News

Two controversial redistricting bills, a last-minute fracking maneuver, the shifting budget outlook, and the return of Moral Mondays highlight the top tweeted stories at the legislature this afternoon:

News

dukelogoThe state Department of Environment and Natural Resources has slapped Duke Energy Progress with a $25.1 million fine for groundwater contamination caused by coal ash at the Sutton Plant near Wilmington.

The agency describes the fine as the state’s “largest-ever penalty for environmental damages.”

Here’s more from the state agency’s release:

pe-sutton

Sutton Plant/ (Photo credit: Duke Energy)

“Today’s enforcement action continues the aggressive approach this administration has taken on coal ash,” said DENR Secretary Donald R. van der Vaart. “In addition to holding the utility accountable for past contamination we have found across the state, we are also moving expeditiously to remove the threat to our waterways and groundwater from coal ash ponds statewide.”

At Sutton, the state agency determined that Duke Energy allowed a host of coal ash contaminants to leach into the groundwater at the facility for several years, in at least a few cases.

While Duke Energy Progress has 30 days to appeal to the N.C. Office of Administrative Hearings, any fine paid by Duke would go into a statewide fund for public schools, according to DENR.

This has been an expensive week for the Charlotte-based utility. Earlier today, Duke officials announced the company had reached a $146 million agreement to settle a shareholder lawsuit linked to the 2012 merger of Duke Energy and Progress Energy.

That agreement, subject to the approval of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, would end a class action lawsuit brought by certain Duke Energy shareholders.

Commentary, News

Travel by Governor McCrory, shifting taxes, new leadership for the NC GOP, and childhood well-being top this Monday’s stories that are trending on Jones Street:

News

Three must read stories from the weekend’s news paint a remarkable picture of the pocketbook changes many North Carolina families are facing these day.

The News & Observer’s David Ranii writes that many North Carolinians are in for a rude awakening as they complete their state taxes this year. Reforms enacted by the NC General Assembly and signed by Gov. Pat McCrory have shifted the state’s tax burden to many lower-income residents and senior citizens.

Here’s more from the article:

Cedric Johnson, public policy analyst for the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center, has a different take on the changes.

“Taxpayers making under ($67,000), which is around 80 percent of taxpayers in North Carolina, will, on average, see their taxes increase under the tax plan,” he said.

The Justice Center’s analysis encompasses both income tax and sales tax. In conjunction with the overhaul of the income tax, the state sales tax was expanded beginning last year. Added to the sales tax list was, among other things, service contracts for appliances and cars and a broad range of admissions charges, including movies and sporting events.

The working poor in particular are taking it on the chin because of the elimination of the earned income tax credit, which was designed to help them make ends meet, Johnson said.

Read Ranii’s full piece here.

Across-the-board raises fade for state workers

The Associated Press’ weekender details how the McCrory administration is hoping to move away from the routine budgetary practice of across-the-board pay raises for state employees. Gary Robertson explains:

McCrory’s two-year spending plan offers neither all public school teachers nor rank-and-file state employees across-the-board raises. Rather, the governor emphasizes improving pay for certain teachers and targeting state employees in hard-to-fill or dangerous law enforcement positions.

The lack of across-the-board raises partly reflects the uncertainty of tax collections, which have grown year-to-year but have fallen short of initial forecasts in a slow-recovering economy. The GOP-led General Assembly might offer across-the-board raises if revenues surge.

But McCrory suggested last week his administration is moving away from the expectation of raises for everyone every year.

For more on how Governor McCrory wants to handle pay raises moving forward click below:

YouTube Preview Image

Homeownership rates decline

The final story comes from the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill.

Rebecca Tippett, Director of Carolina Demography, writes that homeownership rates in North Carolina have hit the lowest rate ever:

North Carolina homeownership hit a high of 73.6% in 1981, then declined slightly before rising again and holding steady at the low 70s before 2005. After 2005, homeownership rates declined steadily. North Carolina’s homeownership rate was 66.5% in 2014, the lowest it has been at any point.

homeownership rates_UNC Demography

(Hat tip Seth Effron)

Commentary, News

1. Effort to “right-size” the UNC system in the works  |
Significant changes may be on the horizon for the state’s higher education network, as the University of North Carolina’s governing board considers “right-sizing” the 17-campus system.

“The model should be much smaller than it is,” UNC Board of Governor member Harry Smith Jr. said about the UNC system last Thursday, during [Continue Reading…]

2. K12, Inc., backer of future NC virtual charter school, runs questionable operation in California  |
Former California Virtual Academy (CAVA) employee Jan Cox Golovich left her job as an online high school teacher a year ago, when she decided the students she was teaching were being cheated out of an education.

“CAVA lets students fail. They let the kids go a whole year performing poorly in school and then fail. But CAVA has made their money,” said Golovich of the virtual school that is backed by K12, Inc., a Wall Street company that is in the business of making profits off of state education budgets by running online virtual charter schools across the nation – and soon, in North Carolina.[Continue Reading…]

3. The Follies (of McCrory’s forgettable budget) |
The summary released this week with Governor Pat McCrory’s budget recommendations for the next two years starts out with a falsehood.

The first sentence in the first section of the highlights of the budget says “No tax increases are proposed in this budget.”  But that is simply not true. McCrory wants to raise the state gas tax by stopping a scheduled reduction in the tax this summer.

Motorists in North Carolina will pay higher gas taxes if McCrory’s budget is adopted. That is a tax increase.[Continue Reading…]

4. Standing, state’s rights, or statutory construction? |
Obamacare subsidies hinge on which analysis the Supreme Court adopts

The U.S. Supreme Court takes a second look at the Affordable Care Act tomorrow morning, hearing argument in a case out of Virginia which many experts say has the potential to rock the nation’s health care system. The law’s constitutionality is not threatened; the [Continue Reading…]

5. UNC Board of Governors: Doing the Right’s dirty work |
Last week’s decision by the UNC Board of Governors to dissolve three small academic centers at UNC Chapel Hill, North Carolina Central and ECU (including, most notably of course, the Poverty Center headed by UNC Law School Professor Gene Nichol) and to limit the activities of the Law School’s Center for Civil Rights has been met with justifiable outrage in numerous circles. [Continue Reading…]