The 611-page draft state budget that emerged Monday night—and that the General Assembly expects to vote on later this week—is probably most notable for its income tax cuts, expansion of school vouchers, attempts to further remove power from the governor, and the two-month delay over the not-happening casinos.
The text isn’t yet final, but there are scores of items crammed into the draft that could affect the state for years to come. Here are 15 items of interest:
1. COVID-19 vaccines (p. 65): Local governments can’t require employees to get a COVID vaccine. Schools will require immunizations against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, poliomyelitis, measles, and rubella, as well as “any other disease upon a determination by the [state] that the immunization is in the interest of the public health.” But not COVID.
2. Local preemption (p. 66): Local governments can’t impose “any requirement upon an employer pertaining to” wages, benefits, or the “well-being of minors in the workforce.” They also can’t enact prohibitions and fees on plastic shopping bags, as Buncombe County and the city of Durham are considering, respectively.
3. Vouchers (p. 191): Students using vouchers to attend private schools will have to undergo standardized tests, and the schools will have to share the results with the state. But those results will remain exempt from public records. And while the law requires the State Education Assistance Authority, which administers the voucher program, to provide the General Assembly with annual reports on how vouchers affect public schools’ test scores, those reports have not materialized since the program began in 2014.
4. Public records (p. 329 and 517): NCInnovation—a nonprofit established to promote tech R&D—gets $500 million over the next two years. It, too, doesn’t have to disclose records about its programs, recipients, and projects if it decides that doing so would “result in the harmful dissemination of confidential intellectual property.”
In addition, the budget lets lawmakers decide which of their records should be preserved or destroyed—a provision the North Carolina Press Association calls “a significant threat to the public’s right to see public records.”
5. Emissions inspections (p. 359): Along with forbidding the state from requiring utilities to offset their carbon emissions or imposing emissions standards on new vehicles, the budget also removes emissions-inspection requirements in 19 of the 20 counties in which they currently exist—everywhere but Mecklenburg.
6. Legal Aid (p. 402): Attorneys who work for Legal Aid of North Carolina—which helps low-income people navigate civil courts—can no longer participate in NC LEAF, a state program that helps public-interest lawyers pay their law school debt.
7. Judiciary (p. 403-427): The budget extends the age limit for state Supreme Court and Court of Appeals judges from 72 to 76—primarily benefiting Republican Chief Justice Paul Newby, who under the current law would have to step down before his term ends in 2028. The General Assembly also gives itself the ability to pick 10 special superior court judges, whom Newby can appoint to hear challenges to General Assembly laws and legislative districts.
Per Newby’s request, the budget also eliminates the automatic right of appeal to the Supreme Court when a Court of Appeals panel splits. And it solidifies Republican control of the Judicial Standards Commission—the body investigating Democratic Justice Anita Earls for criticizing the Supreme Court’s diversity policies—and allows judges to carry guns in the courtroom.
8. Inmate release (p. 436): The budget reduces the age at which “geriatric” inmates become eligible for medical release from prison from 65 to 55. They must still suffer from “chronic infirmity, illness, or disease related to aging that has progressed such that the inmate is medically incapacitated” and pose little or no threat to the public.
9. SBI (p. 438): The current SBI director refused to step down when his term expired this year, even after Gov. Roy Cooper’s office asked him to resign over allegations of racial discrimination. He told the General Assembly that the SBI needed more political independence. The budget grants his wish. It moves the SBI out of the Department of Public Safety and makes it a cabinet-level department. The governor will still appoint the SBI director, with the General Assembly’s approval, and can remove the director for misconduct. And now the General Assembly can fire the SBI director with a supermajority vote.
10. The lobbyist fast lane (p. 515): Lobbyists can pay $2,000 to secure “expedited entry” into the Legislative Office Building and State Legislative Building. Liaison personnel—basically, lobbyists for state agencies—will pay $1,000.
11. Negligence claims (p. 540): You’ll no longer be able to sue a state agency for claims arising from the negligence of an employee. Instead, those claims will be routed to the North Carolina Industrial Commission, which caps damages at $1 million.
12. Bond referendum language (p. 549): The General Assembly appears to believe voters are not thinking critically enough about local initiatives to create new parks, build schools, or fund affordable housing. So the budget requires all future bond referenda to begin by mentioning the “additional property taxes” that will be raised, and also include the bond’s cumulative cost with the highest possible interest rate, and estimating how much property taxes would go up.
13. DMV privatization (p. 596): The budget includes $125,000 to study “the feasibility and desirability” of privatizing the Division of Motor Vehicles to achieve “a more citizen-friendly service model.”
14. EV fees (p. 597): The owners of plug-in electric vehicles will have to pay $180—as opposed to the current $140—more than other vehicle owners to register. Plug-in hybrid owners will pay an extra $90.
15. Uber tax (p. 606): “For-share ground transport services”—meaning ride-shares like Uber and Lyft—will be charged a 1 percent tax. The tax will apply to any rides that begin in North Carolina, regardless of where they end up.
Jeffrey Billman reports on politics and the law for The Assembly. He is the former editor-in-chief of INDY Week in Durham. Email him at email@example.com.