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League Bulletin

May 11, 2018

The N.C. General Assembly is scheduled to return to regular business on May 16 in what would kick off the 2018 "short session" for state budget adjustments and other priority lawmaking. The legislature holds short sessions in the even-numbered years generally as a continuation of the previous year's business. While short sessions have no set deadline for conclusion, the current word inside the Legislative Building is that 2018's session will be especially brief, possibly wrapping up in June. School safety is among focal points, given the recent formation of a legislative committee prompted by school shootings like the one in Broward County, Fla., this past February. That committee has advanced a number of legislative proposals.
As for the state budget, legislative leaders in both chambers say they're ahead of the curve on development and negotiations and may arrive quickly at a compromise version to approve and send the governor for signing. Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore say they've already agreed​ on a $23.9 billion spending target, noting a teacher pay raise and reduced income taxes among highlights, compared to the $24.5 billion proposal that Gov. Roy Cooper released on Thursday. It too includes a teacher pay raise. While the governor and legislative leaders do not align on spending numbers, the Republican majority in the legislature is large enough to override a budget veto. Specifics of the House and Senate plans were not available at the time of this writing.

Gov. Roy Cooper released his proposed state budget adjustments for 2018-19 on Thursday with a number of provisions of interest to cities and towns. Calling it his "Common Ground Solutions" plan, it's essentially the first step in the budget-adjustment process that the state legislature will largely drive. The governor's proposal includes $43 million for rural-area needs, including broadband access, with $17.5 million for access and service improvements in Tier 1 and 2 counties. It also includes $2.5 million for mobile hotspots and devices for students who don't have broadband access at home, and would put more than $12 million toward building-reuse funding, infrastructure and main-street aid. The proposal also marks nearly $140 million for ongoing disaster recovery assistance. More than $9 million is slated for mental health and treatment expansions as the opioid crisis persists. Close to $3 million would serve as state matching funds for drinking-water infrastructure project money from the federal government. The governor also proposes more aid for the state's TV and movie production industry, in the form of a rebate for large productions capped at $15 million per TV series and $5 million per film. (The plan would repurpose the film grant program for smaller, indie productions.) In brief, Gov. Cooper's spending proposal also puts more focus on Connect NC bond projects, the NC Ready Job Fund, water contaminants, preparation for the 2020 Census and more. Anyone can peruse the plan in full online. The House and Senate, which are drafting their own proposals, would have to align on any specifics before final approval.

The basics of community-led broadband were fully explained in a webinar led on Thursday by League Legislative Counsel Erin Wynia (co-author of the recent Leaping the Digital Divide​ report about how North Carolina can close the broadband access gap). Anyone who wasn't able to watch the webinar live can watch the archived, hourlong video. The webinar focuses on broadband terminology, technology, partnerships, the legal landscape, the role of local leaders, and available resources. "There are many, many good resources in this area, including many in this state," said Wynia.

Join the League and Duke Energy at the APWA-NC Conference in Hickory to discuss issues surrounding the modernization of municipal street lighting. This meeting will take place on June 13, 10:30 to noon, and will serve as a continuation of discussions that began after the League in 2013 intervened in the utility’s rate cases before the N.C. Utilities Commission. Those discussions have continued from the League’s intervention in Duke’s most recent rate cases (as covered in recent editions of the League Bulletin).
It’s an opportunity for Duke to check in with municipal customers in both Duke Energy Progress (DEP) and Duke Energy Carolinas (DEC) territories to discuss outdoor lighting strategies and the company's most recent rate cases. Additionally, Duke’s Outdoor Lighting team will offer technical expertise to DEC customers about the new street lighting rate design proposed through its proposed settlement with the League. You can participate in this meeting for free, without having to register for the full APWA conference. Register for the outdoor lighting meeting here.
Registration instructions: Attendees will need to create an account; once logged in, the attendee can select "Registration Type: Attendee,” then select “Registering Myself.” When clicking on “Registering Myself,” select “Duke Energy Session – no charge” at the bottom of the list and click “Update.” Once completed, select “Add payment details” for no charge, and then submit. For questions, contact Sarah Collins.​

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has selected North Carolina for a program that facilitators say "will shape the future of drones in America." The acceleration of drone technology has caught the attention of local governments from policy and application angles and has been the subject of League programming, including a forum and a podcast episode. Now, the state is one of 10 participants the FAA announced for its new initiative, called the Unmanned Aerial Aircraft Systems Integration Pilot Program, billed as an opportunity for state and local governments to partner with the private-sector drone industry for faster yet safe drone integration. Data collected in the process could help shape future rules for low-altitude operations.
Under the program, the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) would work with global drone delivery companies "to set up a network of medical distribution centers that can use drones to make medical deliveries," a press release says. "Blood and other supplies currently travel by courier to hospitals and testing facilities. With drones, medical providers would get the test results and supplies they need much faster." NCDOT said the effort is expected to "foster a meaningful dialogue on the balance between local and national interests related to UAS integration." U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the program will "unlock the enormous potential of drone operations, which will create new services and jobs in their local communities." The full FAA announcement has more details.
Infrastructure Week is May 14-21, and municipal leaders around the nation are asking federal officials to take a closer look at the present challenges and future needs of cities and towns for the good of America. "By highlighting successfully completed projects or places where fixes, modernization or new investments are needed in your city ... we can make a difference in moving a federal infrastructure plan forward," the National League of Cities (NLC) said in an advocacy update this week. NLC is among participants in Infrastructure Week with emphasis on clean drinking water and reliable transportation networks, as well as broadband access. "Now more than ever we need city leaders to highlight your greatest infrastructure needs and why a federal partnership on infrastructure is important to your city," NLC says. Its advocacy update includes suggestions for local officials' participation, and follows up with other federal news updates of interest to municipalities.