More at Four when the Governor couldn’t even spend all of last year’s increases.
- It continues to spend and accrue hundreds of millions of dollars in ineffectual and discriminatory corporate giveaways, like the Bill Lee Act and the Cigarette Export Tax Credit, which have been thoroughly discredited by our own studies.
- State Employees received miniscule pay raises for the last 3 years. This year’s $1000,or 2.5%, pay raise is inadequate to make up for 3 years of attrition.
- Small corporations were promised a small tax cut (exempting the first $20,000 from corporate income tax). It did not happen.
- Over $580 million of recurring expenses paid for by nonrecurring revenues in the budget, in addition to $445 million in the first item, for a total of over $1,024,700,000 in nonrecurring revenue paying for recurring expenses. The problem is $108,000,000 worse if ABC bonuses are recognized as a recurring obligation. This is like paying for groceries and the rent with your home equity loan.
- Fiscal staff has estimated that the unfunded liability for retired state employees health insurance premiums is about $12 billion. To amortize this over 30 years would cost about $1.5 billion per year. This budget takes no real steps to resolve this structural problem. It sets up a trust fund to receive the funds but none are there.
- This Adjusted Budget includes $1.183 billion dollars in new spending. 2004-2005 over 2003-2004 – a 8% increase, after adjustment to correct the FY for HB 1352, $64 million passed and spent in 2004-2005 but retroactively budgeted for 2003-2004.
- Many (if not most) of the “cuts” are not really reductions in spending, but really are just taking reversions as “cuts” that historically would have reverted anyway! But the increases in budget authority are almost all for real spending increases.
- Finally, members of the House were given less than an hour to read and study over 320 pages of budget documents before voting the last night of Session. I can’t read that fast.
The Assembly failed to address the State Marriage Amendment. This bill was signed by a majority of House members and a discharge Petition was signed by a majority of Senators. Leadership of the House and Senate refused to allow us to vote on the question: Whether North Carolina will allow polygamy and same-sex marriage or deny recognition to out-of-state marriages along these lines. The issue will inevitably come to our courts as people move here from Massachusetts.
The Assembly also failed to address any bills designed to protect unborn children and their mothers. I was the principle co-sponsor of HB 998- Woman’s Right to Know Act. A majority of House members signed as co-sponsors but the leadership decided that the status quo was its preferred public policy.
Additional measures were taken to remedy and punish Domestic Violence. I was pleased to serve as Co-chair of the Criminal Subcommittee for House Bill 1354 and I include extracts from that Bill that relate to criminal law. There were other provisions regarding civil procedure, prevention and treatment. The House Select Committee on Domestic Violence will continue to meet through January. Please send my any suggestion that you have on the criminal law side. I was also pleased with the passage of the School Calendar Bill. Without any loss of instructional days we will redeem the summer from a creeping calendar.
And there were many technical bills passed, such as the exciting repeal of Article 6 of the Uniform Commercial Code.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve you during the 2003-2004 Session of the North Carolina General Assembly.
The writer represents Southern Wake County in the North Carolina House of Representatives.