N.C. Republicans push problem-laden budget without public input

The Republican leadership of the North Carolina General Assembly revealed their state budget last night as a result of closed-door meetings that barred public debate or amendments.

Not surprisingly, the budget coming out of a blatantly undemocratic, closed-door process that excluded elected representatives and public debate contains several provisions harmful to the citizens of North Carolina.”

—Senior Attorney Mary Maclean Asbill

Clean Water

The newly revealed closed-door budget incorporates a bill (Senate Bill 724 and House Bill 972) that:

  • fails to address harmful, ongoing GenX contamination despite 250,000 North Carolinians who have been exposed;

  • underfunds to the state’s enforcement agency, the Department of Environmental Quality;
  • takes money from local water systems and other parts of the university system; and
  • gives roughly five million dollars to a legislature established project, the UNC Collaboratory, run by Senate President Senator Berger’s former staffer that has failed to raise its own funding.

The closed-door budget funds DEQ at a much lower level than the nearly $14 million requested by the state administration. The vast majority of funding to address the GenX crisis is reallocated from within North Carolina’s university system or from local water systems, rather than providing new funding to address GenX. After repeated General Assembly cuts to the DEQ budget—and specifically to its water quality resources and staffing, by as much as 41 percent—for seven consecutive years; it is now critically important to shore up the agency responsible for protecting our waters from pollution and for enforcing clean water laws.

The North Carolina General Assembly’s closed-door budget also delays implementation of rules intended to stop pollution and clean up Jordan Lake and Falls Lake—the drinking water reservoirs for hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians in the Triangle area.

The specifics of this closed-door budget do not provide relief to the 250,000 people who have been exposed to GenX and similar compounds in their air, groundwater, surface waters, and drinking water for decades,” said Asbill. “In fact, the budget seems more calculated to shield polluters, instead of the people of North Carolina.”

Transportation

Setting another roadblock to sustainable development in North Carolina’s rapidly growing areas, an alarming provision of the closed-door budget could stop all North Carolina light rail projects in their tracks. The budget sets up a procedural framework that would make it impossible for North Carolina to secure federal funding for light rail projects under current law. This provision places in extreme jeopardy the long-planned and widely supported Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project. Essential for the growing Triangle region, the project has scored well twice under North Carolina’s data-driven transportation project prioritization system, receiving, in fact, the highest score of any multi-modal project in the state.

This latest move by the North Carolina General Assembly undermines all the good work the legislature has done to take the politics out of project selection,” said Kym Hunter, SELC attorney. “This provision in the budget—which will not be subject to any public debate or amendment—is a deeply cynical move designed to target a specific project that is not favored by some in our current legislature. The provision should be removed and the transportation selection process should be allowed to proceed as designed, allowing meritorious projects to move forward when they score well based on data-driven metrics.”

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