Sunday, March 20, 2011

A note from state Senator Ellia Kinnaird

Dear Friends,

Another week at the legislature, another week of divisive issues.
North Carolina, along with one other state, has protected its beaches by not allowing hardened structures—called terminal groins—along its coast. The reason for the policy is that on the other side of the groin, the sand is scoured away, leaving the next beach with a receding shoreline and a severe deficit of sand, thus requiring re-nourishment of the lost sand, an expensive proposition.

Not even all the coastal communities agreed on the need and usefulness of groins. One town that would be affected, Sunset Beach, passed a resolution against it. But many towns and homeowners were in favor, as some condominiums are about to fall in the sea. Orrin Pilkey and John Hood of the John Locke Foundation were both opposed, leading some to speculate that the end of the world was, indeed, upon us. The vote was divided, not along partisan lines, but more geographical. The final vote was put off until Monday so those who don’t want the taxpayers to pick up the bill for beach re-nourishment could work out a deal with the bill’s sponsors. The sponsors had added a provision that the communities installing the groins would put up a bond to cover the costs if it ran over or if another community sued. But that wasn’t enough for those concerned the taxpayers will end up picking up the tab.

In another partisan, but esoteric, bill, the Senate voted to not conform our tax law to the federal tax changes. President Obama gave a tax break to small business owners by allowing them to accelerate their expenses in the first year. But this would be a loss to our budget of potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. The Republican sponsor was not too happy, wanting to give a tax break to the small business owners but realized that would put an even larger hole in the budget. (Tax law, although I took it in law school, is way beyond me, but I think this is a reasonable explanation.)

A moratorium on annexation by cities passed easily. I voted against it because cities have grown in an orderly fashion in North Carolina with our current statutes. There has been a need for updating and changes that people have urged for years, but a complete moratorium, even with a sunset to revisit the issue, could last for many years, thwarting meaningful growth of our cities. In Virginia, their moratorium that passed 28 years ago is still in effect. A comparison of the vitality of our cities such as Charlotte and Richmond, show that Virginia’s cities have not thrived, while ours have. Some cities even have “doughnut holes” right in the middle of the city, unannexed areas that are still in the county and don’t have city services.

But of course the big news was Gov. Perdue’s veto of Senate Bill 13 requiring North Carolina to join other states in suing to declare the individual mandate for insurance unconstitutional. The Attorney General, Roy Cooper, advised the Governor that states cannot nullify federal actions based on the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution. The House Democrats stuck together to uphold the veto. However, in the Senate, we could not override the Governor’s veto the bill requiring her to cut this year’s spending in the ways they dictated. Interestingly, after the veto, the Republicans said they would not try to override her veto and instead passed a bill requiring an amount to be cut, but giving her discretion of how to find the money. It was a complete surprise when they brought up the veto override, since we passed that bill and it is pending in the House.

In another sobering presentation in a year of sobering news, the Employment Security Commission announced we owe the federal government a startling $2, 631,866,556.00. Yes, that is two and a half billion plus. The reason is not only the economic meltdown resulting in high unemployment (but remember the bankers who caused it got $10 million bonuses) but also during the boom years of the 90's, employers asked for a reduction in their contribution because they had a nice surplus in the Trust Fund. Alas, here we are, grasshoppers instead of ants (for those of you who remember your Aesop’s Fables, the ants stored up for the winter while the grasshoppers played all summer.) So now we are hoping the feds will rescue us and we will only need to pay back the staggering interest owed of $80- $100 million dollars.

Then there is the matter of tax refunds owed to our citizens. Since we are broke, the governor is planning to take available monies to pay them back and then pay back the funds after April 15th when the revenues start coming in. That seemed to have sparked the latest skirmish between the Republicans and Democrats in the Senate to revive Senate Bill 13 on who decides and where the monies are to come from.


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