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League Bulletin

September 4, 2015

With the current continuing budget resolution funding state operations scheduled to expire Sept. 18, House and Senate budget negotiators planned to stay in town over the Labor Day weekend to continue working on an agreement. House Speaker Tim Moore told fellow lawmakers on Wednesday, "Those who are working on the budget should plan to see what Raleigh's like on the weekend." The weekend work comes following a week in which little legislative activity took place in committees or on chamber floors, though behind-the-scenes negotiations continued. Reports indicated that the Senate had offered to fully fund teacher assistant positions and driver's education -- two points of emphasis for the House -- but the House did not immediately accept the offer, which would have limited school districts' flexibility in using teacher assistant funds. Other issues discussed in conjunction with the budget this week included sales tax reallocation and additional terminal groins on the coast. Despite the lack of agreement thus far, legislative leaders this week expressed optimism that a budget would be passed by Sept. 18. Contact: Chris Nida

The formation of the joint House/Senate municipal caucus was announced this week on the House floor, a move expected to bring more focus to the effects of legislative actions at the local level. A letter announcing the caucus formation and read on the House floor stated: "Active participation by caucus members will bring greater awareness to the decisions made at the state level and how they will practically affect services to citizens at the municipal level." The co-chairs of the bipartisan caucus will be Rep. Mitchell Setzer of Catawba, Rep. Susi Hamilton of Wilmington, Sen. Wesley Meredith of Fayetteville and Sen. Joel Ford of Charlotte. All four co-chairs have served in or had some associated role with municipal government.

Other caucus members will include legislators who also have backgrounds in municipal government, but membership is not limited to those who have served in that capacity. "We were thrilled to hear the announcement this week,'" said the League's Director of Government Affairs Rose Vaughn Williams. "Members of the legislature who served in city government bring valuable insight and knowledge to the table when issues that affect cities are raised at the General Assembly. They really understand how cities and towns, and the services they provide to residents, help to grow the economy and jobs for North Carolina." The League thanks and congratulates the four co-chairs who pursued the formation of the caucus, and looks forward to working with all caucus members.

State legislators now appear headed toward holding a unified primary election in March, rather than a separate presidential primary that month and a second primary for state races. Besides affecting elections for candidates seeking various political offices, the change also may affect an infrastructure bond referendum should the General Assembly approve such a plan. In early August, the House approved HB 943 Connect NC Bond Act of 2015, which would allow voters to decide whether to put $2.46 billion toward state buildings, and state and local infrastructure. The bond plan would provide $400 million for road-building and transportation, and spend $75 million on local water and sewer. The Senate has yet to take up the bill.

The House bill calls for a bond referendum to be held when an initial presidential primary takes place, but the date could have been shifted to a second primary later in the spring through subsequent negotiations. The House, and potentially the Senate, are now considering a single primary on March 15, meaning that date would be the only possibility for a spring bond referendum. Some bond supporters have pushed for a referendum to be held before next year's general election in November because of the prospect of rising interest rates and higher borrowing costs. Read media coverage of the shifting winds on shifting primaries here. Read previous Bulletin coverage about the bonds here

In the wake of the release of annual FBI crime statistics, a number of blogs and publications have compiled lists of the most dangerous cities in America. North Carolina cities are noticeably absent from those lists. In a ranking from online research website Neighborhood Scout, no North Carolina cities with populations of 25,000 or more were ranked among its 50 most dangerous cities.

The FBI has criticized the use of the statistics from its Uniform Crime Report to compare cities, saying it can lead to inaccurate conclusions. But a number of groups continue to use the statistics to do comparisons like that compiled by Neighborhood Scout and the one found here, and the rankings still receive significant media attention.

Salisbury's broadband system, Fibrant, is the latest municipal-owned system to generate national headlines after it announced the availability of 10 gigabit-per-second service to businesses and residential households. That speed is about 1,000 times faster than the average U.S. Internet connection and makes Salisbury one of America's first 10 gigabit cities, according to news reports.

The news was reported in national Internet and print publications including these pieces appearing in SlateMarketWatch and Ars Technica. Salisbury began building its broadband system before the General Assembly, in 2011, passed legislation largely banning new or expanded municipal broadband systems in the state. The Federal Communications Commission, at the urging of the City of Wilson and Chattanooga, Tenn., pre-empted that law and similar laws in other states. The pre-emption decision and the future of those state laws are now before the courts.

Fibrant officials say their 10 gigabit Internet service is primarily focused on economic development and luring businesses to the city, and that residents can opt for cheaper, slower, but still super high-speed connections. The publications noted that Salisbury officials, prior to the development of the municipal-owned system, offered to pay private providers to develop the high-speed connections and that those providers refused.

Fayetteville attorney Billy Richardson was sworn into office and began serving this week in the House seat that had been occupied by Rep. Rick Glazier. Representative Richardson was appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory on Tuesday after the Cumberland County Democratic Party Executive Committee had nominated him to complete Representative Glazier's term. Representative Glazier announced his decision to resign his seat earlier this summer.  Representative Richardson had previously served two terms in the House during the 1990s. The League congratulates Representative Richardson on his appointment and looks forward to working with him.