The N.C. General Assembly finally adjourned for the year on Aug. 20. It was a session that ran much longer than anticipated and probably featured more intraparty squabbling among Republicans than most observers would have guessed. In the end though, lawmakers left Raleigh after tackling several high-profile items.
One of the biggest issues on their agenda heading into this so-called “short session” was increasing teacher pay in North Carolina. There were competing plans from the governor, Senate and House, which differed over how much to increase educator salaries and how to go about paying for those raises.
Ultimately, a compromise was reached to boost teacher compensation in the state, though the final proposal was still met with skepticism by many detractors and will likely continue to be a point of contention.
The other seemingly “must-do” item on the priority list for this year was to formulate a response to February’s coal ash spill in the Dan River. Passing such a proposal proved more complicated than expected, however.
House and Senate leaders went back and forth for weeks on a plan and for a time it seemed as if the General Assembly might actually adjourn without any action on coal ash. But in the waning hours of this year’s session, all sides finally struck a compromise that will begin removing coal ash from unlined pits across the state.
Of course, the budget dominated headlines for a large part of session, especially as the beginning of a new fiscal year on July 1 came and went without much progress on budgetary adjustments. The budget approved by the General Assembly in 2013 remained in place, so there was no threat of a government shutdown, but in even-numbered years lawmakers return to Raleigh to make course corrections to the state’s two-year spending plan.
Debate over the budget this year became heated at times, with GOP leaders in the Senate and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory publicly sparring over that chamber’s proposal. In fact, McCrory even threatened to veto the Senate’s budget at one point during the process.
It’s not often you see leaders from the same party engage in such public disagreements, but sometimes when one party controls both the legislative and executive branches it can reveal interesting turf battles and personality clashes. In the end, a deal was reached and a budget bill was sent to the governor on Aug. 2, a month after their original deadline.
Legislative leaders also hoped to take up Medicaid reform during this year’s session, but those ambitions proved too lofty and reform discussions were shelved for a later date.
With session finally over, lawmakers can return to their districts and hit the campaign trail in advance of this November’s election, where all 170 seats in the General Assembly will be on the ballot.
As the debate shifts from the legislative building in Raleigh to campaign stops across the state, it will now be up to the voters to determine how legislative leaders handled their work this session and if the policies enacted will prove popular with North Carolinians.
That’s the beauty of our democracy. Lawmakers can pass bills and debate the important issues facing our state, but it’s ultimately up to the voters to decide which direction to move North Carolina.
Brent Laurenz is executive director of the N.C. Center for Voter Education and a contributor to TheVoterUpdate.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.