For a second straight week, the winter weather became a major impediment for state legislators as they sought to get the legislative committee process fully underway. The two separate storm systems that blew through the state this week meant more cancelled committee meetings on Wednesday and Thursday, skeleton floor sessions without votes, and fewer bills filled. The good news: The latest weather forecast calls for warmer temperatures and none of the frozen precipitation next week.
House leaders this week filed a major jobs recruiting and economic development bill that would significantly increase the money that Gov. Pat McCrory has to bring new businesses to the state. HB 117 NC Competes Act would double an existing cap on two-year funding for the state's key jobs recruitment program, the Jobs Development Investment Grant, or JDIG. The legislation also would rename the program, calling it the Job Growth Reimbursement Opportunities -- People Program. Funding for an infrastructure grant program would also be restored under the bill.
The legislation, though, does not include all of the items wanted by the governor. Meanwhile, Senate leaders began to immediately question aspects of the bill and the effectiveness of the JDIG program. Sen. Andy Wells of Hickory asked whether there are ways to direct more money to rural and poorer areas of the state. Read more about the House incentives bill here.
The House's consideration of Senate gas tax legislation was again delayed by the winter weather this week, but legislators did discuss some of the longer-term issues facing North Carolina's transportation funding stream. At a meeting this week of the Joint Transportation Appropriations Committee, Sen. Bill Rabon of Southport characterized a looming funding gap for transportation needs as "a crisis." Rabon is one of the sponsors of the Senate bill designed to shore up transportation revenues as those dollars decline due to falling fuel prices. The League is supporting SB 20 IRC Update/Motor Fuels Taxes and continues to urge League members to contact their legislators in support of the bill.
State Department of Transportation officials -- focused on the longer-term erosion of transportation dollars as cars become more fuel efficient and use alternative fuel sources -- outlined for legislators some potential alternatives to fuel taxes. The committee took no action, but the House is expected to consider additional transportation legislation that may include a transportation bond issue. Read more about Tuesday's meeting here.
The Federal Communications Commission acted Thursday to pre-empt a 2011 state law preventing the City of Wilson from expanding its Greenlight high-speed broadband system. The FCC's action on petitions from Wilson and the City of Chattanooga, Tenn., had been hinted at for weeks, with FCC Chair Tom Wheeler commenting that he saw such state laws as anti-competitive and damaging to consumers. The ruling is expected to affect only Wilson and Chattanooga initially, and the FCC is not expected to release its order explaining the decision until early next week.
The League, which opposed and tried to prevent passage of the 2011 state law and, in August, filed public comments in support of Wilson's petition, applauds the FCC for the decision. The League believes the decision could open the door for more cooperation between private and public broadband providers to bring critical high-speed Internet service to more areas of North Carolina. In comments released on Thursday, League Executive Director Paul Meyer pointed out that areas without this infrastructure will be put at an economic disadvantage. "Today's ruling by the FCC recognizes the crucial need of businesses and residents to have available to them high-speed Internet access to promote educational attainment and bolster economic opportunities for all North Carolinians, whether the Last Mile provider is a municipal government or a private company," Meyer said. Read the League's full news release in response to the FCC decision here.
The decision did not sit well with some members of Congress, including North Carolina U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis. Tillis is among the sponsors of a bill immediately filed seeking to overturn the FCC ruling. Senator Tillis argues that municipal-owned broadband systems strap taxpayers with unneeded costs and that the FCC ruling interferes with the sovereign rights of states. You can read about push back from Congress here. Read about the FCC's decision here and previous League coverage here.
Google Fiber is not the only entity investing in the company's efforts to bring high-speed fiber optic cable to Charlotte and the Raleigh-Durham metropolitan areas. The cities that will benefit are also spending money and time to make the roll-out happen. A recent article in The Triangle Business Journal details the work being done by cities as a part of the effort. This report from the Town of Cary also lays out its additional funding requirements related to the project.
Google Fiber announced in January that Charlotte and Triangle area municipalities would be the next on its list for high-speed fiber optic cable. The Google service will offer speeds about 100 times faster than a typical broadband connection. The Cary report and Triangle Business Journal piece make clear that the company's investment will also require significant new work by the municipalities themselves to make the service possible.
Town Hall Day is just around the corner. Register now for this key day of advocacy, on March 18, for North Carolina towns and cities. The day is a great opportunity for League members to visit legislators, make municipalities' priorities known to them, and to show strength in numbers when it comes demonstrating the importance of vital cities and towns. Because the agricultural community is also using this day as a lobby day, it is critical to make appointments now with members of your legislative delegation. Also, don't forget to wear your League green.
The day will include a legislative briefing from the League's Governmental Affairs Team, meetings with House and Senate leaders, discussions with representatives of state agencies, and an evening reception with legislators and key state leaders. Click here to register and come be a part of this great event.
A photo exhibit at the N.C. Museum of History is helping push the cause of historic preservation tax credits. The exhibit features photos of abandoned historic structures in eastern North Carolina and is entitled "Rural Revival: Photos of Home and Preservation of Place." The photos are by Scott Garlock of Warren County.
Meanwhile, winter weather has forced the postponement of several of the stops on the tour by Secretary of Cultural Resources Susan Kluttz promoting the restoration of the tax credits. Those events, though, are being rescheduled. If your town has not hosted a stop and would like to do so, please contact the League. Read more about the photography exhibit here. Contact: Scott Mooneyham