We are into our 50th Legislative Day. The speed of activity now picks up as we enter the key phase of budget development. This process is exacerbated by the destructive storms that swept across North Carolina this past weekend. The costs resulting from these storms are just now becoming apparent: 23 fatalities, 136 serious injuries, 1,000 homes destroyed and hundreds of jobs lost. In all, 18 counties in North Carolina were seriously affected. The impact on our already-strangled budget is tremendous, the impact on hundreds of lives will be devastating.
Work on the budget takes center stage in the House. Every Appropriations Committee is extremely busy trying to determine how to deal with a $2 Billion shortfall now exacerbated by the storm. We are committed to balancing the budget and do not intend to either raise taxes nor continue the “temporary tax” surcharge that Governor Perdue promised but failed to end her proposed budget this year.
I am assigned to the Appropriations Sub-Committee on Justice & Public Safety. Our goal is to cut an additional $230 million from the budget submitted by the Governor in late February. In particular I am focusing on reducing our inmate medical care costs from over $250 million annually. I am working with the NC Hospital Association and investigating alternative resources to accomplish this. There are no good answers, but we are making progress. I also want to keep the Chaplaincy corps in the prisons and juvenile detention centers. These dedicated men and women contribute greatly to reducing our over 50 percent recidivism rate in North Carolina. Most inmates get out of jail at some point; we don’t want them back! I have volunteered as a counselor in prisons and know first-hand the difficult challenges of dealing with this issue.
Education is the largest and most watched area of our budget process. So far, the House Appropriations Sub-Committee on Education has been able to save every teaching position in the state. They have also funded teaching assistant positions in Kindergarten and First Grade. Additionally, they have not pushed down to the counties the costs of school buses, tort liability and workman’s compensation. This will hold the counties harmless from millions of dollars of unfunded mandates. Community Colleges have been held to about a 10 percent cut, but the University System will take as much as a 15 percent cut in funding.
The job is a long way from over. Once the House is finished with their work, the budget goes to the Senate for their turn to wield the budget axe. Once they have completed their work, the House and Senate will hammer out the differences before going back to each chamber for final work and approval.
We have also accomplished quite a lot in addition so far this year. The Legislature passed a State Health Plan that was fair and fully funded. It does require, for the first time, a small contribution from the state employees to fund their premiums but only for the maximum plan. The basic plan continues at no cost for the employee coverage. Although the plan was substantially the very plan that the Governor had proposed to the legislature earlier this year, she chose to veto it when it reached her desk. The Senate overrode her veto. It is now back in the House for a veto override vote coming soon. The House also passed a landmark Charter School bill that fulfilled the promise by the new majority to raise the cap on Charter Schools in North Carolina. The bill also addresses the issues of governance and fair and equitable funding that has cast a shadow over Charters and their efficacy. Public Charter Schools serve a great need and provide a great opportunity in public education. They can implement innovative educational methods and try creative approaches that enhance public education for everyone. I am a strong supporter of responsible public charter schools and am proud to have contributed to the passage of this bill. The House has also passed an extension of Unemployment Benefits for more than 36,000 North Carolinians that will provide them basic support to help them and their families through these difficult economic times. The bill contained a provision to cut next year’s budget by an additional 13 percent over the proposed budget so as to insure that North Carolina will continue to move toward balanced and sustainable fiscal responsibility. Unfortunately, the Governor chose to veto this bill as well.
I am holding town-hall style meetings around the district. I call these meetings “Discussion & Debate.” They are an opportunity for me to meet with and hear from the people that I represent at the state level. I want to report on my activities and I must be held to account for my actions. If you can host a small “Discussion and Debate” in your neighborhood, please contact Laurie Payne, my Legislative Aide, at our Raleigh Office, which can be reached via phone at 919-733-2406 or email Craig.Horn@ncleg.net. We are pleased to work with you to schedule a time convenient for you and your neighbors as well as find a location that makes sense for everyone. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any of your concerns, suggestion or complaints. Don’t let me be in Raleigh unsupervised and certainly don’t let me make decisions with my head in a sack. We need your ideas and want to address your concerns. And we must be held accountable for our actions. You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter or on the internet at www.ncleg.net (click on House and then on members. I am listed and you can see my votes, what I am sponsoring or co-sponsoring). We look forward to hearing from you.
Rep. Craig Horn