North Carolina budget leaders debate nonmonetary budget provisions

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House budget writers were still finalizing North Carolina's budget, voting Tuesday on more than 40 amendments to the two-year sending plan.

Appropriations leaders made a slew of technical changes, but they also agreed to amendments that would secure the current Medicaid reimbursement rate for prescription drugs, raise cost-of-living Social Security rates for assisted living residents, create a council to oversee the impact of golfing in the state, and expand drug rehabilitation programs in jails.

Two amendments on Tuesday triggered debate over transparency and privacy as lawmakers inserted controversial nonmonetary provisions into the bill.

State Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, filed an amendment to revive a previously failed change that would direct the state treasurer to transfer money related to the administration of the state health benefit plan to the state controller's office. Cleveland said the provisions would ensure more transparency in the treasurer's office.

Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus, who originally filed an amendment in the General Government Appropriations Committee to remove the provision, said it would hinder the efficiency of the treasurer's office and it could conflict with federal law.

“I did not feel that we ought to be putting the treasurer under the controller nor the controller under the treasurer,” Pittman said. “I think they should be considered independent officers of the state, and neither one should be placed under the other.”

Cleveland said he didn't have any issue with the treasurer's performance, and State Treasurer Dale Folwell “is one of the best treasurers,” but he wants more access to the office's finances.

“I need to understand what is going on budget-wise with the monies that we, the General Assembly, control, and when I ask questions, I get vague answers,” Cleveland said. “I need the ability to be correct on what I'm doing.”

Currently, the treasurer's office can transfer taxpayer dollars from the investment fund and other benefit-related funds and deposit them directly into its budget, fiscal analysts said. The provision would require some of the funds that offset the office's operations to be deposited as nontax revenue into the general fund. The amendment failed 37-33.

Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, added a provision that would allow the State Bureau of Investigation to launch a license plate reader system on the state's roads.

Faircloth said license plate readers would help the law enforcement agency combat human trafficking. Some lawmakers fear the readers could violate privacy, but Faircloth said there would be checks and balances within the agency. Faircloth, however, does not know how much the system will cost.

Legislative supporters of the readers have made unsuccessful attempts to pass similar bills. The appropriations committee approved Faircloth's amendment Tuesday.

North Carolina is now more than 40 days into the new fiscal year.

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