Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. The Right wages class warfare in Washington
Will Burr and Tillis really vote for this?

For much of the 20th Century, one of the labels that American politicians of a progressive bent feared most was the accusation that they were engaging in “class warfare.” Even for many on the left, the concept of class warfare – that is, of attempting to motivate and mobilize people of low and/or modest income to rise up against the wealthy – was widely frowned upon as antithetical to the nation’s longstanding tradition as a broadly middle class (or even class free) society. Forty years ago, the iconic liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith dismissed the idea of waging class warfare against the rich in America as “uncouth.”

Today, sadly, this aversion to class warfare seems quaint – and not because the left got over its queasiness about the subject. In 21st century America (a nation in which three individuals own more than the bottom half of the country combined), class war has been declared and is being waged – often in blitzkrieg form – by the wealthy and the politicians they control in Washington and in dozens of state capitals. [Read more…]

2. Legislators consider abolishing teacher salary schedule as they study NC school funding labyrinth

A pivotal legislative task force may be just beginning its dive into North Carolina’s school funding maze, but lawmakers’ hints that they may abolish the state’s teacher salary schedule or other state-set funding allocations is already spurring criticism from local district advocates.

Talk of nixing a state-set pay scale emerged this year when lawmakers took on a revamp of school principal pay, and it’s resurfaced multiple times in the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform’s first meetings in November.

Yet local district leaders and their advocates in Raleigh say the proposal may only exacerbate the state’s looming pay disparities between wealthy and poor counties, spur employment lawsuits and complicate matters for local school boards. [Read more…]

3. Updated maps: Where judges land in judicial redistricting bill to be considered by Senate

Few issues in the North Carolina’s contentious policy wars have been more consistently front and center during the past year than the future of the state judiciary.

The battle was first joined during a series of special legislative sessions that were called  after the 2016 election and has continued to the present day.

In September, during yet another special session and in anticipation of its consideration by the House Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting, NC Policy Watch prepared and analyzed the effects of a proposed judicial redistricting bill (House Bill 717) and the new maps it would have enacted.

Since that time, however, the House has passed a new version of HB 717 containing different maps that the Senate is expected to consider in January. Indeed, some Senators have already considered the maps in the latest version of HB 717 without access to full information about which judges and counties would be affected by the redrawing of judicial and prosecutorial districts. [Read more…]

4. UNC Board of Trustees face growing pressure to remove Silent Sam
The controversy over “Silent Sam,” the Confederate monument on UNC’s Chapel Hill campus, has been raging for decades. But it appears to be approaching a critical point this year as students, faculty, staff and community members push for removal of the statue in the wake of deadly white supremacist violence at the University of Virginia.

At a rally on campus Tuesday and a UNC Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, those who oppose the statue again called for its removal and decried the recently revealed UNC Police operation that infiltrated the protest movement using an undercover officer.

UNC History Professor William Sturkey spoke at a rally on campus Tuesday, saying the undercover operation undercut the central values of the university. [Read more…]

5. Opponents, supporters turn out in force over air permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The deadline for public comment on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s air permit is Monday, Nov. 20:

At Garysburg Town Hall, 60 or so people had arranged themselves as if at a wedding, where the families of the bride and groom sit on opposite sides of the aisle. Already, the marriage was doomed.

“Is this the reasonable side?” asked a man named Tom Betts, as he took his seat. The vice-chairman of the Nash County Development Commission and a regular at these meetings, had driven 45 miles to support the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s application for an air quality permit. The NC Department of Environmental Quality was holding a public hearing on the permit, which would regulate emissions from a compressor station in Pleasant Hill, in Northampton County near the Virginia border. [Read more…]

*** Bonus environmental read:Neutering nuisance laws in North Carolina ***

Upcoming event on Nov. 29: Individual tickets now available for Spotlight on Journalism – a benefit for NC Policy Watch

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. An ominous evening for Republicans in North Carolina

That loud sound you heard Tuesday night was Republicans in North Carolina gulping nervously as the election returns from across the state and across the country came in.

In virtually every race that mattered, the Republicans lost and in many cases lost resoundingly.  National pundits were pontificating that Republican Ed Gillespie was pulling close to Democrat Ralph Northam in the governor’s race in Virginia thanks to Gillespie’s decision to run on issues right of Donald Trump’s playbook, crime, gangs, fear of immigrants, preservation of confederate monuments, etc.

The voters apparently didn’t care much for it. Northam won handily—by almost nine percent—and that wasn’t even the biggest story in Virginia’s election.

With a few recounts pending, Democrats appear to have completely erased the Republican 66-32 margin in the House of Delegates, making it the largest victory by Democrats in Virginia legislative races since 1899. [Read more….]

2. Fixing our public schools with blinders on
NC lawmakers to examine everything about education funding…except how much we spend

The instinct to be frugal when it comes to how much government spends on public structures and services is not an unhealthy one. Whatever one’s views on the great ideological debates of our day, there can be no denying that waste, fraud and abuse will always be a constant problem for all large human institutions. If you have any doubts, I’ve got some surplus $640 toilet seats from the Pentagon for you to check out.

This is undoubtedly the case when it comes to public schools. Sometimes waste and inefficiency are the results of our failure to invest enough up front – such as when leaky windows and decrepit HVAC systems plague cheaply constructed schools with big and unnecessary utility bills or when our failure to pay teachers adequate salaries leads to a constant churn in school staffing. [Read more….]

3. Here to stay? Despite poor scores, critics, for-profit virtual charter school seeks blessing from state officials

The head of a controversial virtual charter school wants North Carolina lawmakers to funnel more cash into the program and clear operations beyond the 2019 sunset of its four-year pilot program, despite lagging test scores and a host of concerns about similar programs nationwide.

“There are hundreds and thousands of kids and teachers that will benefit from our model,” Nathan Currie, superintendent at N.C. Connections Academy, told a committee of influential state lawmakers Tuesday, one day after making a similar pitch to a state charter school oversight panel.

Legislators took no action Tuesday, although the committee may take up the pilot program at an undetermined point in the future, Rep. Linda Johnson, a Cabarrus County Republican and the committee’s co-chair, said. [Read more….]

4. At UNC, badly divided Board of Governors struggles to find common ground on some basic issues

At last week’s meeting of the full UNC Board of Governors, the seeds of the contentious board’s next major conflict began to sprout.

The point of tension: a proposal for the Board of Governors to hire its own dedicated staff members.

No UNC staffers currently report directly to the board. Instead, existing General Administration staff help the board as part of their other duties. But an increasingly vocal faction of the board, emboldened by a recently passed state budget provision allowing them to hire their own staff, say it’s time to do so.

Other members of the board – including its chair – say doing so would undercut UNC President Margaret Spellings, who currently oversees the General Administration staff handling that work. Spellings has repeatedly butted heads with an emerging, more conservative wing of the board and many members worry that a separate staff will further isolate Spellings and further divide an already fractious board. [Read more….]

5. A DEQ mystery: Where in the world is Donald van der Vaart?

Donald van der Vaart and John Evans, formerly the top two officials at the NC Department of Environmental Quality under Gov. Pat McCrory, have been absent from their offices, and their job status is uncertain, sources have told Policy Watch.

Van der Vaart, who earns $98,000 a year, and Evans, whose annual salary is nearly $93,000, work as section chiefs in the Division of Air Quality, in technical services and ambient monitoring, respectively. They are still listed in the online employee directory. However, their individual email replies state that each is out of the office, with no information regarding a return date. They did not respond to messages left on their voicemail seeking comment.

A DEQ spokesperson could not confirm, deny nor comment on their job status, citing state personnel laws. The governor’s communications office did not return calls seeking comment. [Read more….]

*** Bonus Read: Merit selection still cloaked in secrecy as Senate committee takes on ‘judicial reform’


Study: Yes, your vote really can make a difference in Tuesday’s elections (Audio)

Bob Hall

If you think your vote won’t matter in tomorrow’s local elections and are planning on staying home, think again.

A recent study from the nonpartisan voting rights group Democracy North Carolina shows that in a surprising number of cases a handful of votes can determine who wins or loses, especially in odd- year municipal elections.

Consider this, in 2015 researchers identified 69 cities in our state where the mayor or a town council member won their respective election by five or fewer votes.

Democracy North Carolina’s Bob Hall joined Policy Watch over the weekend to discuss the findings. Click below to listen to Hall’s radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon.

For more information on Tuesday’s elections, Common Cause offers an excellent 2017 NC Voter guide including where to find your Election Day polling place.


The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Worried about environmental damage, Pleasant Garden residents gear up to fight a proposed granite mine

Gerald Hall stood in his farm field, where the collards nearly reached his knees. On about three and a half acres between them, Hall and one of his brothers grow myriad greens, like Swiss chard and kale, and in the summer, warm-weather crops, such as tomatoes and peppers, all headed to restaurant and local groceries, including Deep Roots co-op in nearby Greensboro.

Hall, known around these parts as the Egg Man, also raises laying hens, whose eggs he packages by hand and then sells wholesale or by the dozen from a small shed a few steps from his house.

“I used to work in paving,” Hall said of his former job as asphalt manager for the City of Greensboro. “In the summer, we’d work all night. And the trucks would be hauling rock and asphalt all night long.”

Just when Hall thought he had left behind the stench of asphalt for the fresh country air, now he and his neighbors are battling a proposed granite quarry, that, if built, would abut his family’s 80-year-old farm in Pleasant Garden. Just 100 feet from Hall’s property, the trucks would fill their beds with rock that earlier had been blasted from an open pit in the earth, then haul it away — at times, all night long. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: An epic hearing over a proposed granite mine leads to a pivotal vote by Guilford County Commissioners

2. Legislators begin “heavy lift” of examining funding structure of North Carolina schools

Craig Horn knows many education advocates want the school finance task force he co-chairs to weigh whether North Carolina spends enough on its public schools.

But the Union County Republican, an influential K-12 budget writer, wasted little time in reaffirming Wednesday that he considers the state’s spending levels to be an altogether separate discussion.

“Some people have taken us to task for this,” Horn said. “But adequacy is a different issue. This is an issue of what funds we have, and how they’re distributed. Because, regardless of how much money we have, if we’re not distributing it properly and for the benefit of students, then we’re wasting money.”

Horn’s comments came with legislators convening the first meeting of a pivotal joint chamber panel that, over the next year or more, is expected to overhaul North Carolina’s labyrinthine school funding system. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: With Robeson elementary mulling closure, N.C.’s Innovative School District left with no schools to take over?

3. Deception and bad faith at UNC
The Board of Governors is not just pushing the Right’s agenda, it’s intentionally withholding information from the public

[Note: This story has been updated — see below.] That there is a war underway for the heart and soul of higher education in North Carolina comes as no surprise to anyone who follows the state policy debate. For years now, North Carolina’s conservative think tanks and politicians have, along with the people who fund them, been waging a relentless effort to seize control of what they, rather bizarrely when you think about it for a minute, view as a bastion of the radical left.

Whether they’re firing able and honorable public servants like Tom Ross, railing against non-traditional instructors and curricula, attacking rules designed to promote equality for women, racial minorities and LGBTQ people, touting a supposed commitment to “free speech” in order to silence protesters who would challenge voices of hate and exclusion, defunding shoestring efforts at law schools designed to enforce civil rights laws and combat poverty, or just simply slashing funding and jacking up tuition and fees, conservative ideologues have, as the saying goes, “an agenda.” [Read more…]

4. UNC speech policy takes final steps to passage

The UNC Board of Governors’ Committee on Governance passed a controversial university speech policy Thursday in a standing-room-only meeting.

A controversial university speech policy took a crucial step toward becoming a reality Thursday, passing the UNC Board of Governors’ committee on governance unanimously.

The committee on governance met in Chapel Hill Thursday, part of the the first of two full-day meetings for the full board. The policy will need to be reviewed and passed by the board at its next meeting.

“I feel like we have a consensus free speech policy that will be a benefit to the university,” said Governance Committee Chairman Steve Long.

The committee did spend weeks reaching out to students, faculty and staff at the university – and the latest draft policy does reflect some concessions to their concerns. But students, faculty and staff members said Thursday they do not think there is a need for the policy. [Read more…]

*** Bonus read: UNC Board of Governors discuss hiring own employees

5. Why are legislative leaders so afraid of fairer elections?

The latest news from the federal courts about the unconstitutional racially gerrymandered General Assembly districts and the response to it from legislative leaders makes one thing clearer than ever.

The folks in charge of the House and Senate are terribly afraid of what will happen if our elections are fairer, if every district is not gerrymandered by race and partisan considerations to all but guarantee that their supermajorities will remain in place, and if the voters have a slightly better chance at electing who they want instead of having their representatives chosen for them.

That’s the only conclusion you can draw from the bitter reaction from legislative leaders to their latest setback in the courts—that they are scared—as a three judge panel brushed aside lawmakers’ objections and hired an outside expert to redraw several districts lawmakers drew after their original maps were struck down as unconstitutional because of the role race played in their development. [Read more…]

*** Bonus reads:

Commentary, News

Despite Trump ‘sabotage’ efforts, financial help is available for North Carolinians signing up for Affordable Care Act coverage (video)

Millions of people across the country and in North Carolina now have the chance to sign up for health care coverage again as the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act opened this week.

But thanks to the Trump Administration, this year’s enrollment period lasts only half as long as previous years. Trump has also slashed funding for outreach and advertising, and implied that the administration may not enforce the individual mandate.

Brendan Riley, policy analyst with the NC Justice Center’s Health Advocacy Project, joins us this week on Policy Watch’s News and Views to clear-up some of the confusion.

Riley says it’s critical North Carolinians know that despite ACA repeal efforts in Washington, financial assistance on the Marketplace will be available and will increase to keep up with any increases in premiums.

For a preview of our weekend radio interview with Riley, click below.

Open enrollment runs from November 1 to December 15. Consumers can apply and shop for plans online at or by calling 1-800-318-2596.