The State Budget
In Roman Catholic doctrine, Purgatory is a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven. If I didn’t understand that concept before this week, I now understand the concept. I’m caught in Raleigh occupying windowless rooms communicating and negotiating about budget issues that sometimes get resolved by simply saying “never mind.” Much time on both sides of the negotiations is spent hurrying up and waiting while offers about spending targets or state employee and teacher compensation are discussed.
Last year, I sat in on some of these discussions but wasn’t one of the negotiators. I found those discussions intriguing. This year, I’m playing a role in those negotiations, and “intriguing” wouldn’t be a word I’d use to describe them.
The key thing to know is that an overall spending target was set at $21.735 billion, somewhat short of a half of a billion dollars less than the House’s budget number. Thus, if one liked some of the things that the House budget proposed to spend money on, those things are at risk of being lost in these negotiations, since the House spend number was $22.155 billion.
One can’t take that much money out of the budget and expect all of the same things to be funded. I woke this morning to a text from a lobbyist representing state employees, asking whether the across-the-board 2% pay raise was at risk. The answer to that is easy: “Yes.” A little later another lobbyist wanted to know whether the proposed bond was at risk — that is in the House budget but not the Senate budget. Again, the answer is easy: “Yes.”
Last year, the discussions were intriguing because I didn’t really play a huge role in making decisions that had real consequences. This year, I’m part of a team making decisions the consequences of which are very clear to me.
Both the House and Senate budget negotiators have asked their respective subject matter appropriations committees, such as education, public safety, transportation, etc., to be back on Monday. The expectation is that we will have figured out the targets for the various areas and they will start to negotiate out the details with some number of the big items having already been determined by the negotiations this week. We’d like to get the budget done by the end of the month, but if it takes until Labor Day that is only a few more days.
Back in the district, the primary concern is not the budget but the transmission lines. As soon as I get back to Hendersonville — not this weekend but maybe the next, I need to spend time meeting with interested groups and people. Meanwhile, I’ve got preliminary information on use of public rights-of-way for transmission lines, and I’m still waiting on information about transmission lines on public property. I think folks deserve an answer to the question why Duke Energy is likely to be proposing to condemn private property but the use of public property is apparently off-the-table.
Before even getting to the issue of where the transmission lines go, one needs to make sure that the power is needed and the best way to get that power is by building the transmission lines. While I suspect that Duke Energy can show that the power is needed, I don’t know whether the best way to get that power is by building the transmission lines. In other words, are there other sources of power?
Some constituents continue to argue that Sen. Apodaca, Rep. Whitmire and I just need to be opposed to the transmission lines, pointing to the opposition of several legislators in South Carolina. Well, if I were a legislator in South Carolina, it might be easy to simply oppose them since some of the costs but none of the benefits will inure to South Carolina constituents. But that isn’t the situation NC legislators are in. If Duke Energy is right that we need the power and that this is the best way to get this power, then many of the costs and some of the benefits will inure our NC constituents. A good article on what NC legislators think or are doing can be found in the Hendersonville Lightning.
It is worth noting that while there is a North Carolina process for approving the transmission lines that there is also a South Carolina process. The Public Service Commission of South Carolina will be holding a hearing on the South Carolina portion of the transmission lines on August 27, at 6pm, at the Landrum High School Auditorium. My expectation is that NC residents and groups interested in the issue will attend that meeting. There is less than two weeks remaining to provide input to Duke Energy on its proposal, although there will be a public process established by the NC Utilities Commission once Duke Energy files its application for approval of the transmission lines.
Part of my sense of being in purgatory, putting aside the discomfort of the budget process, is that I really want to be home talking and meeting with my constituents right now, but I’m caught in Raleigh in the budget discussions.
An interesting interlude occurred midweek, when MountainTrue announced the cancellation of its Mountain Brew Fest, citing the inability of some number of breweries to get the necessary permits to serve beer at the event. This announcement followed an earlier snafu with Oskar Blues‘ Burning Can Festival. MountainTrue’s press release largely blamed state government bureaucracy for the cancellation of the event.
Not unexpectedly, I heard from both a county commissioner and a Hendersonville City councilman about the cancellation. The concern wasn’t so much the cancellation of the Mountain Brew Fest, but a worry as to whether a similar problem might affect the hugely popular Rhythm and Brews event held in Hendersonville.
My office immediately contacted both the Alcohol Beverage Commission (ABC) and Alcohol Law Enforcement (ALE), and I talked with Sierra Nevada management. While it appears that there is no risk that Rhythm and Brews will suffer the same fate as the Mountain Brew Fest, I’m committed to determining whether our regulatory process for such events is antiquated.
Folks should remember that just a few years ago we had no breweries in Henderson County and the last place you’d think about holding a beer-related event on a Sunday would be Mills River. All of that has changed. A few months ago, I attended a festival at Sierra Nevada’s brewery on a Sunday where I had some beer along with county commissioners and Mills River officials.
The state’s alcoholic beverage laws have been slow to change. While this is understandable given how long the entire nation struggled with alcoholic beverage regulation, including two amendments to the U.S. Constitution, it is time for reform of our state laws regulating alcoholic beverages. Over the past four years, we’ve in a piecemeal fashion addressed issues like selling beer and cider in growlers and allowing more on-site opportunities for breweries to sell their products. My hope is that we see a more comprehensive revision of our state’s laws governing alcoholic beverages in the near future.