The N.C. General Assembly reconvenes today with a new Republican leadership ready to tackle a $3.7 budget shortfall and a number of contentious issues that could have a direct impact on students.
This will be the first Republican-controlled state legislature since 1898, which could mean a constant tug-of-war between the state’s Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue and the GOP leadership.
Among the issues the N.C. General Assembly will address:
Budget: The state is facing a $3.7 budget shortfall, which could mean an up to 15 percent budget reduction for the UNC system. University leaders plan to lay off employees and scale back academic programs to combat the budget reduction.
Tuition: The N.C. General Assembly will approve universities’ tuition increase requests this session. The legislature could approve a supplementary tuition increase during the summer, like last summer’s optional $750 increase.
Abortion: Incoming Speaker Thom Tillis and other Republicans announced plans to introduce “right to know” legislation to inform women of alternatives to abortion and the potential risks involved with the procedure.
Financial Aid: Legislators will vote on a plan to consolidate some sources of grants. They might also tackle the state’s depleting source of financial aid grants — the escheats fund, which is expected to be unusable in the next two years.
ABC Privatization: Republican legislators are expected to look into privatizing alcohol sales, which have been controlled by the state since 1937. Privatization could change alcohol prices. Gov. Bev Perdue and many legislators are strongly against the idea.
Incoming Speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, will be championing Republicans’ goals to minimize government involvement and cut spending.
“My goal as a leader for as long as I would be speaker is to remind everybody that there’s a lot of things that government could do,” Tillis said.
“The real question is whether government should do it.”
To make up for the state’s deficit, legislators plan to cut spending statewide. Cuts of about 15 percent, or $405 million, are projected for the UNC system.
Tillis, a native of Florida, does not have ties to the UNC system, but he said that would not influence the decision-making process.
“The task we have ahead of us is to get a budget in line with the real revenue that we have,” Tillis said.
Legislators will work with recipients of state funding to make sure that funding is scaled back in a manageable way for both the state and its beneficiaries, Tillis said.
“Our game plan is a fairly straightforward one,” he said. “This isn’t about the legislature fighting with the leadership in the government agencies.”
Tillis has received support from both Republicans and Democrats for his decision making and leadership.
“I was always impressed with his ability to analyze situations and his efforts to compromise,” said Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Haywood. “Clearly he is a very capable leader.”
Before he began serving full-time as a state representative in 2009, Tillis was a management consulting executive at IBM and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
“Based on his background, he’s more qualified to oversee the formation of the state budget than his predecessors were,” said John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in North Carolina.
Tillis said his interest in protecting and promoting the UNC system is evidenced by his appointment of Bill Daughtridge as his senior policy advisor.
Daughtridge is a former state representative and a current member of the UNC-system Board of Governors.
Both Daughtridge and Tillis share similar opinions about minimizing the role of government.
Once legislators decide how much funding the UNC system will lose, they will allow individual universities to decide what areas to cut, Daughtridge said.
“We’re not trying to micromanage,” he said.
But Republicans and Democrats do not agree on everything heading into this legislative session.
“There will be some debate on the revenue side,” Hood said.
Tillis’ priority — above university funding — is tax cuts, said Rep. Joe Hackney, D-Orange. Hackney preceded Tillis as speaker of the House.
“He’ll do a good job in terms of the administration of the office, but of course I have strong differences with his policies,” Hackney said.
Republicans and Democrats must work together to balance the budget and minimize the impacts of the budget cuts, Rapp said.
“Agree where we can agree, but when we disagree, to disagree agreeably,” he said.
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