State legislators can’t resolve snags, will return next week
Economic incentives, teacher assistants are sticking points
RALEIGH (AP) — North Carolina legislators on Friday failed to complete their primary work session for the year because House members couldn’t agree quickly to work through an array of intertwined bills that address economic incentives, local sales taxes and funding teacher assistants.
Instead of passing an adjournment resolution that would wrap up their activities for at least three months, the House and Senate left Raleigh only for the weekend. Now they are expected to return Monday and try again.
It now also appears likely they won’t return at all this year to consider legislation designed to shut down coal ash ponds and to overhaul Medicaid. That would be left to the next two-year edition of the General Assembly in 2015.
The Senate on Thursday passed three options for the House to agree on how to adjourn the session. Two would have them coming back in mid-November. The third was not to return at all. House Republicans, meeting privately in their caucus Friday, favored the third.
House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said the differences between the House and Senate on coal ash cleanup can be worked out privately later this year and presumably be implemented in early 2015.
“The consensus is we just need to work on that in January,” said Tillis, who won’t return to the House next year. He’s running for U.S. Senate. Otherwise, Tillis added, “we will be done next week.”
While both chambers held floor sessions Friday, the focus rested on the House, where Republicans met behind closed doors for several hours. The biggest issue facing House Republicans had to do with whether to accept a bargain offered by senators Thursday night.
The Senate passed a bill that contained a provision designed to address complaints by local school districts that they’d have less money than anticipated this school year if funding earmarked to hire teachers was transferred to employ teacher assistants. That raised the threat of assistant layoffs even as Gov. Pat McCrory and others said none would be required in the state budget law he signed last week.
The passage of the teacher assistant provision, however, was contingent on the House agreeing to another bill already approved by the Senate. That measure places a 2.5 percent cap — with some exceptions — on county sales taxes; creates a new $20 million economic incentives program to attract jobs in rural areas; and changes state economic grants to benefit a Haywood County paper mill.
Tillis described some of the economic development measures as items McCrory sought. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker lobbied House members Friday morning for support. But many House Republicans didn’t like that bill and its passage on its own looked bleak.
Running out of parliamentary options, Tillis gave a solution on the House floor that required the passage of both bills and a third measure — a sweetener that would allow Wake County to have until late 2016 to offer its voters a referendum on an additional quarter-cent on their sales tax. That would exempt it from the 2.5 percent cap.
The effort hit a bump when the House defeated by a 44-46 vote a procedural maneuver to consider the main bill Friday. It prompted Tillis to regroup as well as the decision to close up for the weekend.
Tillis described to reporters the setback as simply an issue of timing. “We just need to take the time to sit down with the caucus and explain it, and I’m very optimistic about the outcome next week,” Tillis said.
Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, defended the decision to link the teacher assistant change to the sales tax and incentives bill.
“It is something that is in the House’s hands at this point,” Berger said. He said the Senate still would prefer to return in mid-November to tackle the coal ash and Medicaid issues.
But Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, acknowledged senators gave House members three adjournment options, and they “can choose whichever one they like.”