From the desk of Sen. Bishop:
The 2017 Regular Session of the North Carolina General Assembly adjourned in the wee hours Friday, June 30, following the inevitable, two-week frenzy of late nights and sometimes heated negotiations. The two top stories from this session - the fourth consecutive long session under Republican control - both arise from our $23 billion biennial budget, enacted notwithstanding the governor's veto.
First, continued spending discipline is ushering state government into an era of unprecedented fiscal soundness, especially relative to other states. For the first time ever, the state savings reserve or "rainy day fund" balance will meet the statutory target of 8% of the general fund budget ($1.82 billion). Future budgets will progress toward a new target of 12%.
We have begun to confront the practice of mortgaging our children's future through massively unfunded state employee retirement benefits. North Carolina's unfunded retiree health and pension obligations, accrued over many years, exceed $6,000 per capita. The good news is that we are better off than many other states, such as Illinois (almost $21,000 per capita) and Connecticut (almost $14,000 per capita). The better news is that we are addressing the issue from a position of budget strength and strong credit rather than the constraints of deficits and heavy debt. This year's $.5 billion annual revenue surplus was the third in a row since the 2013 fundamental tax reform.
Under our budget, following the lead of the private sector, the State will end the practice of promising free, but unfunded, retiree health benefits-for-life to new hires by 2021. One result will be to enable the State in due course to improve current employee compensation. In fact, we have begun to do so for public school teachers, and this budget continues that progress. It provides for the fourth and fifth consecutive annual pay raises for teachers (beyond step increases), averaging 10% over the biennium.
Second, continuing the balancing act that has distinguished North Carolina from every other state in the country, we have budgeted another installment of tax relief for North Carolinians even as we further solidify the fiscal structure of our state. Reductions in personal and corporate income tax rates will reinforce the business environment that corporate recruiters have ranked #1 in the nation and that has yielded better-than-average personal income growth and an influx of talent fleeing basket-case states like IL and CT. A further increase in the standard deduction (the "zero bracket") - to $20,000 - will take thousands more off the tax rolls, boosting citizens of modest incomes.
One notable person termed this budget irresponsible – in fact, "the most irresponsible ever." To me, that rhetoric serves as a reminder that even as it becomes more tempting to take for granted the Republican General Assembly's string of budget successes, an opposition waits in the wings to return North Carolina to the budget deficits and the pay-to-play, special interest dominance of yesteryear. That would mean another generation of wasted opportunity. Prosperity is a discipline, not a fate. And in this historically poor, southeastern State, the breeze of prosperity is beginning to blow. Let's do all we can to keep it going.
It has been the privilege of my life to support this new direction for our State.
- State Senator Dan Bishop
Highlights of the 2017 Regular Session
Dan's Session Top Ten
The most significant bills passed this session:
- HB 310 – 5G Wireless Infrastructure Siting. Provides for deployment of “small cell” 5G wireless technology, while preserving city authority to referee aesthetics in rights-of-way.
- SB 155 – ABC Omnibus Legislation. The “brunch bill” moves the time for Sunday alcohol sales (where allowed by law) to 10 AM from noon, if local government opts in.
- HB 100 – Restore Partisan Judicial Elections. Supplies voters with the single most significant data point about judicial candidates other than name.
- HB 243 – Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP). Tightens prescribing practices and makes opioid antagonists more available, as means of targeting opioid abuse.
- SB 548 – Strengthen Human Trafficking Laws. Increases criminal penalties for human trafficking. Tightens licensing of massage and bodywork therapy industry.
- HB 142 – Repeal of HB 2. Compromise legislation counts as a political success, resolving the distracting controversy, but blurs privacy rights, state/local authority, perhaps setting up future conflict.
- HB 436 – Public Water/Sewer System Development Fee. In response to court case, sets uniform authority for public water/sewer systems to charge fees to defray or recoup costs of expansion infrastructure for new development.
- HB 26 – Workers’ Compensation Clarification. Quick, consensus fix for a North Carolina Supreme Court decision thought to have potential to destabilize workers’ compensation system and increase employer costs.
- HB 589 – PURPA update. Modifies state implementation of federal renewable energy statute in a way that should reduce cost to ratepayers of solar over the next five years v. status quo.
- HB 527 – Campus Free Speech. Clarifies that safe zones, speech codes, star-chamber student disciplinary processes, and mob violence against visiting speakers have no place on campuses of the University of North Carolina.
North Carolina’s congressional and state legislative districts have been litigated more or less continuously for almost 30 years. The Supreme Court has reviewed the 12th congressional district no less than five times since 1993. Districts drawn in 2011, following the 2010 census were approved by the Obama administration and our state Supreme Court (twice). However, follow-on, federal litigation led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Cooper v. Harris decision in May, affirming a lower court ruling that the congressional districts are unconstitutional. The Justices split sharply over whether the case reflects changed rules by which legislative districting decisions are reviewed. The Court also summarily affirmed, in a separate case, the invalidation of the 2011 state legislative districts. Provisional congressional districts adopted under court order in 2016 remain under litigation challenge.
As a result of this ongoing litigation in part, the General Assembly will reconvene August 3 and September 6 and revise state legislative districts not later than November 15. Sen. Bishop is pleased to have been appointed to the 15-member Senate Standing Committee on Redistricting.
Senator Bishop’s Activity
Sen. Bishop Ushers Through Late-Breaking Workers Comp Fix
Legislation can take time, but sometimes speed is essential. A workers’ compensation decision by the N.C. Supreme Court in mid-June galvanized business, local government, and legal stakeholders to pursue a prompt legislative clarification. With less than a week to go before adjournment, the stakeholders hammered out agreed language.
Sen. Bishop pushed it through the Senate and House in two days, prompting kudos from the NC Chamber, Homebuilders Association and Retail Merchants. The Homebuilders even named Bishop “Legislator of the Week” for this effort. But top-notch lobbyists and leaders of the workers’ compensation bar did the heavy lifting to keep the system stable and affordable.
Sen. Bishop Assists Lt. Gov. with Campus Free-Speech Bill
Sen. Bishop was pleased to co-sponsor the Senate companion bill to HB 527 and was instrumental in bringing the House version to the Senate floor for final passage during the final week of session.
On more than 30 occasions in the past year, speakers have been disinvited or shouted down on American college campuses, sometimes amid mob violence, including at Middlebury College and UC Berkeley. Lt. Gov. Dan Forest urged the General Assembly to pass legislation ensuring unequivocal support for the right to free speech for all at UNC system campuses. While HB 527 was pending, four UNC campuses achieved “green lights” from the Foundation for Individual Rights for their policies on free-speech, bringing the total to six, more than any other state.
News from Charlotte and Mecklenburg County
Senate Appoints Dennis Bunker Trustee for UNCC
On June 30, at Sen. Bishop’s request, the Senate appointed Dennis Bunker, of Charlotte, to the UNCC Board of Trustees. Mr. Bunker is a 1982 graduate of the University, holds a masters from Columbia, and is an experienced real estate developer. He has deep North Carolina roots across a large portion of the Piedmont and has been a devoted servant to UNCC. Sen. Bishop congratulates and thanks Dennis Bunker.
Spotlight RadixBay: Is “Rural Sourcing” A Model for NC?
North Carolina’s most perplexing policy challenge is extending the economic success of our leading cities, like Charlotte, to rural NC.
We’re willing to bet that entrepreneurs will find solutions.
Consider Greg Lovette, founder and CEO of Ballantyne-area IT managed services provider RadixBay. Lovette grew up in Tabor City, and his folks remain there. Several years after selling a successful IT firm, Lovette formed RadixBay with a plan to recruit, train and maintain some of its IT services staff in rural eastern North Carolina. Lovette told Sen. Bishop that the term is “rural sourcing.”
RadixBay now operates a technology center in Tabor City and expects to develop others. Sen. Bishop compliments and has high hopes for Lovette and RadixBay.