The Morning Roundup: N.C. Senate Budget Still (Mostly) Sucks | News

The Morning Roundup: N.C. Senate Budget Still (Mostly) Sucks


While the Senate's teacher salary raise is happening—lawmakers are negotiating with the House on a schedule to bring salaries up to $55 thousand, average—there's still lots of garbage to be waded through, such as mussels, vouchers and more. 

1. Still not enthused about light rail. A Durham to Chapel Hill light rail line is in the works but the Senate doesn't care.

The state had previously committed $130 million to the project, then capped spending at $500 thousand last summer. Both budgets get rid of the cap, but,'s the N&O:

While eliminating the current cap, the Senate budget provision would also add new restrictions: Each commuter-rail or light-rail project couldn’t receive more than 10 percent of its total funding from the state. And the Durham-Chapel Hill project wouldn’t automatically get funding – it would have to wait two years and go through the Department of Transportation’s prioritization process again.

“It lifted the cap but set a cap,” said Sen. Wesley Meredith, a Fayetteville Republican and a Senate transportation budget writer. Meredith said he didn’t know the rationale for the new cap; he said the provision was developed by Sen. Bill Rabon of Southport and Sen. Kathy Harrington of Gastonia.

Rabon did not respond to requests for comment, and Harrington’s assistant said she was unavailable Friday to discuss the provision.

GoTriangle, the regional transit agency overseeing the Durham-Chapel Hill project, called on legislators Friday to change the provision and allow the light rail line to move forward. House and Senate leaders will negotiate a compromise budget in the coming weeks.

“We appreciate efforts to remove the light rail cap, and we are optimistic that the remaining budget language will be adjusted to ... allow us to continue securing the federal funding needed to deliver projects that will help relieve congestion and better connect people to jobs, education, healthcare and other services,” GoTriangle general manager Jeff Mann said in a news release.

The light rail cap wasn’t mentioned during Thursday’s Senate budget debate, and no senators sought to amend the provision.

The funding plan for the light rail line anticipates that the state will ultimately cover 25 percent of the estimated $1.5 billion cost, although the current state allocation represents about 9 percent of that total. Local governments – through a half-cent sales tax for transit – are intended to pay for 25 percent, with federal grants covering the remaining 50 percent.

Charlotte used a similar funding formula to build its light rail system.

GoTriangle plans to award contracts to start design planning soon. That work must be completed before the agency applies for federal grants. The grants also require GoTriangle to show that the project’s other funding sources are secure.
In one of his better moments, Governor McCrory asked that original funding be restored. But we all know how seriously he's taken by the legislature (clue: not very seriously).

2. Speaking of Governor McCrory, the Senate might not override his coal ash veto.
You win some, you lose some, it turns out.

That likely delay comes as Duke Energy's top executive met with top Senate leaders Wednesday, and at least one lawmaker involved in crafting the bill said his colleagues were working on a compromise with the Governor's Office.

The bill, Senate Bill 71, arrived back at the legislature Monday. Senate and House leaders had signaled they were poised to hold an override vote Wednesday. The measure passed in the Senate 46-1 and the House 84-25. Over the past six years they have held the majority, Republicans legislators have not hesitated to push on with a veto override when they wielded such convincing, bipartisan majorities on an issue.

Because the bill was first drafted in the Senate, any override effort would have to start in that chamber.

"It won't be today," Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said with a smile when asked about a potential override vote after his chamber had gaveled out of session Wednesday.

Berger refused to say why he wasn't calling for a vote, adding only that a Thursday vote wasn't likely either. Pushed for an answer, he finally said, "We're just not going to do it yet."
The bill would force Duke Energy to provide alternative sources of drinking water to households near coal ash ponds, though no timetable is in place in the bill to say when that actually  has to happen. There's also no timetable in to say when Duke Energy actually has to clean up its toxic coal ash pits either; instead of dilly-dallying over reconstituting a commission, maybe it could just do that?

Not likely, because $.

3. McCrory endorsed Trump and he's standing by it.

Trump is racist and awful but he's the Republican nominee, so what are you gonna do...Here's a press release from the Democrats:

Donald Trump’s campaign announced today that they would be holding a rally in Greensboro on June 14th. The announcement comes one day after Governor Pat McCrory re-affirmed his unqualified support of Trump for president and amid the fervent backlash to Trump’s comments that non-white judges cannot be impartial.

Numerous Republican leaders have rescinded their endorsements or blasted the comments as “un-American” and “the definition of a racist statement.” However, Governor McCrory proactively reiterated his endorsement without commenting on the controversy.

“Governor Pat McCrory endorsed for president a man who believes that non-white judges cannot be impartial in their cases. Yet, the governor refuses to acknowledge whether or not he shares this view or even if he’ll campaign with Trump in North Carolina. Families across the state are rightly horrified that their governor would support Donald Trump and they deserve to know if Pat McCrory plans to campaign with him,” said NCDP spokesman Dave Miranda.
Yet Donald Trump has so far not engaged with the state's Republican party. If you assumed they're waiting with bated breath for Trump to acknowledge they exist, you're right. 

"We're just waiting to hear from them," said North Carolina GOP Chairman Robin Hayes, who points out that the state party has a field organization that's prepared to plug into the campaign once they reach out. "It's just like this iPhone. I plug it into the wall and the power comes through."

 4. Renee Ellmers lost her re-election bid and will forever be remembered for calling out a campaign worker on her weight gain. 

The campaign worker called Ellmers "a mean girl on steroids." Sounds accurate. George Holding stayed classy, though. 

"I don't hate you because you're fat. You're fat because I hate you."

5. Remember #Drunktown? The N&O has thoughts.

Apparently fearing that Raleigh was in danger of losing its Mayberryish charm and of becoming – Egads! – cosmopolitan, the council last year adopted rules that seemed designed to drag the city back to those holy, hokey, halcyon days of yore, when Aunt Bee could walk the streets at midnight without encountering raucousness.

The council’s 5-3 vote imposing restrictions was ostensibly intended to prevent outside alcohol swillers from impeding pedestrians or turning downtown into a college male dorm on weekends. What it seemed intent upon ensuring, though, was there was no surfeit of fun downtown: a curfew halting alcohol sales at 1 a.m. on weekends and midnight through the week, confining outside drinking areas to postage-stamp-size areas in front of establishments, and requiring those establishments to erect above-ground barriers – you know, the kind you erect when you want to stop a terrorist attack or tank.

Downtown Durham used to have them, and boy, did they ugly up a place.

Raleigh’s council came down so hard last year that nobody would’ve been surprised had it voted to erect walls around outside drinking areas so that the pure-at-heart teetotalers among us wouldn’t have to witness revelers taking a nip or sip or even nibbling a nacho outside.


Unforgettable is the comment last year by Mayor Nancy McFarlane in supporting the crackdown. “It’s not pleasant on Sunday morning,” Mayor McFarlane said, “when people are coming downtown and there’s vomit and trash.”

Vomit & Trash? Wasn’t that John Cougar Mellencamp’s first band?

Nobody wants to see Raleigh turn into Drunk Town, U.S.A., as opponents of downtown revelry advertised it would, but the downtown business owners and patrons to whom I spoke at the time recalled only isolated or anecdotal evidence of those kinds of excesses.

Zack Medford, owner of Paddy O’Beers, said the rules put in place by the council “had the opposite effect of ‘classing the joint up.’” It unclassed it, and, he said, “It made the sidewalks more cluttered.”

As a frequent habitue of downtown restaurants and drinking establishments – I occasionally stop by one for an afternoon restorative after escaping the salt mines – I have never seen any of the egregious examples cited by supporters of the original bill. I do know that downtown drinking establishments are pretty near liquid gold mines for their owners, and it behooves them to ensure that patrons are following the rules by not kicking up a fuss or upchucking on downtown sidewalks.

When downtown bars and restaurants started complaining that the council’s puritanical impulse was proving to be an impediment to profits, the only recourse a wise council had was to reevaluate its action. Nobody wants to go back to the bad old days – 15 years or so ago – when downtown after dark and on weekends was a gloomy, forlorn place.

Medford raised a figurative glass to the council for reconsidering its initial vote. “When they originally made their decision, they didn’t expect as much pushback” from business owners, he said. “They didn’t expect us to stay engaged as long as we did. ... We have nice weather nine months out of the year, and people want to sit out and drink with their friends.”

I’ll drink to that – and to the council.

The alacrity with which the council moved to leaven its initial overkill proves one thing: money talks.

Vomit and trash. To bring this full circle that's exactly how I'd describe the Senate budget. You know when that hotline bling! Thursday is little Friday. 

Comments (2)

Showing 1-2 of 2

Add a comment

Add a comment