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Governor Pat McCrory said this week he’d be open to the idea of Medicaid expansion, if the Obama administration will allow North Carolina to craft its own state-specific plan under the Affordable Care Act.

Legislative leaders in House and Senate have been far more skeptical.

Sen. Ralph Hise, co-chair of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services, has called expansion “impossible” at this point.

But Sen. Josh Stein says it would be “incomprehensible” for the Republican-controlled legislature to turn its back on Medicaid expansion dollars again.

“Six billion dollars and 30,000 jobs we would have had if we had taken it two years ago,” explained Stein. “Well, we didn’t. We are where we are today. They made the bad decision, but they can rectify that tomorrow.”

Earlier this week, Brad Wilson, President and CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield, also made the case for expansion at 13th Annual Economic Forecast Forum. Wilson told the audience the state has lost $1.1 billion by not expanding Medicaid.

Sen. Stein appears this weekend on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views to discuss the chances for expansion in a tight budget year, as we preview the upcoming “long” legislative session. Click below for a preview of Stein’s radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon.

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North Carolina is poised to begin issuing permits to allow hydraulic fracturing later this year.

Supporters of shale gas exploration say it will bring much needed jobs to North Carolina. But it could also bring some real headaches for  local municipalities and the state Department of Transportation.

A new report by the DOT projects that more than 1,600 trucks could be required for a single fracking site putting a tremendous strain on bridges and roadways.

Reporter John Murawski writes in today’s News & Observer:

roadworriesThe department is projecting nearly $11 million in maintenance and repairs in one example cited to the state legislature in an agency study of traffic impacts resulting from shale gas drilling.

The DOT study, dated Dec. 31, requests changes in state law to make it easier to require private industry to repair public roads damaged during fracking operations.

“The volume of traffic can and does cause significant damage to secondary roads over a relatively short period of time,” the report says. “The majority of this traffic occurs over a period of six weeks.”

Fracking remains under moratorium in North Carolina, but the first drilling permits could be issued as early as April.

Each drill site will require 1,290 to 1,650 trucks, DOT estimates, based on the experience with fracking in Bradford County, Pa.

Will lawmakers respond and make the fracking industry cover the costs of those repairs?  Stay tuned. The NC General Assembly convenes next week for its 2015 session.

To read the full article in Raleigh’s News & Observer, click here.

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Rep. Frank Iler (R-Brunswick) told members of his local school board this week that his top goals for the upcoming legislation session will be to give all teachers a $2,000 raise, and convince his colleagues to restore funding for the North Carolina Teaching Fellows program.

Here’s more from the Wilmington Star-News:

While the General Assembly has promised new teachers a $2,000 raise in 2015-2016, resulting in a starting salary of $35,000, Iler supports giving all teachers the $2,000 raiilerse. To do this, the state will need to find more than $200 million in the 2015-2016 budget. Iler said he will advocate for the increase in teacher compensation despite the price tag.

“Teachers are the heart of the classroom,” Iler said. “They are the ones who are imparting knowledge to our children. We’ve got to take care of them and keep the best in Brunswick County and North Carolina.”

Iler also supports reinstating the Teaching Fellows program, which awarded $28,000 scholarships to North Carolina high school seniors who qualified and promised to teach in the state for at least four years. If fully phased in, the program will cost $12 million a year. Iler said the gains exceed the cost as the state gets highly qualified teachers and the program provides the means for teachers, who could not have gone to college, to attain degrees.

The pledge to help improve teacher retention and recruitment comes as Brunswick County Schools experienced a 15 percent teacher turnover rate (120 teachers) in 2013-14, above the state average.

The Republican-controlled legislature eliminated funding for Teaching Fellows in 2012. The nationally-recognized program offered partial scholarships to gifted high school students who agreed to teach four years in North Carolina’s public schools.

Still, Iler’s biggest hurdle may not be simply winning over his colleagues – it may be finding adequate funding in the state budget. Revenue collections at the end of the year were running $190 million below expectations.

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While much has been made this week of Republicans taking the reins on Capitol Hill, there was perhaps no speech more heartfelt Tuesday than that of Rep. G.K. Butterfield, who was sworn in as the 24th Chair of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC).

Butterfield (NC-01) told his colleagues it was imperative that during the 114th Congress, the CBC work to reduce poverty, create educational opportunities, restore section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,  and make criminal justice reform a centerpiece of their work.

Here’s an excerpt from his remarks:

As we stand here now on the dawn of a new Congress, the 114th Congress, we must tell the full story – for many Black Americans, they are not even close to realizing the American dream. Depending on where they live, an economic depression hangs over their head, and it is burdening their potential and the potential of their children. Black America is in a state of emergency today as it was at the turn of the century!

My message to those across the country who are tired of business as usual and for those who want to hold our country accountable for treating you with disrespect, I hear you. The CBC hears you. America hears you. The world hears you. That is why the theme today is so important: “Learn from our past, but boldly confront an uncertain future.”

The CBC was formed in 1971 because its founders understood that Black lives matter. Black boys matter. Black girls matter. The Black family matters. The Black church matters. Black America in its totality matters. In 2015, we are still fighting generations of discrimination. We are fighting generations of indifference on the part of those in power. The statistics tell the story:

• Twenty-five percent of black households live below the poverty line as compared to eight percent for white households.
• One out of three black children lives in poverty.
• African Americans are twice as likely as whites to be unemployed.
• African Americans earn $13,000 less per year than their white counterparts.
• The unemployment rate of African Americans has consistently been twice as high as for whites over the last 50 years.
• For every $100 in wealth of a white household, the black household only has $6 in wealth.

What is this if it’s not an emergency?

America is not working for many African Americans and we, as the Congressional Black Caucus, have an obligation to fight harder and smarter in the next Congress to help repair the damage.

Watch the full speech here:

 

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mercedesMultiple published reports indicate that Mercedes-Benz will select Georgia over North Carolina this afternoon for the relocation of its corporate headquarters.

The Atlanta Business Chronicle reports:

Mercedez-Benz will announce plans today to relocate its U.S. headquarters to Atlanta — a move that would create 1,000 jobs.

The relocation of the German luxury automaker would be the biggest economic development coup for metro Atlanta since landing United Parcel Service of America (UPS) in 1991.

On Monday, Governor Pat McCrory told business leaders the General Assembly must make it a priority to give his administration a strategic incentives fund to recruit businesses.

“I cannot be at the negotiating table without knowing what we have in North Carolina to negotiate with,” said McCrory at the Economic Forecast Forum. “I am talking with major job creators right now, and I need these tools.”

Last year, House members rejected a $20 million Job Catalyst fund to be administered solely by North Carolina’s  Commerce Secretary saying that it lacked accountability.

Mercedes, which will make its formal announcement at 3:00pm, was reportedly offered $40 million to $50 million in incentives to relocate to the Atlanta area.