Anti-abor­tion funds, ru­ral in­cen­tives in bud­get plan

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - News - BY DAWN BAUMGARTNE­R VAUGHAN AND WILL DORAN [email protected]­sob­server.com wdo­[email protected]­sob­server.com

The House re­leased its pro­posed bud­get last week, then set about chang­ing it be­fore vot­ing to ap­prove it on se­cond read­ing on Thurs­day. On Fri­day leg­is­la­tors will make their fi­nal vote and are ex­pected to ap­prove it and send it to the Se­nate.

Aside from big­ger news about teacher raises and ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing, some other things you should know about in this bud­get:

LIGHT RAIL FUND­ING

The Durham-Or­ange Light Rail Tran­sit project fiz­zled out ear­lier this year af­ter Duke Univer­sity said it did not want the light-rail line to go by its med­i­cal cam­pus. But there were other is­sues that led to the project end­ing, too, in­clud­ing fund­ing dead­lines.

Last year, the leg­is­la­ture left the project with a $57.6 mil­lion fund­ing gap that Durham County agreed to make up. Now the House bud­get has dropped the lan­guage that caused one of sev­eral com­pli­ca­tions for the project.

The bud­get re­moves a sec­tion that calls for “to­tal state fund­ing for a com­muter rail or light rail project shall not exceed the lesser of ten per­cent (10%) of the dis­tri­bu­tion re­gion al­lo­ca­tion or ten per­cent (10%) of the es­ti­mated to­tal project costs used dur­ing the pri­or­i­ti­za­tion scor­ing process.”

ANTI-ABOR­TION GROUP

Un­der Health and Hu­man Ser­vices’ bud­get, an anti-abor­tion non­profit called the Hu­man Coali­tion would re­ceive $1.2 mil­lion to expand a pilot pro­gram statewide. Money would be used to “en­cour­age healthy child­birth, sup­port child­birth as an al­ter­na­tive to abor­tion, pro­mote fam­ily for­ma­tion, as­sist in es­tab­lish­ing suc­cess­ful par­ent­ing tech­niques, and in­crease the economic self-suf­fi­ciency of fam­i­lies.”

When the bud­get came through com­mit­tee, Rep. Gale Ad­cock and Rep. Julie Von Hae­fen, both Wake County Democrats, raised ques­tions. Von Hae­fen wanted to know who would over­see spend­ing for the group, which would pro­vide “cri­sis preg­nancy” ser­vices.

Ad­cock said that what she read about the group on­line seemed one-sided, and asked why that group was get­ting funds.

Rep. Josh Dob­son, a Mar­ion Repub­li­can, said it was just part of the con­tin­uum of care and that the bud­get was us­ing a “com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach.”

STATE RETIREES

State retirees’ cost of liv­ing ad­just­ment will come in a one-time pay­ment of 1 per­cent of their an­nual re­tire­ment al­lowance. And it won’t come un­til the se­cond year, be­tween July and Novem­ber 2020.

Ardis Watkins of the State Em­ploy­ees As­so­ci­a­tion of North Carolina said retirees are also con­cerned about the state health plan spend­ing down re­serves, which she said could lead to in­creased out-of-pocket costs for them.

“Espe­cially with our retirees, health care is the last thing we should be leav­ing up to chance. The lack of the cost of liv­ing ad­just­ment has be­come a dis­turb­ing trend we hope the Se­nate will break. Retirees are ex­press­ing a lot of frus­tra­tion over the lack of COLA. They are ex­press­ing a lot of fear and a lot of concern about their health care,” she said.

The North Carolina Re­tired Gov­ern­men­tal Em­ploy­ees’ As­so­ci­a­tion also re­leased a state­ment on Fri­day about the House bud­get.

The more than 300,000 pub­lic sec­tor retirees av­er­age a “mea­ger” yearly re­tire­ment, with the av­er­age pen­sioner re­ceiv­ing less than $20,000 a year, they said.

“At the end of the day, our leg­is­la­tors are send­ing us a mes­sage: whether they truly re­spect the work of our pub­lic ser­vants, or whether they don’t. A bro­ken prom­ise will send a loud mes­sage that our elected of­fi­cials do not re­spect the hard work and con­tri­bu­tion of these men and women,” they wrote.

MIL­I­TARY CEME­TER­IES

A newly cre­ated mil­i­tary ceme­tery trust fund, with money shifted from another fund, would pay for main­te­nance of the state’s mil­i­tary ceme­ter­ies as they reach ca­pac­ity. North Carolina has four state-main­tained vet­er­ans ceme­ter­ies, in Jack­sonville, Black Moun­tain, Golds­boro and Spring Lake. There are four fed­eral vet­er­ans ceme­ter­ies, with three out of four closed to new buri­als.

More than 730,000 vet­er­ans were liv­ing in North Carolina in 2016, ac­cord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs.

CAR TAXES AND FEES

The first round of the bud­get added fees to elec­tric cars and hy­brid cars, and a new tax on ride shares like Uber and Lyft. But those were re­pealed dur­ing a com­mit­tee meet­ing. Rep. Ju­lia C. Howard, a Mocksville Repub­li­can and se­nior chair of the Fi­nance Com­mit­tee, said that they were re­pealed be­cause they were not de­bated and dis­cussed in com­mit­tee, which vi­o­lated the rules. Later that day, House Speaker Tim Moore, a Cleve­land County Repub­li­can, said they were not go­ing to be part of the bud­get.

Speak­ing of cars, if your car is 25 years old, you would be able to get a spe­cialty his­toric li­cense plate in the House bud­get. That means a car from the 1990s is now his­toric.

MASS SHOOT­ERS

Repub­li­can Rep. Craig Horn of Union County said a pro­posal to create an eight-per­son behavioral anal­y­sis team within the State Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion, to iden­tify po­ten­tial mass shoot­ers be­fore they strike, would make North Carolina one of few states with such a team. “We’re go­ing to at­tempt to get out in front of this,” he said. “To iden­tify those kids — not just kids of course, but mostly kids — who need help.”

RU­RAL RE­CRUIT­MENT

Repub­li­can Rep. Larry Potts of Davidson County said that in the bud­get for the Depart­ment of Health and Hu­man Ser­vices there would be new fund­ing for pro­grams that re­cruit doc­tors to ru­ral ar­eas, pro­vide job train­ing and health care for vet­er­ans, and fund grants for food banks.

Repub­li­can Rep. Jeff El­more of Wilkes County high­lighted ef­forts to help schools re­cruit and re­tain teach­ers. Small ru­ral dis­tricts will be able to of­fer new teach­ers a sign­ing bonus of up to $4,000, he said.

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