News

The Senate’s $21.5 billion budget will be before the full chamber Wednesday. The proposed spending plan, introduced on Monday, would increase teacher pay by four percent on average, but it would also cut more than 8,500 teacher assistant positions over the biennium.

The budget bill is also heavy on policy – including Medicaid reform and a lowering of the individual income tax rate from 5.75 percent to 5.5 percent.

This weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, we sit down with Senator Mike Woodard, who notes shortcomings in the education part of the Senate’s budget document  – specifically the raises for veteran teachers, and the additional taxpayer dollars earmarked for private-school vouchers.

Click below for a preview of Senator Woodard’s radio interview with NC Policy Watch.

The Senate convenes at 11:00 a.m. today. The leadership hopes to have passed the 500-plus-page spending plan by end of this week.

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News

Senate leaders included a surprise in Monday’s budget roll-out – their vision for Medicaid reform.

Sen. Ralph Hise detailed plans that would move Medicaid away from the state Department of Health and Human Services and to a newly created Health Benefits Authority.

The HBA, according to Hise, would contract with three healthcare providers to administer the $14 Billion program.

The new authority would not be subject to the state personnel act, allowing the new entity to set higher salaries for its employees.

Union County Senator Tommy Tucker says this new scenario would allow for greater flexibility, allowing the HBA to more immediately address cost overruns that have plagued lawmakers in the past.

But the change would also see DHHS Medicaid workers lose their positions after this new program is up and running in 2017. Tucker says the changes they are proposing would require a different skill set.

To hear a portion of Monday’s discussion on the proposed Health Benefits Authority, click below. You can also read more about the proposed changes on WRAL.com and NC Health News. Want more? You’ll find the full Senate budget here.

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Commentary, News

The top story on Jones Street this afternoon is what is (and what isn’t) in the Senate’s proposed spending plan. Here’s a quick rundown from those attending this afternoon’s budget-preview press conference:

News

BIKELANEThe word bicycle does not appear in the title of House Bill 44, but the bill stands to have a major impact on those who like to bike for pleasure or as an alternative form of transportation.

Buried in the Local Government Regulatory Reform Act is a provision that stands to restrict the advancement of bicycle lanes across North Carolina.

Section 7 of the bill reads:

Reduction of travel lanes to accommodate the addition of bike lanes within the existing paved and marked travel lanes of any State highway system street or highway located within a municipality shall be approved by a majority vote of the members of the Board of Transportation.”

Got that? Local official could not add bike lanes to a city until a majority of the NC Board of Transportation offers its blessing.

The group Asheville on Bikes is urging cyclists to reach out to their legislators opposing Section 7 of this bill. As they note:

Each year 960 bicyclists are hit by vehicles in North Carolina, making North Carolina one of the least safe states in the US for bicycling. On average, about 160 pedestrians and 20 bicyclists are killed each year in the State, representing about 12% of all traffic fatalities that occur on North Carolina roads.

Section 7 of HB44 is counterproductive to NCDOT’s measures to improve public safety on our roads and NCDOT’s Complete Street Policy.

The state Senate could give the bill final approval later today.

Commentary

NHC-RODThe New Hanover County Register of Deeds didn’t ask for a law allowing her employees to opt-out of performing same-sex marriages if they invoke “any sincerely held religious objection.”

So when the state House voted Thursday to join the NC Senate in overriding the bill vetoed by Governor Pat McCrory, Register of Deeds Tammy Beasley issued a short statement letting residents know her office would not discriminate against anyone seeking marriage services from her office:

“It’s a non-issue in this office. Everyone in Vital Records including myself are happy to help everyone that comes through our doors.”

Earlier this week, an informal poll found the majority of Registers of Deeds from across the state do not have a favorable opinion of Senate Bill 2.

For more state and national reaction to the marriage discrimination law, click here.