What to expect from the 2019 General Assembly

Posted 1/31/19

Lawmakers return to Raleigh next week for the 2019 session of the North Carolina General Assembly. Pledges of harmony and bipartisan cooperation were frequently heard on opening day but are more …

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What to expect from the 2019 General Assembly

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Lawmakers return to Raleigh next week for the 2019 session of the North Carolina General Assembly. Pledges of harmony and bipartisan cooperation were frequently heard on opening day but are more likely now that Republicans no longer hold veto-proof majorities in both houses. Will we get cooperation and compromise, or the further “Washingtonization” of Raleigh, where polarization, partisan posturing and the unwillingness to compromise result in inaction?

Don’t expect the confrontive and expansive agenda that resulted in the constant lawsuits of recent years. Lawmakers and the governor understand the need to work together if the budget or anything else is to get accomplished.

One big test will be the biennial budget. We begin with almost a $500 million surplus with which to work, owing to not spending all that was appropriated the first six months of the budget year and almost $200 in revenues that exceeded projections. Governor Cooper wants Medicaid expansion, big teacher pay hikes, more hurricane relief money and increased prison spending. Lawmakers will be reluctant to go on a major spending spree, opting instead for their tradition of conservative growth from this year’s $23.9 billion budget. This promises to test the resolve of all to work together. Cooper holds the veto stamp and has shown he will use it; lawmakers hold the purse strings. It’s gonna be interesting!

While there is some softening by Republicans on Medicaid expansion, this issue is far from certain. After more than eight court cases there is growing consensus for an independent redistricting process, but exactly who are the independent parties we can all agree upon and what guidelines will ensure districts that are fair and result in competitive elections? If 2018 trends continue, Republicans know they could lose their majority in one or both houses. Democrats are tired of gerrymandered districts virtually impossible to win. Whichever party controls the legislature in 2021will draw new congressional and legislative maps.

Sure to surface will be revisions to the Read to Achieve program, to try to halt the decline in 3rd grade reading test scores. The big push will be to raise teacher pay to the national average, along with increased per pupil expenditures. Lawmakers have been taking steps in those directions but will need a big stride to achieve these goals.

Following clear evidence of absentee voter fraud, expect more election reforms and possibly further changes to the State Board of Elections. This issue takes on more urgency with Executive Director Kim Strach’s term ending soon and a still unresolved 9th Congressional District election.

House Speaker Tim Moore wants to submit a $1.9 billion school construction bond proposal to voters. Others will want to hang infrastructure ornaments on this package, so we don’t expect a statewide referendum until November 2020.

There will be efforts to fund expansion of broadband Internet to rural areas. Look for a big push to privatize liquor sales. Lawmakers might refine laws regarding historical monuments, another black eye for a state that doesn’t need one. Prison reform is badly needed, as is the need to pass regulatory reform, most especially professional licensing. Expect a move to legalize marijuana, although it won’t likely pass this year. And even though our legislature has passed laws that allow speeding up transportation funding there will be an effort to find new funding mechanisms for road construction.

Lawmakers might not adjourn by July 4th but are likely continue recent practices of special sessions that last two or three days throughout the year. With March 2020 primary elections ahead, lawmakers won’t want to spend much time past Halloween in Raleigh.

We look for an interesting 2019 legislative session.

Tom Campbell is former assistant North Carolina State Treasurer and is creator/host of NC SPIN, a weekly statewide television discussion of NC issues that airs on UNC-TV main channel Fridays at 7:30pm, Sundays 12:30pm and UNC North Carolina Channel Fridays at 10:00pm, Saturdays at 4:00pm and Sundays at 10:00am.Contact him at www.ncspin.com.


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