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Turner gives update on N.C. budget standoff
Wednesday, 01 January 2020 14:02
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An update on the North Carolina budget standoff was presented by N.C. Rep. Brian Turner, D- Asheville, to the Council of Independent Business Owners during its Dec. 6 breakfast meeting at UNC Asheville’s Sherrill Center.

Turner began on a bright note, stating with a big smile to the conservative-leaning business group, that he wanted to be the “first Democrat to wish you a ‘merry Christmas!’”

As the CIBO audience smiled back at Turner, he then added, “And for those who are sensitive, ‘Happy holidays!’” His injection of political correctness prompted some laughter and mirth from the crowd. 

Turning more serious, albeit briefly, Turner said, “I did want to give you an update on the (proposed state) budget.

“Typically, the governor presents his budget priorities to the General Assembly.The General Assembly typically takes that, and throws it in the trash,” he quipped to still chuckles from the audience.

However, this year, Turner said, “The House made changes, then sent it to the Senate. The Senate made changes, then sent it back to the House. It passed... Then the governor vetoed it.”

Pausing, Turner asserted, “The governor then presented a ‘sort-of compromised’ plan on July 9. So his second (budget proposal) draft has sort has sat there in a sort of limbo.

“In August, 53 members of the House signed on with the speaker to say, ‘We’re going to support the governor’s veto.’”

Then, on Sept. 11, “there was a veto override vote that was taken without notice and that veto was overridden in the House,” Turner said.

“That budget bill now sits in what we affectionately call the ‘veto garage’ in the Senate. It sits there till they think they have enough votes to pass it.

“In the interim, we’ve passed 14 mini-budgets in all.”

Turner then explained that there are “two types of funding in the budget — recurring and nonrecurring. To cover nonrecurring items,” given that “recurring were automatically covered,” Turner said “we passed all the mini-budgets.

“We’ve got the federal funds drawdowns, pay increases for Highway Patrol, teachers, ALE and SBI, prison safety, needy families assistance, disaster recovery — we’ve had a number of landslides in last few years....”

What’s more, Turner said, “It’s an unbelievable logistical challenge at Ocracoke (an island along the state coast). It’s accessible only by ferries. So that disaster money was really important.”

Further, Turner said there was much “a lot of talk” in the legislature “about rape kits. The backlog does not exist at the attorney general level, but rather at the local level.”

In addition, he said that the “broadband bill, expanding Internet access, and DOT spending” were helped in the budget plan — and “our community colleges’ budget was passed.”

In his summary, Turner said, “So a lot has been done, in terms of passing the budget. There’s a lot on what people agree on.

“The governor has been very clear that he’s willing to sign budgets where there are areas of commonality... The two big issues we know — the issue of teacher pay increases.... The governor wants bigger increases than both the House and Senate propose Also, the governor wants more Medicaid expansion.

“There was a $40 million flex cut in the HUD. So we’re going to make that cut, but we’re not going to tell you where. We’ll let you make those reductions.

“But the big one is probably the Medicaid expansion. That’s one that’s a real challenge because… I typically like to focus on policy and policy impact. As you all probably know. I don’t like to be partisan and get up here and bang a partisan drum. I’m more interested in policy.”

He added that “It’s hard to negotiate and come to the table, when people” can’t keep their word,” he said in a reference to some Republicans in the General Assembly.

“This is the first time in almost a decade where the leadership in the House and the Senate have had to share power. Previously, there were super majorities and there were veto-proof majorities making it unnessary to deal with the governor.”

After another pause, Turner asserted, “I’ll be quite honest — it really hurt with the vote on Sept. 11. It’s really hard to come back to the table with people who operate that way. You don’t act in a deceptive way... The way you succeed in having a good reputation in business is by being honest and truthful... In that moment, it became almost impossible... Just like when anyone violates trust in any relationship, it takes a while to build it back... I’m hopfeful we’ll see those good faith efforts” from the Republicans.

On the positive side, Turner said, “My feelings are probably not as hurt as some of the others (Democrat legislators) …. It’s going to tae some time. And that’s basically where we are with this budget.”

During a question-and-answer session that followed, an unidentified man said,  “Thanks for what you’re doing. Representing a state entity, it’s tough at this time.”

Turner replied, “One of the unspoken parts of our session in January” was about the redrawn districts to counter gerrymanders, “That will come after flling deadline on Dec. 20. Once everyone knows whether they have opposition or not,” the races will be interesting.

Another unidentified man asked about “repair and renovation” in the state budget plan.

Turner nodded, frowned and said, “It’s not where it needs to be. We have systems runing on Cobol and Fortran. They’re dying” for a number of the computer programs used by the state government “to be updated to Windows.” His wry analysis riggered yet more chuckles from the crowd.



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