May 6, 2013
NCGA Week in Review - April 29 - May 2
House Finance Committee Adds Toll Roads to New Transportation Funding Strategy
The House Finance Committee added three toll road projects to Governor McCrory’s new transportation funding strategy on Thursday. The committee passed the bill, but not before amending the bill to include three long-proposed toll projects: the Mid-Currituck Bridge, Garden Parkway, and Cape Fear Skyway. The original bill removed these projects from statute, and required them to compete with other large-scale projects across the state. Under the bill, statewide projects would compete with each other for funding through a merit formula that has yet to be developed by the Department of Transportation. Supporters of the toll roads argued that the projects should be completed because millions of dollars have already been spent researching and planning. Opponents of the tolling projects claimed that the roads could still be built if they won funding under the new formula.
Renewable Energy Rollback Clears Senate Finance Committee
The Senate Finance Committee approved a bill that would halt and eventually repeal requirements that the state’s public utilities buy increasing amounts of power from renewable energy sources. Senate Bill 365 passed through the committee just days after the companion bill was voted down in the House Public Utilities and Energy Committee. The bill would freeze the renewable energy portfolio standard at the current 3 percent rate through 2023 before removing the requirement completely. Supporters of the legislation argue that high energy costs have led to job losses in North Carolina, and that the renewable energy requirement acts as a subsidy for renewable energy. Opponents of the bill, including prominent hog farmers and solar energy company owners, claim that the legislation would hurt the growing alternative energy industry in the state.
Medicaid Shortfall More Than Double Original Estimates
Governor Pat McCrory’s administration announced that this year’s Medicaid shortfall will be more than double previous estimates. The Department of Health and Human Services announced the program is $248 million over budget through June 30. Legislative budget writers claim that tax collections will fill the short term gap, but the funding shortage will further accentuate long-term challenges for the Medicaid program. State agencies attributed the difference in estimates to a forecasting model error that overestimated the amount of federal money coming into North Carolina. It is now estimated that the Medicaid program will need $434 million more during the fiscal year beginning July 1, compared to $185 million in Governor McCrory’s budget released last month.
Mining and Energy Commission Pushes Back Chemical Disclosure Vote
The Mining and Energy Commission decided to push back their first vote on a rule that would outline chemical disclosure standards for hydraulic fracturing companies entering North Carolina. The standard provides the framework for which chemicals fracing operators have to publicly disclose when drilling natural gas wells in the state. The commission’s Environmental Standards Committee approved the rule in March that would exempt certain chemicals from public disclosure if the company demonstrated they are trade secrets. The controversy over the rule spurs from the requirement that fracing operators would have to submit those trade secrets under seal to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, in case the data is needed to treat injuries during an emergency. Agency officials do not want to keep trade secret documents on file, because the information is a likely target for legal challenges. Hydraulic fracturing companies do not want the government to hold onto proprietary information that competitors could try to gain access to through freedom of information laws.
House Tentatively Approves Pre-K Restrictions
The House tentatively approved HB 935 on Thursday. The bill would lower pre-K eligibility to the federal poverty rate, which is around $19,500 for a family of three. Currently the eligibility mark is about double that rate. The bill would not reduce the number of slots available, but roughly halves income eligibility to 31,000 children. Opponents of the legislation argue that the bill goes against the state’s duty to educate the less fortunate. Supporters of the bill claim that the change would close the gap between eligibility criteria and the actual number of slots that legislators are funding and can afford to fund.
Please contact the Raleigh McGuireWoods Consulting team if you have any questions or comments:
Harry Kaplan, Senior Vice-President
Jeff Barnhart, Senior Vice-President
Franklin Freeman, Senior Vice-President
John Merritt, Senior Vice-President
Johnny Tillett, Senior Vice-President
Rita Harris, Vice-President
Bo Heath, Vice-President
Kerri Burke, Assistant Vice-President
Sarah Wolfe, Research Assistant
Katy Feinberg, Strategic Communications