• Jones StreetThe Budget – Legislators have just a week left in the fiscal year to reach a compromise on their 2014-15 budget. Click here for a House and Senate Comparison Report on the competing plans. And we should learn shortly whether the budget talks will be open to the public, as Sen. Tom Apodaca suggested to the Charlotte Observer’s Jim Morrill.
  • Mega Moral Monday – The NC NAACP and the Forward Together Moral Movement have pledged to stage their largest demonstration of the short legislative session this afternoon. After an abbreviated program at 5:00pm on Halifax Mall, the protesters will head into the Legislative Building, divide up into breakout groups and hold what they are describing as ‘Sit-Ins, Stand-Ins, Teach-Ins, Plan-Ins and Pray-Ins.’ Rev. William Barber offered a preview in this opinion piece that appeared over the weekend in the News & Observer.
  • Coal Ash – On Tuesday the full Senate will take up Senate Bill 729, the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014. The measure would require the state’s highest risk coal ash ponds be shut down in the next five years, with all sites shut down within the next 15 years. Some environmentalists worry the bill does not go far enough and allows for the possibility of capping those sites and leaving the ash in place. The meeting gets underway at 10:00 a.m. in Room 1228/1327 of the Legislative Building.
  • Opportunity Scholarships – On Wednesday, the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority (located in the located in Research Triangle Park) will hold its selection lottery to determine which applicants will get “opportunity scholarships” for the fall. Approximately 2,400 students will receive funding in the first year. Voucher supporters on Jones Street are pressing for another $8 million to expand the program. (For more on the scholarship program, check out this three-part series by education reporter Lindsay Wagner.)
  • NC GEAR – Last year state lawmakers approved $4 million to fund the North Carolina Government Efficiency and Reform initiative, or NC GEAR. This afternoon, the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee will hear a presentation by Deputy Director Joe Coletti on NC GEAR’s purpose, cost, and the remaining tasks. (Coletti is the former budget policy chief at the John Locke Foundation.) In advance of the committee meeting, the governor’s office rolled out a press release this morning pledging that:

    All [efficiency] proposals will be reviewed by the NC GEAR analysts and consultants. The strongest concepts will be evaluated further and included in the final report to the governor and General Assembly next February.  Some proposals will be included in the governor’s budget. Others will be offered to the Legislature for its consideration.

    Stay tuned…it’s gonna be another busy week in Raleigh!

State budget negotiations will spill over into next week as lawmakers remain at odds over Medicaid and the best approach for funding raises for teachers and state workers.

Rep. Verla Insko believes legislative leaders may have a difficult time reaching a consensus after last year’s budget cut taxes “too much, too fast.”:

“One of the proposals this year was to reduce funding for children with intellectual and developmental disabilities,” explained the Orange County legislator. “Why would you take a population that deserves help and needs help and remove [services]?”

“The economics is what we talk about a lot…but the real sad thing is we don’t think about the impact on human beings.  These are our children and our community, and we are undermining their ability to have a productive life.”

Rep. Insko appears this weekend on N.C. Policy Watch’s News & Views to discuss the budget, school vouchers, and support for the university system.

For a preview of her radio interview with Chris Fitzsimon, click below:

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Click here for more on how the Senate and House budget proposals would impact programs for young children and working parents.

If you haven’t been closely following state budget negotiations this week, take time to read the News & Observer’s Friday editorial that explains the wide-gulf between the House and Senate spending plans and the ‘troubling hypocrisy’ that comes from trying to boost teacher pay with gambling proceeds.

Here’s an excerpt:

Budget_cleaver-150x150The House plan is hopelessly flawed, but at least House Republican budgeteers did not plan to cut more teaching assistants, slice up the Department of Public Instruction budget and boot disabled and elderly people off Medicaid like senators did. GOP Senate leaders proudly justify their awful actions by saying it’s the only way to give teachers an 11 percent raise.

This embarrassing debate spurred by House Republicans’ clumsy budgeting and absolutely bizarre plan to goose up the state lottery by adding restrictions on advertising is another low point for this General Assembly.

Determined to cut taxes in a way that helps mostly the wealthy and big business and ignores the middle class, Republican legislators have painted themselves into a corner from which they cannot escape. It doesn’t appear House Republicans are going to help senators out of their corner, and Senate leaders seem perfectly content to leave House members in theirs.

The potential perils in this for public education are profound. For the vast majority of North Carolinians who believe in their teachers and value the public schools, that is frightening indeed.

Read the full editorial here.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/06/19/3949779/the-saga-of-a-lottery-teacher.html?sp=/99/108/#storylink=cpy

 

Butterfield-and-PriceAs state legislators work to craft a plan to address the future use and disposal of coal ash, a group of congressmen is pushing the head of the Environmental Protection Agency to enact stricter standards and enforcement of the toxic substance.

Congressmen G. K. Butterfield (NC-01) and David Price (NC-04) write in a letter released to the media Wednesday that the EPA must finalize “strong federal standards for the safe disposal of coal ash under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) by the end of 2014.”

Here’s an excerpt from their letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy:

Major coal ash spills in 2014 into the Dan River in North Carolina and in 2008 in Kingston, Tennessee are examples of full impoundment failures and show that our constituents must be better protected.  Both spills originated from wet coal ash impoundments located near power plants adjacent to rivers where the failure of impoundment walls sent harmful chemicals directly into the waterways.  The Dan River spill caused coal ash to travel 70 miles downstream and the Kingston spill caused more than one billion gallons of coal ash to enter the water supply and destroyed residential communities.  The EPA has evaluated wet coal ash impoundments across the country and found more than 300 sites which would endanger human life, or cause significant economic, environmental, or infrastructure damage if full failures occurred.

Far more common than full impoundment failure is the slow leaching of coal ash contaminants from wet impoundments into ground and surface waters.  The majority of wet impoundments across the country lack adequate liners and groundwater monitoring systems.  The EPA has identified more than 200 cases of water contamination from coal ash in 27 states.

It appears we are only now beginning to see the alarming truth about coal ash in our communities.  It is troubling that it has taken large coal ash spills like those in North Carolina and Tennessee to mobilize stakeholders to engage in a frank dialogue about its dangers and propose changes to mitigate those hazards.  Those catastrophes could have been avoided and we owe it to all Americans to put the necessary safeguards in place to ensure similar disasters do not occur in the future.

The letter is cosigned by 83 members of Congress.

Earlier today at the NC General Assembly, the Senate Appropriations committee gave its approval to Senate Bill 729, the state’s plan for managing coal ash.

Educators, parents, and concerned citizens returned to the legislature Monday evening urging lawmakers to find a better way to fund education. Demonstrators voiced their displeasure at budget plans that would cut teaching assistants, school nurses, textbook funds, and the university system to cover teacher pay raises this year. Several in the crowd on Halifax Mall said it was time to find new revenue and fully fund the state’s educational needs.

To hear from the Raging Grannies and a few of Monday’s protesters, click below:

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