Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Former House Speaker tried to strong-arm DEQ over chemicals in Jordan Lake

Harold Brubaker, the former Republican House Speaker turned powerful lobbyist, tried to ram through a scientifically dubious cleanup project for Jordan Lake and allegedly used hurricane relief funding as leverage, according to emails obtained by NCPW under the Open Records law.

Brubaker’s client, SePro, proposes using chemical treatments — the effectiveness of which has been questioned in scientific journals, by the EPA and DEQ — to clean up algae in Jordan Lake.

Last winter, Brubaker reportedly told then-DEQ Chief Deputy John Evans that if the agency didn’t sign a $1.3 million contract with Sepro, “the GA [General Assembly] would refuse to support hurricane funding.”

Evans recalled that conversation with Brubaker in an email dated Dec. 6, 2016, which he sent to six DEQ colleagues. The email reads: [Read more…]

2. Republicans advance education budget over strong Democratic objections
GOP leaders deflect criticism, promise to hear amendments next week

A key House committee signed off on the chamber’s public school budget report Thursday, despite Democrats’ complaints that they had only just received the details of that multi-billion dollar spending plan that morning.

“We’re looking at a $17.5 billion budget that we’ve seen for the first time today and we’re going to vote on it in three hours,” said Rep. Henry “Mickey” Michaux, a veteran House Democrat from Durham, Thursday morning. “No, hell no.” [Read more...]

***Bonus budget reads:

3. NC Treasurer: Court’s ruling in favor of retired workers, teachers could have ‘severe’ implications

North Carolina Treasurer Dale Folwell warned legislators Friday that the state may be on the hook to pay more than $100 million to retired workers and teachers if a judge’s ruling stands that they were wrongfully required to pay heath insurance premiums.

“It is my duty as North Carolina State Treasurer to call your attention to a matter that may have severe financial and practical implications for the State of North Carolina,” the letter states.

Retired teachers and state employees, including former Chief Justice I. Beverly Lake, filed suit in Gaston County Superior Court in April 2012. The lawsuit became class certified and now exceeds 220,000 retirees, according to Folwell’s letter — all of whom will be entitled to premium-free health insurance for the duration of their retirement, according to a court order also issued last week.

Judge Edwin Wilson Jr. ruled that retirement health benefits are contractual and that the defendants breached that contract when class members began to be charged premiums for standard health insurance in Sept. 2011. [Read more…]

4. The most shameful thing about the Senate budget

The most shameful thing about the disastrous budget passed by the Senate two weeks ago is not the vindictive 3:00 a.m. budget cuts to education programs in Democrats’ districts.

It’s not the paltry raise given to state workers after years of neglect or the cruel refusal to give state retirees any cost of living increase at all.

It’s not the dozens of controversial policy provisions snuck into the 362-page budget bill with no debate or discussion that cuts food benefits to 133,000 people, bans new wind farms, ends the certificate of need process for health care facilities, creates education savings accounts, and more.

It’s not even the latest installment of the Senate’s Robin Hood in reverse tax scheme that cuts taxes again on the wealthy and corporations, costing the state more than $850 million that the General Assembly’s own staff says will lead to a significant budget shortfall in a few years.

It is the decision in a year of a large budget surplus to make it more likely that thousands of at-risk children in North Carolina will struggle in their lifetimes.[Read more…]

5The right-wing house of cards shudders
Court setbacks, public opinion, progressive activism and Trump bode ill for NC conservatives

Professor Rick Hasen of the University of California, Irvine School of Law is a nationally recognized Supreme Court watcher and elections law expert. Yesterday on his highly-trafficked Election Law Blog, Hasen posted a fascinating 13-point take of Monday morning’s U.S. Supreme Court decision striking down North Carolina’s hyper-gerrymandered 2011 congressional district map. After sifting through Justice Elena Kagan’s lengthy opinion and even some important footnotes, Hasen said this:

“9. Holy cow this is a big deal. It means that race and party are not really discrete categories and that discriminating on the basis of party in places of conjoined polarization is equivalent, at least sometimes, to making race the predominant factor in redistricting. This will lead to many more successful racial gerrymandering cases in the American South and elsewhere, and allow these cases to substitute for (so far unsuccessful) partisan gerrymandering claims involving some of these districts.”

After noting the wondrous fact that Justice Clarence Thomas signed on to Kagan’s opinion and that more gerrymandering cases from North Carolina are on their way up through the federal courts, Hasen added this as his final point: [Read more…]

***Bonus read: Assessing the Supreme Court’s gerrymandering decision

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