Politics & Government

August 15, 2014

Business incentives bill stumbles again in NC House

A regulatory bill passed the General Assembly on Friday, while teacher assistant, business incentives, and local tax measures were left hanging until next week.

House members on Friday refused to bring up for a vote a bill on business incentives that Gov. Pat McCrory and other top Republicans want.

With the incentives measure in limbo, the legislative session that many had hoped would have ended by now will last at least a few days into next week.

House Speaker Thom Tillis said that when House members vote to end the session, they’ll vote to leave for the rest of the year rather than come back in November to debate a Medicaid overhaul and the clean-up of coal ash dumps, as the Senate would like.

Tillis said the incentives bill will come up again next week. The measure includes a new Commerce Department program that the state could use to lure businesses. The budget has $20 million set aside for it. The bill also caps local sales taxes.

The House rejected the bill earlier this month, but now the proposal is tied to an unrelated measure aimed at sparing teacher assistant jobs. Many districts have said that, despite legislative promises, the state budget will force them to cut teaching assistant positions.

Tillis linked a third bill on Friday, a measure that would give Wake County the option to hold a referendum in 2016 on a .25 percent sales tax increase.

The maneuvering uses one piece of legislation to undo provisions in the incentives bill, which otherwise would kill Wake County’s option to levy a quarter-cent sales tax to raise teacher salaries.

The incentives bill allows counties to exercise the quarter-cent tax option if they use it before the end of 2014, but Wake commissioners have said it was too late to consider doing anything here this year. The proposal outlined Friday would pass a separate bill to give Wake another two years.

But the complicated web wasn’t strong enough to sway incentives opponents, even after Tillis threatened to have the House return Saturday for another vote.

Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, the House speaker pro tem, called the incentives bill “the same turkey it was two weeks ago.” The House voted 46-44 not to bring it up.

After House Republicans met privately, Tillis ended work for the day, saying more time was needed to explain the three bills.

“I’m very optimistic about the outcome next week,” said Tillis, a Mecklenburg County Republican.

The House gave final approval to two bills that had been hanging around for months in various forms.

One was a grab-bag of nearly 60 regulatory changes to environmental, public health and other laws.

“This bill, I think, does more for the economy than even tax reform, certainly more than incentives,” said Stam, an Apex Republican. “Overall, it sets people free to do business in a businesslike way, while protecting the environment.”

Objections came from legislators who said the bill does indeed weaken environmental protections and undermines public health.

A few Republicans said they wouldn’t vote for it because it allows community colleges to teach students how to brew beer. The schools could sell the beer students produce.

“Under-age drinking is a serious problem in this state, and we’re putting the sale of alcoholic beverages on the campuses of community colleges,” said House Majority Leader Edgar Starnes, a Hickory Republican. The House approved the bill 64-27. The Senate approved it Friday, without debate, in a 35-1 vote.

The House also gave final approval to a bill stuffed with various new criminal laws, including one that increases penalties for giving or selling a cellphone to an inmate. The bill is in response to the kidnapping earlier this year of a Wake assistant district attorney’s father, a kidnapping that investigators say a felon orchestrated from prison using a cellphone.

Rep. George Cleveland, an Onslow County Republican, objected because the measure allows local governments to hire contractors who don’t certify that all their workers are legal residents if the contracts are less than $500,000.

The bill encourages businesses to hire cheap labor, Cleveland said.

That bill also includes a provision that allows children younger than 12 who live in certain counties to use BB guns without adult supervision. The House passed the bill 77-14, and it now heads to the governor.

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