Skip Ribbon Commands
Skip to main content

League Bulletin

June 8, 2018

W​HAT HAPPENED: As the General Assembly continued with bill tweaking and floor votes, the governor vetoed its recently approved budget, putting the entire 267-page plan back in the legislature's court.

WHAT IT MEANS: With a veto-proof majority, the legislature can override that veto, put the budget into law, and continue its track toward adjournment. 

ON TAP: Legislators are clearly in a headlong rush to get out of town as soon as possible. That will probably mean one or more huge, omnibus bills at the end of session, with various advocacy groups (the League probably included) trying to get a few final changes into law before adjournment. ​

THE SKINNY: Thursday was the final deadline for bill filing, so technically everything going forward will concern existing proposals and related amendments as the clock winds down (though there is no real deadline for the legislature to finish its short-session work).

After Gov. Roy Cooper this week vetoed the legislature's $23.9 billion state budget​, the Senate began the process of overriding the governor's action and putting the plan into law. Governor Cooper pulled out his veto stamp on Wednesday, arguing among other things that the state should invest more in education and that the budget should have received more open vetting. Legislative budget writers have ​defended their education spending and procedures. Per the majority party's seat count, the General Assembly has the ability to override any of the governor's vetoes. It moved in that direction on Thursday with a party line vote in the Senate. The House is expected to vote similarly for an override early next week. The legislature's budget is an adjustment to the previous years' biennial spending plan, and much of its contents would be effective July 1, as noted in Associated Press coverage of the override process. Read last week's Bulletin for details from the budget as it relates to cities and towns.

Local governments would have another tool​ to address blight and clean up vacant properties under a bill unanimously passed by a Senate committee Thursday. A large workgroup of League members worked throughout the interim in cooperation with the NC REALTORS Association to bring forward the consensus proposal, and cities thank primary bill sponsor Rep. John Faircloth for supporting this effort. If the measure becomes law, cities and counties would be able to take advantage of a newly created process by which a superior court judge oversees improvements to vacant commercial, industrial, and residential properties. Called “vacant building receivership” and modeled after similar programs elsewhere in the country, the process first requires the local government to undertake rigorous code enforcement actions under existing law. If those enforcement actions are unsuccessful, then the local government may petition the court to appoint a receiver to take over management of the property and make improvements. The process respects private property rights by maintaining the original property ownership throughout the process and by giving owners multiple opportunities to comply with the law and improve their properties. The proposal, part of a larger business-oriented regulatory reform bill, now moves to the Senate Rules Committee for consideration, currently scheduled for Monday. Contact: Erin Wynia​

North Carolina can harness superfast internet speeds and spread broadband access across the state with good policy and partnerships, legislators heard on Wednesday at a Broadband Lunch & Learn hosted by the League and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners. Speakers including Eric Cramer, president and CEO of RiverStreet Networks, and Alan Fitzpatrick, CEO of Open Broadband LLC, updated lawmakers in attendance on the state of technology offered by private providers while highlighting the unnecessary shortcomings in broadband access in many parts of the state today. "You may be surprised, but 10 miles outside of Chapel Hill, people are on DSL," Fitzpatrick said. "They are complaining." The speakers echoed a recent League report recommending public-private partnerships to bring broadband speeds to communities without. "Everybody, even in these rural markets, needs these speeds," Fitzpatrick emphasized, speaking of gigabit connections that are increasingly the standard not only for businesses but homes as well​. Cramer, in talking about his company's work in Stokes County, said they could have saved three years of work time had they been able to tap into the county's fiber assets, such as what public-private partnerships would enable. That "is the way to solve this problem," Cramer said. Last week's Bulletin reported on a provision in the state budget that recognizes the need for better broadband access in North Carolina, though the League will continue to push for clear authority regarding the kind of government-private sector partnerships that can close North Carolina's digital divide and create 21st century avenues to prosperity.

A $147 million grant for infrastructure projects in North Carolina is set to provide 300 miles of fiber optic cable in the eastern part of the state, making broadband service and better telecommunications overall available to the area . Announced on Tuesday, the funds come through the U.S. Department of Transportation largely for the widening of up to 25 miles of highway along I-95 and upgrading the remainders of U.S. 70 to interstate status as I-42. Sen. Richard Burr in a press release highlighted the project's importance to traffic flow, emergency readiness and access to military bases. "In the process," he said, "this work and develop​ment will help boost economic growth in local communities." Sen. Thom Tillis called it "great news that will produce long-lasting benefits in Eastern North Carolina." Gov. Roy Cooper praised the announcement as well. "Better transportation and communications networks will improve North Carolinians' access to jobs, educational opportunities and health care, and give our military and businesses greater access to our bases and port," he said. 

In other transportation news, HB 1010 Build NC Bond Act is advancing through the state legislature. The bill would authorize the issuance of state "Build NC" transportation bonds. The proposal is modeled after the federal GARVEE bond program and would allow the state to borrow money for local transportation priorities and repay the bonds using future state transportation dollars allocated to the Highway Trust Fund. Build NC bond proceeds would fund transportation projects prioritized at the regional and division levels of the state’s transportation funding system​​. These projects are suggested by local officials, who also have the most input in deciding which of these projects to prioritize. Includes borrowing limitations, including an overall program cap of $300 million.​
And in other connectivity news, the legislature is moving on a bill that would establish statewide policy for telemedicine as it gains importance for people who lack easy access to a hospital. HB 967 Telemedicine Policy​ would set standards and assistance for the service -- which allows health care professionals to serve patients from long distances by way of a remote connection -- following recommedations from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. The bill instructs the department to study the issue and report findings to the legislature, with considerations including the "best manner in which to incentivize investment in next-generation, future-proof broadband infrastructure and reduce barriers to deployment of that infrastructure" and how to create "community-based broadband adoption, utilization, and initiatives." The Winston-Salem Journal has additional coverage of the bill. 

The General Assembly this week gave its approval to a local bill that would provide four Mecklenburg County municipalities with the authority to operate charter schools. HB 514 was approved in a 64-53 House vote on Wednesday after earlier clearing the Senate. The approval followed the inclusion of a provision in the state budget that would allow municipalities statewide to fund public education after constitutional concerns were raised regarding the ability of the municipalities to commit tax dollars to any charter schools without it. The League and several other organizations have expressed concerns about the lack of vetting of the statewide provision. See more coverage of the local bill’s passage here​.

Ten local governments were awarded $7.5 million in grants for economic and and community development this week. The N.C. Neighborhood Revitalization Program (NC Neighborhoods) distributed the funds, which came from the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. "NC Neighborhood grants help communities overcome challenges that keep them from moving forward, whether that’s rehabilitation of long-vacant homes or infrastructure and road improvements,” N.C. Department of Commerce Secretary Anthony M. Copeland said in a news release. “These projects will bring new energy and resources to communities across our state that need them most." The state received roughly $43 million in CDBG funds for 2017, of which $10 million was made available to local governments through the NC Neighborhoods program. The news release lists the latest recipients and offers more details about NC Neighborhoods.

North Carolinians can submit comment to the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) on which regional and local transportation projects should be among the state's priorities. It's for the State Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP, a 10-year plan for the funding and scheduling of specific projects. According to a news release​, NCDOT's local divisions are hosting informal meetings to discuss proposed projects and record residents' feedback. "At each meeting, citizens are invited to stop in and provide input on how the division plans to rank its project priorities," the agency says. "Please note that these meetings are not for maintenance projects, such as patching potholes, resurfacing roads or improving ditches." NCDOT's website has a complete schedule​ for the public sessions. For anyone unable to attend in person, the state will accept comment and survey input online. NCDOT offers a video that local governments can embed on their websites or share on social media to encourage public interest.