Session opens with lots on the to-do list

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All the banging of gavels (and spoons on pots) this week signaled that the N.C. General Assembly’s “short session” officially has begun.

The short session once held to a fairly traditional agenda – sweat through a few steamy weeks on Jones Street, tidy up the state’s biennial budget, then hustle home to campaign for re-election.

The brevity left the process some time ago, when hundred-million-dollar revenue shortfalls began cluttering up the works. This year is no exception. Gov. Pat McCrory, budget director Art Pope and Republican legislative leaders seem likely to patch a $455 million deficit by dipping into unspent money in reserves. But even with that chunk behind them, some fairly big issues remain on the table:

  • Teachers’ raises. McCrory and legislative leaders have declared this a priority for the session. McCrory rolled out a plan last week that called for a 2 percent pay increase for most teachers in North Carolina. But legislative leaders were noticeably missing at McCrory’s press conference. Will the governor find friends in the N.C. House and N.C. Senate?
  • Coal ash spill cleanup. The threat to North Carolina’s drinking water supply has triggered so many alarms that the state can’t afford to put off a remedy until 2015. Can the legislature hold Duke Energy’s feet to the fire on this and still stay friendly to business and industry?
  • The U.S. Senate race. This isn’t normally a General Assembly issue, but these aren’t normal times. N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis will face U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan in the fall election. Will Tillis stay on course with a conservative Republican agenda that drew criticism from all over the country in 2013? Or will he look for soft-ball opportunities to appeal to more moderate voters?

All of the above could fill the days and weeks of a long session and then some. How lawmakers will manage to fit it all into six weeks or so will be an interesting spectator sport.

Because one element of the short session hasn’t changed – they still have to hustle home to campaign for re-election.