RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - Five other items that got attention Wednesday as the House finance and appropriations committees recommended budget adjustments for the 2014-15 fiscal year:
FREE FERRIES: Three years after the General Assembly ordered new or higher tolls on most ferry routes, the House budget now would ban the fees altogether. In 2011, the Republican-led legislature directed the Department of Transportation to put tolls on two free routes and increase them for three other routes already with tolls. But the action was never quite implemented due to an executive order, opposition from coastal residents and legislative delays. Last year, the budget law said the Board of Transportation could toll any of the seven routes and retain proceeds to buy replacement ferry vessels. The current House budget deletes the toll language, puts aside $6.2 million for new ferry system improvements and expands DOT’s ability to use sponsorships and advertising to generate funds. The Senate budget contains no such changes.
FILM FIGHT: The House Finance Committee by a 16-20 vote rejected an amendment by Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, that would have added a two-year extension of the current tax credit for film, TV and video productions set to expire at the end of this year. The amendment would have scaled back the value of the credit to address concerns by lawmakers that the current one is too expensive - the state spent more than $83 million on the credit in 2012. Some legislators are pushing to retain the current credit or develop a new incentive they say will keep the state as a hub for movies and TV series. But House Minority Whip Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, said that money set aside for film credits could pay for additional teachers. A Senate bill would replace the credit with a cash grant program. But one North Carolina film executive said the Senate idea is not good enough and blamed House Republican leaders for derailing Davis’ amendment. “Unless new legislation is generated and approved in the coming hours, it’s clear we are not welcome to invest our company’s money, time and talent here any longer,” said EUE/Screen Gems Studios Executive Vice President Bill Vassar.
HIGHER FEES, REFINANCED DEBT: Like the Senate version, the House budget proposes raising fees on Alcoholic Beverage Control renewal permits and commercial fishing licenses. Overall, the bill would generate nearly $14 million in additional fees annually. The budgets for both chambers also would use $15.4 million previously-approved debt to build a new western North Carolina crime lab, but the House version would earmark $42.3 million to renovate the high-rise Albemarle Building in the Raleigh state government complex.
JEANETTE’S PIER: The state would sell an Outer Banks landmark in a provision that would give up what’s commonly known as Jeanette’s Pier. The Nags Head pier originally opened in the 1930s but it was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Isabel in 2003. The state aquarium society bought the property and gave it to the state. The General Assembly in 2009 approved a bill to locate $25 million to rebuild the pier in concrete and other facilities to promote educational and fishing programs. The provision directs the Department of Administration to sell the pier at fair market value and give net proceeds to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund. Local governments that helped pay for land and the pier’s refurbishment would be reimbursed from the sale.
LICENSE PLATES: Motorists would get two more options beyond the conventional Wright brothers “First in Flight” theme when issued a regular North Carolina vehicle license plate. The bill would allow most automobile owners to also choose one of two “First in Freedom” plates. One motif highlights the Mecklenburg Declaration of 1775, which called for independence from British rule, while the other identifies the Halifax Resolves of 1776, a resolution that marked the first American colony to officially urge independence from Britain. The dates of both events are etched on the North Carolina state flag.
Associated Press writer Katelyn Ferral contributed to this report.