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Bi-weekly newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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State Budgeting 101 

The NC General Assembly is over halfway through the budget process. Over the past two weeks, the Senate passed its budget and the House passed its own slightly different version. This week, the leadership appointed a ‘Conference Committee’ to debate the differences between the plans and write a ‘Final Budget’ that can be passed by majorities of both chambers.

One major point of contention is tax cuts. The Senate plan includes nearly $800 million in tax cuts over the next two years, with the majority of that coming from cuts to the corporate and top income tax rates. The House plan includes a much more modest tax cut package that does not reduce either of those rates. However, since both plans ‘spend’ the same amount of money, the tax cuts are already ‘baked into’ the House budget and I expect them to reappear in the conference report in some form or another.  

Once the conference report is presented to both chambers and passed, the Governor will decide to sign the budget or veto it. With veto-proof majorities, the leadership will probably have the votes for a veto override. I’ll continue to provide updates as this process progresses.
Reverend William Barber led a protest in support of Medicaid expansion on May30th. Sadly, neither version of the budget includes it this year.

Speaking of the House Budget ...

The House leadership has chosen to underinvest in North Carolina’s future. They passed class size requirements that reduce the number of students per K-3 classrooms, but failed to fund PE, Art, and Music. Their self-defeating and contradictory course of action sets up a 'Catch 22' for school administrators - either eliminate special subjects or defy the legislature. Several of my colleagues and I supported amendments that would have increased per pupil spending and fixed our class size and special subject funding issues, but they were defeated in partisan votes on the floor. With population growth, the per pupil funding for education in the budget was actually reduced.

Even provisions with broad bipartisan support, like the BRIGHT Futures Act to increase rural broadband access or the NC GROW scholarships that offer free community college to qualifying students, were shortchanged in the budget passed by the House. 

The Governor’s Budget requested $20 million to expand rural access to broadband, including a $14.5 million grant program to pay for middle and last mile projects across the State. The House plan appropriates only $250,000 for the Department of Information Technology’s broadband office.   It seems obvious that lack of internet access deters investment in rural areas. The House leadership, most of whom represent rural areas, have inexplicably chosen to ignore this deficiency.     

The NC GROW scholarships requested by Governor Cooper would provide an associate’s degree from any North Carolina Community College to qualified high school graduates. The House budget provides only 10% of the funding needed, dramatically reducing the number of students who could be helped. There is no better example of money that would be better spent investing in future economic growth and individual success, rather than giving another tax break to millionaires and corporations. 

Under the current budget passed by the House, North Carolina can no longer stand proud as a national leader in the proposition that education is the key to economic success. Governor Cooper’s Budget offered a tantalizing glimpse of what our great State could do with a legislature that prioritized investment in students, teachers, and future business owners.
My staff and I toured the State Crime Lab to learn about their work and future funding needs. Here are Allison and I in the reference weapon collection, where they keep hundreds of weapons to compare with evidence collected in criminal cases.

Issues That Matter to You

I receive a fairly large number of emails and calls in my office about most issues that come before the House. I’m consistently impressed by the level of constituent engagement on specific issues that engender strong convictions or impact daily lives. Two big issues are gun rights and public employee compensation. As it happens, this week has seen major developments on both fronts, so I’m expecting a great deal of feedback.   

Omnibus Gun Changes (HB746) – As a member of the Judiciary IV Committee, I was unable to support the omnibus gun bill last week. Firearms for sport or personal defense are a part of American culture, but when improperly used or handled, can easily result in grievous injury or loss of life. The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution provides for the bearing of arms in the context of a ‘well regulated militia,’ but this bill fundamentally seeks to eliminate reasonable regulations. In the interest of public safety, I do not think it is overly burdensome to require citizens who wish to conceal a deadly weapon to prove that they know how to safely use and store that weapon.

State Employee Pay & Retirement - Two budget amendments to help state employees and retirees were voted down by House Republicans.  I voted for both.  The first amendment, offered by Rep. Mickey Michaux (D-Durham) provided state employees a 2% cost of living adjustment (COLA) rather than a one-time bonus.  One-time bonuses are insufficient because even if they keep retirees on pace with inflation the year of the bonus, the payment drops in the second year, leaving retirees with less spending power.

The second amendment shifted salary funds so that all state employees would receive a $2,000 pay increase.  A House Republican offered the amendment, but his caucus colleagues voted it down overwhelmingly.  If passed, it would have doubled the House budget raise.  I voted Yes.
Thank you to the advocates from the American Heart Association who spoke to the bipartisan Joint Legislative Women's Caucus about the Corner Store Initiative to make sure all communities have access to fresh, heart friendly fruits and vegetables.

My Committees

To see a complete list of the bills that I have sponsored or cosponsored, please visit my NCGA ‘Introduced Bills’ page.

You can often tell if a bill has a chance of getting to the floor if it is assigned to a committee other than Rules, Calendar, and Operations of the House. I have been assigned to five committees and one sub-committee. You can see the bills currently assigned to my committees using the links below.

My Committees:
Appropriations
Transportation
Banking
State & Local Government I
Judiciary IV

My Sub-Committee:
Appropriations – Justice & Public Safety
Members of the Mecklenburg Delegation at the special session on May 24, 2017 in honor of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence.

Your County and Your Government

With Memorial Day past and graduations warming up across the state, Summer is officially upon us! Did you know the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Parks & Recreation Department helps sponsor and organize activities for all ages all over our county? Spend some time exploring their ‘Get Going Online’ page and you will be blown away by the variety of programs available around our county, including athletic leagues and programs designed specifically for adult participants.

I am particularly impressed with the variety of Summer and day camp programs. As someone who had four children out of school and underfoot for many summers, I wish I could have had such an easily searchable list of activities and events to fill those long and occasionally frustrating days.

The Parks & Recreation site is also a great resource to find municipal pools and their hours, and to reserve athletic fields, picnic shelters, or campsites.        

Don’t forget! Visit NCCash.com today to see if you have unclaimed property under the supervision of the NC Treasurer’s office. 

Did You Know? You can request free mulch from the city’s yard waste recycling program! Fill out THIS FORM on the Landscape Management website to request your delivery.

My office is here to help you navigate any issues you may have with state services. Please call myself or my legislative assistant, Ralph Belk, at 919-733-5607 or email me at mary.belk@ncleg.net with any questions or concerns
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In the News

Comparison Chart of House, Senate, and Governor's Budget Proposals

US Supreme Court affirms NC legislative districts as racial gerrymanders
News & Observer

Will N.C. have a special election in 2017
Charlotte Observer

House OKs $22.9B budget in early morning vote
WRAL
 
Editorial:  Cooper’s budget offers a better vision than House or Senate plans
The News & Observer
 
NC House rejects attempts to cut funding from private school vouchers and shift it to public schools
The News & Observer
 
NC House rejects effort to shift anti-abortion pregnancy center funding to addiction treatment
The News & Observer
 
Duke seeks 15 percent rate hike in N.C.
Fayetteville Observer

In a struggling factory town (Lumberton), residents want Washington to cut the ‘drama’ and get to work
Washington Post
 
Why have thousands of smart, low-income NC students been excluded from advanced classes?
The News & Observer
 
Outdoor grilling bill heads to Gov. Cooper for final approval
Salisbury Post
 
Cooper names commission and board appointees
Stanly News & Press
 
Report: NC employers stealing $316 million per year from employees; Labor Commissioner faulted
NC Policy Watch
 
The GOP crafts a message to UNC, with a chain saw (Rob Christensen column)
The News & Observer
 
NC jobless rate 4.7% in April, lowest since mid-2007
Charlotte Observer
 
Our Opinion: Try fair redistricting
News & Record
 
High court ruling may give voter rights groups a strong tool
WRAL
UNCC Graduates Mary Belk & Linda Hunt Williams
Copyright © 2017 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.


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