2017 Fiscal Year State Budget, News

Budget expert: Senate underfunds higher education needs as state continues to grow (video)

If you missed it over the weekend, be sure to check out our interview with Budget & Tax Center analyst Cedric Johnson as he outlines the shortcomings of the state Senate’s budget plan. Johnson sat down with NC Policy Watch’s Chris Fitzsimon to discuss where the funding comes up short as the state House works to finalize its version of the state budget.

Below Johnson discusses how the Senate underfunds the UNC system in its spending plan.  The full podcast of the interview is available here.

Click below for more from our radio interview with Cedric Johnson.

Commentary, News

The week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. The Senate budget: unwise tax breaks, petty partisan attacks, and inadequate investments

Senate leaders are trying hard to convince people that their anemic budget proposal moves the state forward by making big new investments in education and providing a middle class tax cut for most North Carolinians.

The numbers tell a much different story. The N.C. Budget & Tax Center reports that the Senate spends well below the 45-year average as a share of the state economy and makes unwise cuts throughout their proposal.

As for the tax plan, if the Senate reductions for the wealthy become law, millionaires in North Carolina will have received a total annual break of $20,000 thanks to the tax changes since 2013.  Those changes are costing the state $3 billion a year in revenue—and digging a hole. [Read more…]

Bonus read:

2. Next “Raise the Age” battle will be making sure some felonies remain in law

As legislation to raise the juvenile age of prosecution gains steam, advocates are preparing for their next big hurdle in getting a law on the books.

North Carolina is currently the only state in the nation that prosecutes 16- and 17-year-olds as adults. House Bill 280 would raise the age of juvenile jurisdiction for those teens charged with misdemeanors and low-level, nonviolent felonies.

The bill is rooted in recommendations that were made by a 65-member independent, multidisciplinary commission that was empaneled by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Martin over a year ago.

It contains proposals that are evidence-based to reduce recidivism and increase public safety and includes compromises to help satisfy stakeholders’ wants and needs. [Read more…]

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3. Despite GOP claims, education advocates say Senate budget fails to repair damage to public schools

The N.C. Senate’s $22.9 billion budget plan may be rolling swiftly through the chamber this week. But public education advocates—given just hours to review the massive budget document after it was posted online early Wednesday—say the Senate’s GOP leadership is shortchanging teachers and students with their latest spending package.

“We continue to lose ground compared to the rest of the country on making critical investment in our students,” said Mark Jewell, president of the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE), in a press conference Wednesday morning. “This is unacceptable and, quite frankly, it’s embarrassing.”

The criticism for state lawmakers mounted Wednesday as K-12 leaders processed the massive bill, just hours after Senate Republican leaders touted a $600 million increase in public school funding that includes pay raises for teachers and school administrators. [Read more…]

Bonus read:

4. Analysis: In Senate budget large farms win, small farms and the environment lose

The Senate could not be clearer about its policy priorities for the state’s agriculture barons. While lawmakers continue to prop up industrialized farm operations through, for example, the passage of the hog nuisance lawsuit measure, HB 467, the Senate budget eliminates all $237,000 in state funds for the small farm program. This service provides outreach and education to  limited-resource and minority farmers.

With the Senate pulling the financial rug from under this program, that leaves just $46,000 in revenue, all generated by fees and receipts. Three people will lose their full-time jobs.

In another win for big ag and a loss for the environment, the Senate robs Peter (NC Department of Environmental Quality) to pay Paul (the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services). [Read more…]

Bonus reads:

5. The last line of defense against Trumpism is under fire
The Right lays siege to the federal and state courts

“What can we do?” For six months now, caring and thinking Americans have been asking that question a lot as they have anticipated and then stared into the dark abyss that is the presidency of Donald Trump.

It’s an understandable plea. The 2018 elections are a long way off and between the prevaricator-in-chief, his junta of a cabinet and the overwhelming conservative majorities that dominate both houses of Congress, there are precious few venues to which caring and thinking people can turn these days to request sane public policies – much less demand them. And, of course, it’s worse here in North Carolina. In some states, elected officials are putting up a spirited resistance to Trumpism. In North Carolina, however, about all that stands between a federal-state tag team assault and battery are a besieged and politically-shackled governor and a relative handful of mostly anonymous judges. [Read more…]


Senate Intel Chairman Burr ‘troubled’ by Trump’s firing of FBI Director Comey

Senator Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, issued the following statement on President Donald Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey:

“I am troubled by the timing and reasoning of Director Comey’s termination. I have found Director Comey to be a public servant of the highest order, and his dismissal further confuses an already difficult investigation by the Committee. In my interactions with the Director and with the Bureau under his leadership, he and the FBI have always been straightforward with our Committee.  Director Comey has been more forthcoming with information than any FBI Director I can recall in my tenure on the congressional intelligence committees. His dismissal, I believe, is a loss for the Bureau and the nation.”


As Senate rolls out budget, state employees make the case for better pay, benefits

Work on the state budget kicks into high gear this week as the NC Senate unveils its version of the budget.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger announced last week the budget would be unveiled by Tuesday with floor votes occurring Thursday and Friday.

Ahead of the release, state employees are hoping a $580.5 million revenue surplus will result in a sizable raise for state employees and a COLA for retirees.

Click below to hear Policy Watch’s weekend interview with SEANC’s Ardis Watkins, as she weighs in on House Bill 540 and a controversial attempt to weaken the state retirement system.

Commentary, News

Last week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. How NC’s Congressional delegation voted on repealing the Affordable Care Act

Members of the U.S. House narrowly (217-213) pushed through the Republican plan for repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act on Thursday.

While critics of Obamacare praised the bill’s quick passage, the latest version came without any analysis by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

The North Carolina delegation split along party lines, with the exception of Republican Rep. Walter Jones. The Pitt County congressman voted against the bill noting that it would result in dramatically higher premiums for low-to-middle income seniors and discriminate against veterans.

Here’s how the full delegation voted: [Read more…]

2. A revealing turn in the push to take health care away from millions of people

The battle in Washington over repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has taken a revealing turn in the last few days with members of the North Carolina congressional delegation playing major roles.

Much of the national coverage of the repeal efforts have focused on the behind the scenes negotiations among House Republicans, with President Trump and Speaker Paul Ryan trying to come up with a plan to win over enough members of the far-right Freedom Caucus, headed by N.C. Congressman Mark Meadows, without losing too many votes of more moderate members.

The first version of their American Health Care Act that failed last month would have caused 24 million people to lose their health care coverage according to the Congressional Budget Office. That might have shocked many Americans and most moderate members of Congress, but ultimately was not the reason the bill failed. [Read more...]

3. Wake up people! The Right is just getting started
Conservatives are working to radically overhaul the American social contract

At the conclusion of the whirlwind 2011 session of the North Carolina General Assembly — a session in which new conservative majorities pushed through a raft of dramatic policy changes —many progressive North Carolinians surveyed the aftermath and found themselves actually breathing a sigh of relief. There was a widespread feeling that the fury of the storm had passed, that the Right had vented its collective spleen and that, having pushed through so much of its long-stymied policy agenda, conservative leaders would settle down to focus on governing the state.

That this sentiment turned out to be remarkably and disastrously naïve is now a commonly understood fact. Today, as we survey the damage from six-plus years of right-wing rule and contemplate what things might look like had conservative politicians simply consolidated their gains and declared victory in 2011, the phrase that springs to mind for caring and thinking people is “If only!” [Read more…]

4. National group cautions GOP-backed charter school bills will exacerbate problems, increase segregation

A nonpartisan, national organization setting benchmarks for charter policy is expressing concerns with a pair of GOP-backed charter reform proposals advancing in the N.C. General Assembly, at least one of which the organization describes as the first of its kind in the nation.

The criticism comes after lawmakers in the state House approved controversial House bills 779 and 800 last week before the legislature’s crossover deadline.

The former allows for up to 30 percent growth in charters not identified as low-performing with no additional state review of finances or operations; the latter clears publicly-funded charters to set aside half of their enrollment for the children of private “charter partners,” defined as corporations donating land, infrastructure, renovations or technology to the schools.[Read more…]
5. Gov. Cooper vetoes hog nuisance bill; new court documents show fecal bacteria from hogs on homes

Gov. Roy Cooper has vetoed House Bill 467, which would sharply curb the rights of private property owners to sue hog farmers in so-called nuisance lawsuits.The bill had passed the House 68-47, and the Senate 74-42.

The measure would restrict the amount of compensatory damages people could recover if they win nuisance lawsuits. The amount is limited to the value of their property, which is already reduced because of its proximity to a swine farm.

Bill proponents, including Rep. Jimmy Dixon, a farmer from Duplin County, complain that the lawsuits are financially hurting the industrialized swine industry. That claim has not been substantiated, since nearly all large hog operations are owned by Murphy-Brown, the world’s largest pork producer, or Prestage, another multi-million company. [Read more…]

Bonus reads: