New laws take effect today

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 1, 2011

RALEIGH (AP) ó All or portions of more than 30 new laws take effect today, none more far-reaching than a state budget that cuts taxes but scales back or ends scores of state-funded services and ultimately could lead to thousands of public-sector job losses.
The two-year budget, written and approved by Republican lawmakers who then overrode Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdueís veto, spends $19.7 billion for the year starting July 1.
The earliest change most people will see is a one-cent reduction on the sales tax for nearly all goods purchased. The tax rate will now be 6.75 percent in 82 of North Carolinaís 100 counties. Seventeen more will be at 7 percent, while Mecklenburg County falls to 7.25 percent, according to the state Revenue Department. The tax on groceries wonít change; it remains at 2 percent.
The sales tax will fall because the budget failed to extend temporary sales and income tax increases approved in 2009 by the Democratic-led Legislature. The decision means a loss of $1.3 billion to the state, but the average married couple with two children in North Carolina will save $107 a year, according to an analysis from the Legislatureís fiscal staff.
ěThat basically will cut the cost of living by $1.3 billion,î said House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake. ěThat will help immediately.î
But less revenue meant Republicans cut deeper than Perdueís budget proposal suggested in several areas. The budget spends $230 million less than Perdue wanted on Medicaid and $117 million less in the University of North Carolina system.
In the public schools, the budgetís largest line item, the Legislature spent slightly less than Perdue wanted and preserved state funding for teachers and teacher assistants. But Perdue and state education leaders said reducing funds for assistant principals, guidance counselors and other jobs and requiring local school districts to find an additional $124 million in cuts would result in more than 9,000 lost positions.
UNC leaders and Perdueís office say the university system will lose 3,200 faculty and staff positions, a majority of which are currently filled. When combined with federal matching funds, the Medicaid reductions will lead to an extra 10,000 lost jobs in the stateís medical sector through mid-2013, according to the liberal-leaning North Carolina Budget & Tax Center.
The budget ěreally does not support economic recovery, and it also undermines core state functions,î said Brenna Burch, a policy analyst at the center. ěA theme of this budget is making cuts in the short term that will have huge fiscal implications in coming years.î
Republicans said the number of public- and private-sector jobs cuts are overblown by critics in part because they donít take into account regular attrition in the work place, the impact tax cuts and breaks will have, and the availability of federal funds.
The GOP budget also cut more deeply in funding to help poor criminal defendants get representation and substance abuse treatment, as well as pushing back on spending for environmental regulation. The Department of Environment and Natural Resources will see nearly 190 jobs being eliminated and several hundred more shifted to other agencies. The department now will have absorbed a 40 percent reduction since 2008, department Secretary Dee Freeman said.
ěFor those of you who remain, I challenge you once again to do more with less,î Freeman wrote Tuesday by email to agency employees.
While some school districts ó including Wake County ó have announced they wonít cut any teachers and teacher assistants this fall, other districts are eliminating instructional positions to meet their share of the $124 million cuts.
ěIt impacts our system. It impacts our community,î said Theresa Perry with the Cumberland County Schools, which is finalizing the elimination of between roughly 240 and 310 teaching and teacher assistant positions. The district already has decided to eliminate 65 administrators, central staff and other employees, she said.
Other laws taking effect will:
Remove the 100-school cap on charter schools and allow these non-traditional schools to raise enrollment by 20 percent annually, instead of the current 10 percent.
Eliminate four standardized end-of-course tests in North Carolina high schools considered unnecessary by lawmakers and begins the process for high school juniors to take the ACT national college entrance exam to evaluate student performance.
Eliminate dozens of state commissions or panels considered duplicative, outdated or unnecessary.
Begin the process of requiring more people convicted of misdemeanors to serve active sentences in local county jails, rather than in state prisons.