N.C. Senate spending plan has numerous local impacts

By on May 15, 2017

The state Senate passed its version of a $22.9 billion budget for North Carolina government covering the fiscal year that starts on July 1 in the wee hours Friday morning after what turned into a robust partisan debate.

The 362-page proposal will now head to the House, which will likely reject it and come up with its own version, then move the spending plan to a conference committee of the two chambers to work out differences.

Republican leaders touted cuts to personal and corporate income taxes, boosts to teacher salaries, additional Hurricane Matthew relief and contributions to the state’s rainy day fund.

But Democrats said the package comes up short on multiple fronts, and the tax plan will leave a huge spending gap in the future.

Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, on Friday provided highlights of the budget that cover his district in northeastern North Carolina:

Marine Fisheries Commission Amendments
Reduces the membership of the Marine Fisheries Commission from 9 commissioners to seven and a supermajority of five to make decisions.

The two at-large seats would be abolished and the composition of the MFC would be three commercial, three recreational and one scientist.

Clarifies and defines the authority granted to the N.C. Marine Fisheries Commission in the development of a temporary supplement to an existing Fishery Management Plan.

In essence, the Commission would be required to follow the management strategies contained in the original FMP or subsequent amendments to the plan.

Moreover, the Commission would be required to go through a stakeholder process that includes public hearings, economic analyses and the rulemaking process as defined by the Administrative Procedure Act in N.C. General Statute 150B prior to enacting any changes to the FMP.

“I believe these changes would go a long way toward removing politics from the decision-making process of the Marine Fisheries Commission, and actually identify projects on a transparent, data-driven process.,” Cook said.

“(The provision) would not prohibit the commission from addressing a stock assessment, but it simply requires the commission to go through a transparent, data-driven process, prior to enacting any changes to the FMP,” Cook said.

Roanoke Island Historical Sites
The Roanoke Island Commission would be abolished under the Senate budget, which would shift administration of Roanoke Island Festival Park to the group that currently operates The Lost Colony outdoor drama.

The plan requires the N.C. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources to negotiate a Memorandum of Agreement with the Roanoke Island Historical Association to collaborate and strive for an acceptable correlation agreement between the Roanoke Island Festival Park and the Roanoke Island Historical Association.

North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island and Jennette’s Pier
The Senate would eliminate the manager’s position at the pier in Nags Head, which would be shifted to the supervision of the aquarium’s director. The same provision was in the 2015 Senate budget, but was left out of the final version sent to the governor.

“The budget consolidates or eliminates thousands of positions throughout state government as well as provides additional support in areas of need (i.e. additional 56 new deputy clerks of court or 37 new assistant district attorneys, etc.),” said Jordan Hennessy, Cook’s legislative assistant.

“In fact, the budget eliminates well over 400 positions solely in the Department of Transportation,” Hennessy said. Many of those positions are either vacant already or will not be filled after the current job-holders retire or leave.

Deep/Shallow Draft Inlet Dredging
Continues to appropriate approximately $23.2 million to the state’s Shallow Draft Dredging Fund.

Directs the Department of Environmental Quality to explore the feasibility and cost-effectiveness of the acquisition of a state hopper dredge.

Instructs the N.C. Department of Transportation to study the use of its new dredge vessel, the Dredge Manteo, and a plan to allow use of the dredge vessel by other state departments and agencies.

Authorizes the North Carolina State Ports Authority to utilize up to $12 million of their funds for dredging needs. Phosphate and sulfur products from PotashCorp located in Beaufort County represent 68 percent of total tonnage handled by the Port of Morehead City.

Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum
Increases funds for the existing building and environmental services at the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum located on Hatters Island.

Revitalization and Economic Development Grants
Appropriates $2.8 million to the Perquimans Marine Industrial Park, which is situated in Northeastern North Carolina along the Perquimans River. This 71-acre state owned park is part of the 400-acre Perquimans Commerce Center south of the historic Town of Hertford.

Appropriates $100,000 to the Washington Harbor District Alliance of Beaufort County for the purpose of rehabilitating a historic downtown building to be used for a permanent farmers and artisans market in downtown Washington, N.C.

Appropriates $200,000 to the Town of Bath for a downtown revitalization project.

Tourism Advertising
Designates an additional $3 million over the biennium to the Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina (EDPNC) for tourism advertising and marketing. These funds are restricted to a research-based comprehensive marketing program directed toward consumers in key markets most likely to travel to North Carolina and shall not be used for ancillary activities, such as statewide branding and business development marketing.

Hurricane Matthew Recovery Funding
Provides an additional $150 million in disaster relief assistance to victims of Hurricane Matthew. Previously, the N.C. General Assembly enacted a $200 million disaster relief package into law during the December 2016 special session.

Oyster Sanctuaries
Appropriates an additional $1 million on a recurring basis for oyster sanctuaries. The revised net appropriation for oyster sanctuaries is $2.8 million over the biennium.

Shellfish Rehabilitation
Continues funding for cultch planting at the FY 2016-17 level and makes the funding recurring. The revised net appropriation for cultch planting is $1.1 million in FY 2017-18 and $1.2 million in FY 2018-19.

Oyster Study and Shellfish Mariculture Plan
Provides $150,000 on a nonrecurring basis for the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory to study and advance efforts to ecologically restore and achieve economic stability of the shellfish industry and to develop a Shellfish Mariculture Plan.

Artificial Reefs Program Funding
To enhance fishing opportunities, the Marine Resources Fund may be used to construct artificial reefs in the estuarine and ocean waters of the state and federal waters up to 20 nautical miles from land.

Crab Pot Cleanup
Continues the Crab Pot Cleanup Program piloted in FY 2016-17. The North Carolina Coastal Federation shall use the funds of $100,000 to contract with commercial fishermen to aid in derelict crab pot cleanup efforts. The Coastal Federation is also encouraged to find ways to reuse recovered crab pots.

Storm Damage Mitigation Fund
Establishes the Coastal Storm Damage Mitigation Fund as a special revenue fund for particular beach nourishment or damage mitigation. Thus, revenue credited to the fund may only be used for costs associated with beach nourishment, artificial dunes, and other projects to mitigate or remediate coastal storm damage to our ocean beaches and dune systems.

Clean Water Management Trust Fund
Provides an additional approximately $4.6 million over the biennium to the $17.2 million recurring budget of the Clean Water Management Trust Fund.

Allocates $1 million through the Water Resources Development Projects for storm debris removal in Eastern North Carolina.

Teacher Assistant Tuition Reimbursement Program
Expands the teacher assistant tuition reimbursement program to Beaufort County. Last year, the General Assembly established a teacher assistant tuition reimbursement pilot program in five counties, which provides tuition reimbursement for TAs to pursue a college degree leading to teacher licensure.

Elizabeth City State University Stabilization Funds
Appropriates an additional $5.8 million to Elizabeth City State University to stabilize enrollment. Funds will be used to hire temporary faculty to anchor core programs, provide start-up funds for an aviation science program, and support student success initiatives.

The revised net appropriation for Elizabeth City State University is $32 million in FY 2017-18. Included in a different provision, also prohibits any potential reduction in state funds allocated to Elizabeth City State University.

East Carolina University: Medical School Sustainability Funds
Provides an additional $4 million of recurring funds to stabilize the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University. The revised net appropriation for East Carolina University Health Affairs for all items is $74.4 million in FY 2017-18 and $75 million in FY 2018-19.

School Construction in Rural Counties
Allocates $75 million for grants to economically struggling, rural counties to assist with critical public school building needs.

Geographically Isolated Schools – Ocracoke Island
Increases funding for geographically isolated schools. Thus, Ocracoke School will receive several additional classroom teaching positions under this proposal.

Rural Touring Arts Grant Program
Creates the Rural Touring Arts Grant Program. This Program will provide grants to arts organizations that are designated as State Arts Resources so that these organizations can increase their reach in Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties. The revised net appropriation for Rural Touring Arts Grant Program grants is $125,000 in both years of the biennium. Additionally, the budget increases support for the Grassroots Arts Grant Program by $750,000. The revised net appropriation for the Grassroots Art Grant Program is $3.1 million in each year of the biennium.

Military and Veterans Healing Arts Grant Program
Establishes the Military and Veterans Healing Arts Grant Program. This Program aims to increase access to the arts for North Carolina’s service members, veterans, and military families through grants to local arts councils and arts organizations that will partner with military bases, VA hospitals, and veterans service providers. The revised net appropriation for Military and Veterans Healing Arts Grant Program grants is $125,000 in both years of the biennium.

Capital Improvement
Authorizes $300,000 for capital improvements at the Outer Banks Education Center located in Corolla of Currituck County.

Authorizes $900,000 for capital improvements at the Wildlife Resources Commission boating accesses.

Mattamuskeet Lodge
Directs the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission to repair the roof and stabilize the tower at the Mattamuskeet Lodge in Hyde County by June 30, 2018.

Dare County Bombing Range
Allocates approximately $1.4 million to the Dare County Bombing Range or “Navy Dare” via the North Carolina Forest Service.

Rural Health Centers
Allocates an additional $15 million over two years to community health centers, rural health centers, free clinics and other health services providers in rural and underserved areas that assist the uninsured.

N.C. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
Approves the plan titled “North Carolina Temporary Assistance for Needy Families State Plan FY 2016-2019,” prepared by the Department of Health and Human Services and presented to the General Assembly.

The counties approved for the NCTANF state plan FY 2016-2019, are Beaufort, Caldwell, Catawba, Lenoir, Lincoln, Macon, and Wilson. TANF was created to help families in need. The TANF bureau works with families to help them become self-sufficient.

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