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House vs. Senate budget battle, our sucky lottery, groins

by Kirk Ross

Halfway there – well sorta.

The release of the House budget followed in quick succession by the crossover deadline (even though it was extended) marks a traditional midpoint in the legislative session. But this year, it’s more of a scene setter for the debates and battles ahead.

For after meeting for more than a month together, House and Senate budget writers veered considerably when they began meeting separately about a month ago.

The Senate is scheduled to roll out its budget this week and word is already leaking out – pouring, really – about big differences with the House. Medicaid relief to counties and how to handle sales taxes are among the pending tussles already telegraphed.

In addition to the negotiations over taxing and spending, there is also the philosophical difference between the chambers over special provisions – often bits of real legislative phlogiston. The House now has a hard and fast no-special-provision rule and the Senate… well, not so much. One ember the Senate has in the hopper calls for school district mergers in counties with multiple districts.

Is it getting hot in here?

The buck stopped

Upon his election to the post in January, House Speaker Joe Hackney stated plainly that the leadership would control the agenda. That was evident as crossover week wound down and a last-minute push by House Republicans to spring loose a constitutional amendment to define marriage was stopped in its tracks. Its end played out like this: Hackney said he did not think an amendment was necessary. He reiterated that the leadership controlled the agenda. He sent the bill back to a committee. That was that.

Our lottery sucks, part II

Following up on an earlier report that the state lottery is not bringing in what was hoped is another update from the state Lottery Commission that revenues will be even lower than predicted. That news on the heels of a week where conservatives calling it a tax are ratcheting up their legal challenge, reports revealed that the lottery is using a security auditor that hasn’t been registered to work in North Carolina and a couple who looked like winners (they even had their photo snapped at headquarters with a giant check) lost after all when lottery officials found a tiny piece of latex that changed a 6 to an 8. Oh, and the state House chimed in as well, passing legislation that would prevent the lottery from advertising during high school sporting events.

None of that, of course, prevented lottery commissioners from giving a hearty round of applause and a 5 percent raise to the games’ director at a recent meeting.

Could it be that the likes of Bill Friday and Dean Smith were right when they said that a lottery was inconsistent with North Carolina values? We’re talking two basic values here: one that says gambling is not a good way for the state to raise money and another that says if I give you a dollar for education and only 35 cents of it goes to the cause I don’t feel like I’m getting a good deal.

Groin kicking

Seems like every session since the state passed its landmark coastal legislation that outlawed groins, jetties, seawalls and other such hardened structures, there’s an attempt to get around the rules. Last session, North Topsail was looking for relief by attaching the name of the late Hugh Morton to a bill that would construct an underwater wall to fight the tide. Now, some folks in an as-yet-unnamed-community commonly though to be Figure Eight Island want to build a groin to protect some rather lovely homes on this private paradise.

There ought to be a rule that legislators interested in such ideas should have to explain what part of the Jersey shoreline they find most appealing.

While it’s too late for some, those interested in buying or building on the coast may want to note these words of caution stated simply and clearly on the NC Division of Coastal Management’s hazards page:

“No matter where you build along the oceanfront, remember: Sooner or later, your home may become threatened by the sea.”

Kirk Ross travels the state for Cape-FearMercury.com and writes about state governance at ExileOnJonesStreet.com. He can be reached at editor@capefearmercury.com

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