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What To Expect From The 2015 State Legislative Session

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State legislators have descended on Raleigh for the start of the 2015 legislative session. Today’s session is largely ceremonial. The only votes scheduled are to elect leadership of the General Assembly. But there is a lot lawmakers would like to get done this year, which is why WFAE’s Tom Bullock joins Morning Edition host Marshall Terry for a preview of the so-called long legislative session.

MT: Republicans expanded their supermajorities in the North Carolina house and senate this last election. And Republican Pat McCrory is, of course, still governor. Does this mean smooth legislative sailing for conservatives?

TB: In a word. Nope. And last year’s not so short short legislative session is proof. Republicans had a slate of major policy moves they wanted to make, including teacher pay, coal ash regulation, tweaks to the budget, economic incentives and an overhaul of Medicaid. And leaders of both the state House and Senate believed they could do it all before the fourth of July. The session went more than a month long as Republicans fought among themselves over those issues. They did pass an increase in teacher pay, the specifics of which are still controversial, and new coal ash rules but new economic incentive packages and an overhaul of Medicaid never were passed.

And the fight over economic incentives revealed an interesting political divide in the general assembly – not Republican vs. Democrat but urban vs. rural. Last session, rural lawmakers continued to push measures to, as they said, level the economic playing field with cities…cutting back on what cities get and increasing their own share of state dollars. It will be interesting to see how this plays out this session.  

MT: Let's talk about Medicaid. Governor Pat McCrory has recently shown more openness to expanding the program under Obamacare. What are the odds state lawmakers do that this year?

TB: Slim to none. The Republican leaders on health care in both chambers continue to oppose expansion. They say they don't trust that the federal government will pick up as much of the tab as it promises to. And they say the state should get its Medicaid program in better shape first.

MT: And how do they plan to do that?

TB: They've been working on different overhaul ideas since a few months after Governor McCrory took office. The House passed an overhaul last session that Governor McCrory supported, which would've put groups of doctors and hospitals in charge of managing the program. The Senate rejected that idea and passed their own overhaul. It would've created a brand new department to oversee Medicaid, and it would've put what are basically insurance companies in charge. The two chambers will need to work out those differences this session.

MT: Another issue that seems likely to be brought up this year is education.

TB: That’s right – especially after a closed door, Republican only meeting in Kannapolis last week. GOP lawmakers from both the state House and Senate heard presentations on education from conservative groups including the John Locke Foundation. We don’t know what was discussed at the meeting, but the fact it happened definitely puts education on the legislative radar.

MT: Lets turn to the budget for a moment, what fiscal policies can we expect to be debated.

TB: The governor still wants work to be done on economic incentives – these are the sweeteners the state uses to get businesses to expand or relocate to North Carolina. And last year the general assembly got rid of the privilege tax – a tax cities charge businesses to operate inside city limits. Lawmakers promised to replace those funds with some other revenue.

But after recent income and corporate tax cuts spearheaded by GOP lawmakers state revenue is down. We’ll have to see if that changes and creates enough money to fund these programs, if not, the General Assembly may have to consider raising taxes to pay for new incentives and replace the privilege tax.

MT: Finally let’s talk about new leadership. With Thom Tillis now a U.S. Senator, Representative Tim Moore will become the new Speaker of the North Carolina House.

TB: Moore will be officially elected today. Moore has represented Cleveland County for seven terms. Moore told the Charlotte Business Journal his top three priorities for this session are jobs, jobs and jobs. How Moore runs the House – and how he manages the House’s sometimes contentious relationship with the Senate will be in the spotlight throughout this session.

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