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House, Senate Still at Budget Impasse

State legislators continued their focus on budget negotiations this week, making progress but also engaging in some very public fighting over competing sets of priorities. Meanwhile, Governor Pat McCrory made clear where he stands, threatening to veto a Senate budget plan that he characterized as raising teacher pay so much that it would prevent the state from meeting its other obligations. The week included more open budget negotiating sessions, with Senators walking out of one meeting after House leaders called forward public school officials to speak in favor of their set of proposals. The Senate continued to push for an 11-percent raise for teachers; the House wants a more modest 5- or 6-percent raise but is attempting to preserve teaching assistant positions and Medicaid spending cut in the Senate plan. As for the progress, the House agreed to drop a proposal to raise more lottery money by boosting advertising, while the Senate dropped a proposal for teachers who accept raises to give up tenure.

The attention on budget negotiations put most other legislative business on hold. The House held only pro-forma floor sessions, and the Senate took up only a handful of bills during the week. With the focus on the major differences between the competing budget plans, there was little indication about the status of a number of measures important to municipalities. Those include provisions affecting historic rehabilitation tax credits, the Main Street program, the Clean Water Management Trust Fund, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, and the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund. Film incentives may also be addressed in the budget plan. League staff continues to keep close tabs on the budget negotiations. News coverage of the status of the budget talks can be found here and here. Contact: Scott Mooneyham

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EMC Initiates Permanent Rule Making to Define Gravel

At the N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC) meeting Thursday, Commissioners voted to initiate permanent rule making that would include a definition of "gravel" in state rules and address concerns over excess stormwater runoff from non-paved surfaces. This new rule would replace an identical temporary rule that will expire in January 2015. That temporary rule clarified a provision in HB 74 Regulatory Reform Act of 2013 which exempted gravel from the calculation of "built-upon area," but failed to define the term. As a result of the Commission's vote, the permanent rule now proceeds to public hearing and public comment period, and will return the the EMC in November. During discussion of the permanent rule, Chairman Benne Hutson noted that if HB 1166 Clarify Gravel Under Stormwater Laws was enacted this session, it would render the Commission's rulemaking unnecessary because it would remove "gravel" from the exemptions to "built upon area," eliminating the need for a definition. Contact: Sarah Collins

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Commissioners Rebuke Agency on Impaired Waters List

Upon learning that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) planned to disapprove part of the state's list of impaired waters (link is at item #4), members of the N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC) directed tense words toward the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) this week. Both EMC Chair Benne Hutson and Water Quality Committee Chair Steve Tedder expressed disappointment at the lack of support for the EMC-approved listing methodology from agency staff members who dealt with EPA. Stressing that he expected agency staff to strongly advocate for the Commission's positions, Hutson called DENR's explanation of the methodology to EPA "woefully inadequate" and said the language appeared to be a placeholder. Pursuing one of its top regulatory goals, the League pushed the EMC for nearly two years for the methodology it ultimately adopted last year. That methodology would result in more confidence in impaired waters listings, a designation that ultimately leads to further regulation of dischargers such as municipal wastewater treatment plants and stormwater programs. Read more detail about the list, the methodology, and its effects on cities in this March 2013 EcoLINC article. Contact: Erin Wynia
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Regulators Postpone Hydrologic Model Approval Pending Legislative Action

Presented with information regarding the status of hydrological models for multiple river basins, members of the Water Allocation Committee of the N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC) decided to wait on approving the models until it was clear whether related legislation would pass this session. The hydrological models at issue were for the Roanoke River, Tar-Pamlico River, and Cape-Fear-Neuse River Basins. Hydrologic models simulate the flow of all waters in a river basin, taking into account surface and ground waters, transfers into and out of the basin, other withdrawals, ecological flow requirements, and other data on the flow of water. These calculations can predict which surface water systems will experience future shortages, both during droughts and normal flow times.

However, with these three models, state environmental regulators for the first time included data on ecological flow, which is a percentage of a river's flow set aside to maintain aquatic life. Disagreeing with agency staff who were presenting their work on the models, Commissioners made sharp comments regarding the effects of the ecological flow component of these models. Commissioners' comments reflected the concerns of cities, other water users, and members of a science advisory board that studied the topic for over two years. Those critics contended that inclusion of faulty ecological flow data in the models would unnecessarily limit the amount of future water withdrawals available for uses such as public water supplies. In response to doubts over the science advisory board's conclusions, HB 1057 DENR Study IBT/EMC Eco Flow Study would task the EMC with further studying the ecological flows component of these models, a step many Commissioners seemed to support. Contact: Sarah Collins

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Participate in the NCLM Policy Development Process!

The League is currently accepting proposals for legislative and regulatory goals that should be pursued during the 2015-16 biennium. Click here to submit your goals. The proposals are a key part of the policy development process, and help determine the Municipal Advocacy Goals and Core Municipal Principles for the upcoming legislative sessions. All goals submitted will be reviewed by the League's policy committees during their upcoming August and September meetings. (View the NCLM Calendar for all upcoming Legislative Action Committee (LAC) and Regulatory Action Committee (RAC) meetings.) Proposals are then submitted to the League's Board of Directors and ultimately voted on by the entire membership at the Advocacy Goals Conference on December 11. Contact: Cara Bridges
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Charlotte Airport Future Still Uncertain

The Charlotte Airport Commission met this week even with the power to run the airport still in the hands of the City Council. The battle over control of the airport remains tied up in court after the General Assembly created the 13-member commission last year, but the City sued to stop the transfer to the commission. At the latest meeting, a commission attorney went over a second piece of legislation, HB 133 Charlotte Airport Commission Clarifications, passed this year, that would have the airport technically remain under the ownership of the City but still give operational control to the commission. The attorney, Martin Brackett, told the commission that one part of the bill was "impossible to explain in laymen's terms" as he read through it line by line. News coverage of the meeting can be found here. Contact: Scott Mooneyham
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Legislative Candidate Disqualified

The Caswell County Board of Elections has disqualified the Republican Party primary winner for the Senate District 22 seat after determining that he does not live in the district. The decision to disqualify Douglas Holmes means that GOP Executive Committee members who live in the district will choose a replacement candidate. The replacement will face the current incumbent, Democratic Senator Mike Woodard. The district covers portions of Caswell, Durham and Person counties. Contact: Scott Mooneyham