News

Missed opportunities in the state budget (w/video)

Coming-up this weekend on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, we hear from Rick Glazier, executive director of the NC Justice Center on missed opportunities in the 2017-19 state budget. For a preview of our radio interview, click below:

The NC Budget & Tax Center also outlined several of the missed opportunities in a new brief they released this week. Here’s an excerpt of from that report on inadequate investments in our public schools.

• Classroom Teachers: The new budget does not provide any of the estimated $293 million needed by schools to meet the state-mandated class size reduction requirements – creating an unfunded mandate that passes the buck down to local communities.

• Classroom Supplies and Materials: Lawmakers provide no additional state funding for classroom materials and instructional supplies; funding is around half its peak 2009 investment level when adjusted for inflation. Rather than increase state funding for classroom supplies and instructional material, lawmakers recently reinstated a deduction into the tax code for up to $250 that teachers can claim, for state income tax purposes, for out-of-pocket expenses incurred to pay for classroom supplies.

• Textbooks: One-time state funding for textbooks and digital learning materials in the budget leaves state funding per student for this area of the public schools budget at nearly half of peak 2010 spending when adjusted for inflation.

• Professional Development: No state funding is provided and dedicated solely for professional development for classroom teachers and school leaders. Lawmakers have not included state funding for this important area of public schools for years, reflecting a lack of state support for the development of teachers and educators who are tasked with educating nearly 1.5 million students.

Read the full BTC report here.

News, public health

As Congress returns to work, Senate health care bill faces uncertain future

Members of Congress return from their July 4th recess this week with no apparent head-way on the Senate’s Better Care Reconciliation Act.

If you missed it over the weekend on Policy Watch’s News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon, Brendan Riley with the Justice Center’s Health Advocacy Project explains in clear terms why Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is struggling to find the votes needed to pass their bill to replace the Affordable Care Act. (Click below to hear the full radio interview.)


And with just three weeks until Congress’ August recess, President Trump tweeted Monday he cannot imagine they would dare to leave Washington without ‘a beautiful new HealthCare bill fully approved and ready to go.’

Environment, News, Voting

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Is North Carolina stuck in an abusive relationship?
Behavior of state leaders, state policy community raise warning flags

The last seven years in North Carolina politics and policy have been extraordinary. In a very short period of time, a once moderate state has been transformed into a kind of laboratory for far right policies and a testing ground for what we are coming to know now as Trumpism. On issue after issue, state legislative leaders have aggressively pursued an ultra-conservative agenda that seeks to radically remake the state’s social contract.

What’s more, this has not been a happy or buoyant transformation. Rather than being predicated on a positive or hopeful new vision of society, the conservative revolution in North Carolina has mostly been a counter-revolution. Even today, a point at which they enjoy veto-proof majorities and can realistically contemplate an entire decade in power, conservative legislative leaders premise most of their actions and policies more on an angry rejection of past supposed transgressions by Democrats than a coherent articulation of what they want to build. [Read more….]

2. School districts prepare for another year of class size controversy

When North Carolina legislators pushed through their $23 billion budget plan in June, it included one key, last-minute insertion in a separate technical corrections bill.

State lawmakers wrote that it’s their “intent” to use data collected this year from school districts to fund a new allotment for arts and physical education teachers beginning with the 2018-2019 school year.

Given the well-documented consternation this year over a public school funding crisis spurred by lawmakers’ demands that schools reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade, it’s an important, albeit tentative, promise. [Read more….]

3. Unlikely bedfellows rally to oppose seismic air gun testing, offshore drilling near the North Carolina coast

The Atlantic Ocean has never been a silent place, what with the whales and their jabbering, the dolphins and their mating calls. The underwater sound waves of earthquakes, volcanoes and waves are background noise, akin to the hum of air conditioners in the summertime.

But over time, the noise beneath the sea grew louder, at times, even deafening. First, the ships. And over the centuries, trans-Atlantic cable, Navy sonar, submarines, even bombs.

And now, the air guns. The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering allowing energy companies to fire seismic air guns up and down the Atlantic Coast in search of oil and gas. [Read more…]

*** Editor’s note to the above story: The National Marine Fisheries Service has extended the public comment period on seismic testing to July 21.

4. Gerrymandering, the courts and the next election in North Carolina: All of your burning questions answered

It’s been a little over a month since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 28 state North Carolina House and Senate districts were racially gerrymandered but lawmakers have yet to draw new maps.

In the last month, there’s been some back-and-forth in the courts over North Carolina v. Covington, numerous headlines about the case and several rallies calling for immediate action from the legislature.

The case is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, where a three-judge panel will oversee the redrawing of the illegally gerrymandered maps and decide whether special elections before the regularly scheduled 2018 elections will be a proper remedy for the constitutional violations at hand.  [Read more…]

*** Bonus infographic:  Download our special timeline on gerrymandering in North Carolina
*** Bonus read: Federal three-judge panel poised to make decision in racial gerrymandering case

5. NC’s response to opioid crisis is too little, too late says lawmaker with personal expertise

Opioid overdoses took 1,200 lives in North Carolina last year – part of an 800 percent increase since 1999 whose body count has now surpassed 12,000.

So when lawmakers approved the final state budget late last month, many expected the bipartisan concern would lead to significant funding to combat the opiate problem.

But while the budget did improve funding for the state’s Controlled Substances Reporting System and funneled $10 million in federal grants to treatment services, it was well under what Gov. Roy Cooper called for in his suggested budget and only about half of what was called for in the bi-partisan Strengthen Opioid Misuse Prevention (STOP) Act.

N.C. Senator Gladys Robinson (D-Guilford) said she was disappointed – but not necessarily surprised. [Read more…]

Environment, News

Want to have your say on seismic testing, drilling off the NC coast? Thursday’s your deadline.

If you enjoyed the beach over the long holiday weekend or have plans to go to the coast later this summer, you owe it to yourself to read Lisa Sorg’s new piece on the main Policy Watch website.

Sorg details the latest plans for seismic testing and offshore drilling, along with details on how you can weigh-in this week to protect the Atlantic Coast.

Here’s an excerpt from her story:

About 30 people gathered in Morehead City last week to sign petitions against seismic air gun testing in the Atlantic Ocean — a precursor to offshore drilling. Photo: Lisa Sorg

The Atlantic Ocean has never been a silent place, what with the whales and their jabbering, the dolphins and their mating calls. The underwater sound waves of earthquakes, volcanoes and waves are background noise, akin to the hum of air conditioners in the summertime.

But over time, the noise beneath the sea grew louder, at times, even deafening. First, the ships. And over the centuries, trans-Atlantic cable, Navy sonar, submarines, even bombs.

And now, the air guns. The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering allowing energy companies to fire seismic air guns up and down the Atlantic Coast in search of oil and gas.

Seismic air guns use compressed air to generate pulses of sound — excruciatingly loud sound, 250 decibels — every 10 to 15 seconds for months at a time. For whales, dolphins and sea turtles, who communicate by sound, this noisy environment is akin to people trying to converse — say, hold a business meeting, read to their children, call the fire department — over the roar of a jet engine 100 feet away.

Under the Trump administration, the National Marine Fisheries Service could issue as many as five “Incidental Harassment Authorization” permits to allow oil and gas companies to use the tests to survey the ocean floor for potential drilling sites. The area runs roughly from Delaware down the coast to Florida, including North Carolina.

The ramifications for marine life are dire.

Read Sorg’s full story here.

For more on the dangers of seismic testing, listen to Chris Fitzsimon’s recent radio interview with Blakely Hildebrand with the Southern Environmental Law Center.

The deadline for commenting on seismic air gun blasting is this Thursday (July 6th) at midnight.

Written comments should be addressed to Jolie Harrison, Chief, Permits and Conservation Division, Office of Protected Resources, National Marine Fisheries Service. Comments can be sent to via email to ITP.Laws@noaa.gov or through the mail to 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.

Image: Oceana.org

 

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Don’t be misled by the headlines or the spin; the final budget is far worse than it looks

Most of the initial headlines about the final budget agreement announced Monday afternoon by legislative leaders were ones they could have written themselves, touting raises for teachers and state employees, a cost of living increase for state retirees and hundreds of millions of dollars more in funding for education.

Even many Raleigh insiders who should know better were praising the overall agreement for the few bright spots in it, like the provision ending the policy of automatically trying 16 and 17-year olds who commit crimes as adults.

Some were breathing a sigh of relief that absurd cuts were reduced, like the proposed $4 million reduction to the UNC School of Law in the Senate budget, which ended up as a $500,000 cut in the final agreement. [Read more…]

*** Bonus videos:

2. Public school advocates wary of “vouchers on steroids” in GOP-authored budget

The $23 billion budget deal speeding through the N.C. General Assembly this week includes a platoon of significant public school initiatives, including much-touted teacher raises, a swift ballooning of the state’s funding for a private school voucher program and dramatic cut-backs for North Carolina’s central K-12 bureaucracy.

But one little-noted provision of this year’s GOP-authored spending package that seems to be generating the most concern from public school advocates is the launch of personal education savings accounts (PESAs). The so-called “vouchers on steroids” have generated great controversy in other Republican-controlled states, but their inclusion in the North Carolina legislature’s budget deal comes with far less public scrutiny.

“There has never been any public discussion of this in the state with the General Assembly. It’s never even been presented in a committee,” says Leanne Winner, director of governmental relations for the N.C. School Boards Association, which lobbies for local boards of education at the General Assembly. [Read more]

*** Bonus read: Advocates warn budget’s K-12 grading reforms could harm schools, communities


3. The General Assembly’s war on the poor hits another new low
Unexplained, backroom maneuver would rob already underfunded anti-poverty program

There’s no denying that conservative ideology plays a big and important role in driving the North Carolina public policy debate these days. In battle after battle, Republican lawmakers have justified their positions and decisions – from cutting taxes on the wealthy and profitable corporations to reducing environmental protection efforts to privatizing public education to an array of other actions – with the claim that they were vindicating the overarching philosophical cause of downsizing government and “unleashing the private sector.”

Progressives almost always disagree with these justifications – often vehemently and with good reason – but, in most instances, one must concede a certain consistency, however twisted, to the conservative argument. Experience confirms that slashing taxes on the rich won’t actually stimulate economic growth, but one can at least see where the other side is coming from. [Read more...]

4. House Bill 374 and its restrictions on the citizens’ right to contest environmental permits, advances in Senate

Even before he dropped the gavel on the Senate Finance Committee meeting, Sen. Jerry Tillman, a notoriously cantankerous Republican from Randolph County, seemed to be in a particularly bad mood.

He mumbled about being angry. He barked at audience to take their seats, lest he start selling tickets. And with eight bills to plow through — he promised it would take no longer than 30 minutes — Tillman sped through the meeting as if he were herding cattle through a sale barn.

At that auctioneer’s pace, then, there was little discussion of the House Bill 374, legislation with far-reaching implications.  [Read more…]

***Bonus read: Former Wilmington mayor: “We’re here to express our outrage” over GenX contamination in drinking water, Cape Fear

5. U.S. Supreme Court agrees to take on partisan gerrymandering in Wisconsin case that could set standards across country

The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it would hear a partisan gerrymandering case out of Wisconsin that has the potential to affect about one-third of the maps drawn for Congress and state legislatures across the country.

It’s a case North Carolinians are keeping a close eye on, since a similar court battle is brewing here.

Gill v. Whitford is an appeal of a lower court’s order for the Wisconsin Legislature to redraw the state assembly map that the court struck down as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander by November 1. [Read more...]

*** Bonus read: Campaign finance investigation of Senate Elections Committee chair continues