News

Time’s ticking, the ACA’s Open Enrollment deadline is fast approaching (video)

North Carolinians only have ten days left to enroll or re-enroll in quality, affordable health coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. The fifth open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act (ACA) draws to a close December 15th.

Jennifer Simmons, director of the NC Navigator Consortium, joins us this weekend on News & Views with Rob Schofield to discuss the importance of getting covered and the financial help that remains available for North Carolinians.

For a preview of our radio interview with Simmons, click below.

For help enrolling by the 15th, call toll-free 1-855-733-3711 or visit ncnavigator.net.

NC Budget and Tax Center

3 Reasons Why the U.S. Senate’s Tax Plan is Bad for North Carolina (Infographic)

If you are trying to get your head wrapped around what the U.S. Senate’s Tax Plan will mean for North Carolina families, take a look at this newly released infographic from our colleagues the NC Budget & Tax Center. (For a full-size pdf copy you can download or share on social media, please click on the image below.)

News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Coal ash debate takes center stage as Duke rate hike cases get underway

The Dobbs Building hearing room was so stuffed with dark suits and shiny calfskin shoes that it resembled a Brooks Brothers warehouse.

“Are there any North Carolina lawyers who aren’t here?” asked Ed Finley, chairman of the NC Utilities Commission, as he prepared to preside over what is predicted to be a two-week slog: the Duke Energy Progress rate case.

Duke Energy Progress (DEP), whose service territory includes 170,000 miles of transmission lines in North Carolina is asking the commission to approve a nine percent overall rate hike, which includes an 11.7 percent increase for residential customers. The service area includes the cities of Asheville, Raleigh and Wilmington.

That increase equates to about $13 on a typical household electric bill. [Read more…]

2. Two decades later, Governor’s appointees look to breathe life into NC’s landmark school funding ruling

“By every objective measure, we are underfunded and we are failing.”

That’s how Larry Armstrong, longtime attorney for the Halifax County Board of Education, summed up the task before Gov. Roy Cooper’s Commission on Access to Sound, Basic Education Thursday—more than two decades after the pivotal Leandro Supreme Court decision rebuked the state for school funding inequalities in some of North Carolina’s poorest counties like Halifax.

Armstrong, along with many members of Cooper’s panel of business, K-12, higher education and charity leaders, said, that despite that 1997 ruling, North Carolina continues to fail students in poor and struggling districts.

Armstrong addressed the 19-member panel during its first meeting Thursday, which comes weeks before a judge is expected to field recommendations for an independent consultant that will determine what state officials must do to bring North Carolina in compliance with Leandro’s mandate of a “sound, basic education” to all, regardless of a student’s local school district. [Read more…]

3. Damming the swamp
Could this be the Trump administration’s most outrageous act yet?

The list of execrable actions taken by President Donald Trump during his first ten months in office is a long and deeply disturbing one. Even if one sticks strictly to policy actions and appointments and sets aside the President’s serial personal dishonesty and the criminal behavior in which he and multiple senior administration officials may have engaged, it’s still been a horror show.

Time after time, Trump has taken action that will enfeeble and delegitimize the federal government and enrich himself and his cronies while directly harming people of modest income – many of whom, tragically, make up the core of his political base.

In just the last few weeks, for instance, the President has:[Read more…]

4.  Board of Governors may consider moving UNC system offices out of Chapel Hill

In the last few months the UNC Board of Governors has proposed a lot of controversial moves for the university system.

One of the latest might be the most perplexing – even to members of the board itself.

The proposal: move the entire UNC General Administration out of its traditional home on the Chapel Hill campus.

The reason: Well…it’s complicated.

The UNC General Administration consists of about 265 UNC system staff members with an annual budget of $65.4 million. They report to UNC System president Margaret Spellings and are responsible for a wide range of duties, including long-range planning, research, legal and student affairs, financial management, government relations and administrative oversight of things like the UNC Press and UNC-TV. [Read more…]

5. Lawmakers who slashed state environmental protection efforts weigh reversing course over GenX

Chemours has stopped discharging all wastewater from its manufacturing processes at its Fayetteville Works plant, a ban that will become permanent as a condition of the company’s new permit.

Assistant Secretary of the Environment Sheila Holman told the the House Select Committee on River Quality yesterday that department staff were visiting the plant to ensure the company complied with the order. The Department of Environmental Quality had taken enforcement action — a civil penalty should be announced by mid-December — because Chemours failed to report a spill of GenX for more than a month.
Rep. Ted Davis

In addition to hearing updates on water and air emissions from the plant, Chairman Rep. Ted Davis announced that the committee would unveil legislation at its next meeting on January 4. The public will also be invited to comment at that meeting. [Read more...]

Bonus read: Special master releases proposed state legislative maps

Upcoming event: Join us on Tuesday for our next Crucial Conversation – The national immigration debate in the era of Trump: Where do things stand? What will happen next?

Few subjects spark more passionate debate in 21st Century America than immigration policy. Even as President Donald Trump and his allies adhere to their divisive and destructive stances, millions upon millions of caring and thinking Americans are rising to the challenge and pushing back in favor of just, humane and economically beneficial policies.

One of the leading voices in promoting laws, policies, and attitudes that honor our proud history as a nation of immigrants is the Washington, DC-based American Immigration Council. Join us on Tuesday December 5, as we welcome AIC Executive Director Beth Werlin to North Carolina and hear her update on (and assessment of) the immigration battles in Washington.

Click here to register

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. The radical Trumpcare scam hidden in the Senate tax reform bill

Republicans in Congress are rushing to advance a tax reform bill that balloons the federal deficit so that they can give corporations permanent tax breaks. And now Senate Republicans have decided to turn their already awful tax bill into a secret Trumpcare bill by including a repeal of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate.

While repeal of the individual mandate may seem like a small change to the casual observer, the impact would be radical, especially in conjunction with other administrative and regulatory changes coming down the pike from the Trump administration. The tax reform bill puts everyone’s health care coverage at risk, all to make tax cuts for corporations permanent.

The individual mandate protects people with pre-existing conditions

First, a quick review is in order: Few Americans want to go back to when kids with asthma and breast cancer survivors could be charged more or denied coverage due to their pre-existing conditions. [Read more…]

2. This is what government looks like when you run it on the cheap
Latest court system mess is directly linked to the Right’s ideological war on public structures

Sometimes you have to hand it to the ideologues on the far right. They’re so persistent and creative and have gotten so effective at attacking, bad-mouthing, defunding and just plain undermining government, that often their destructive “victories” slide in right under the radar.

The traditional, tried and true formula in this realm goes something like this: a) complain incessantly about the performance of some important system of government like, say, the public schools or environmental protection; b) use said supposed poor performance as grounds for reducing funding in order to promote greater “efficiency” and combat “waste”; c) when funding cuts fail to improve outcomes, repeat the cycle and propagandize about the need to privatize services by giving public funds to favored corporate interests.[Read more…]

3. The sound of silence: Judges all but muzzled in complaints against lawmakers

Judges are considered to be in command of their courtrooms. But when state legislators pass laws attacking them— shortening their terms, shrinking the appellate court — judges are no longer in charge and have few ways to defend themselves.

“The legislature is saying to judges, we can redraw your districts, we can redraw your division, we can cut your judicial staff, we can terminate your job at the end of the term if you don’t come around to our way of thinking,” retired Judge Don Stephens. “We can be the bully on the political playground, and there’s nothing that you can do about it.”

Over the past year, state lawmakers have passed several measures that erode the independence of the judiciary. This includes re-designating judicial elections as partisan. They also introduced a plan to redraw all judicial and prosecutorial districts and to require all judges to run for reelection next year. [Read more…]

4. Robeson County officials vacillating on planned charter school takeover

Weeks after the top school board member in Robeson County predicted the southeastern North Carolina district would close the state’s only choice for a controversial charter takeover program, local leaders may be gearing up to accept the Innovative School District after all.

Multiple Robeson officials tell Policy Watch that state law—which allows school districts to close or join the state district if chosen—leaves them little choice.

“Right now, we’re at a standstill,” said Peggy Wilkins-Chavis, chairwoman of the Robeson County Board of Education. “I am more confused now than I was before. I wish somebody would just sit down and tell us about it, the pros and cons.”  [Read more…]


5. More than just a giveaway to the rich: GOP tax plan also endangers church-state separation, access to health care for millions

With Republicans on Capitol Hill and in the White House desperate to post a big legislative win, their push for so-called tax reform – the label being used to sugar-coat costly tax changes mostly benefiting profitable corporations and the wealthiest among us – has reached red-line intensity.

On the merits, the tax plans now being bulldozed through Congress have little to recommend them in terms of helping the economy or making the tax system more fair. Which unfortunately is beside the point. This is all about giving GOP chiefs and President Trump – beset by one failure and distraction after another – an outcome capping 2017 with an accomplishment catering to their biggest supporters and restoring some momentum heading toward a mid-term election year.

Even if the promise of lower taxes becomes an illusion for many in the middle class, as it no doubt would, a tax-reform victory would help Trump and his allies counter the understandable impression that they’re nowhere close to having their act together. The investigations swirling around Trump and his campaign’s contacts with Russia have provoked him into behavior that becomes even more disturbing, as when he cozies up to the thuggish president of the Philippines and, yes, to Vladimir Putin. [Read more…]

Join us Wednesday the 29th for this very special event:

Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. The Right wages class warfare in Washington
Will Burr and Tillis really vote for this?

For much of the 20th Century, one of the labels that American politicians of a progressive bent feared most was the accusation that they were engaging in “class warfare.” Even for many on the left, the concept of class warfare – that is, of attempting to motivate and mobilize people of low and/or modest income to rise up against the wealthy – was widely frowned upon as antithetical to the nation’s longstanding tradition as a broadly middle class (or even class free) society. Forty years ago, the iconic liberal economist John Kenneth Galbraith dismissed the idea of waging class warfare against the rich in America as “uncouth.”

Today, sadly, this aversion to class warfare seems quaint – and not because the left got over its queasiness about the subject. In 21st century America (a nation in which three individuals own more than the bottom half of the country combined), class war has been declared and is being waged – often in blitzkrieg form – by the wealthy and the politicians they control in Washington and in dozens of state capitals. [Read more…]

2. Legislators consider abolishing teacher salary schedule as they study NC school funding labyrinth

A pivotal legislative task force may be just beginning its dive into North Carolina’s school funding maze, but lawmakers’ hints that they may abolish the state’s teacher salary schedule or other state-set funding allocations is already spurring criticism from local district advocates.

Talk of nixing a state-set pay scale emerged this year when lawmakers took on a revamp of school principal pay, and it’s resurfaced multiple times in the Joint Legislative Task Force on Education Finance Reform’s first meetings in November.

Yet local district leaders and their advocates in Raleigh say the proposal may only exacerbate the state’s looming pay disparities between wealthy and poor counties, spur employment lawsuits and complicate matters for local school boards. [Read more…]

3. Updated maps: Where judges land in judicial redistricting bill to be considered by Senate

Few issues in the North Carolina’s contentious policy wars have been more consistently front and center during the past year than the future of the state judiciary.

The battle was first joined during a series of special legislative sessions that were called  after the 2016 election and has continued to the present day.

In September, during yet another special session and in anticipation of its consideration by the House Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting, NC Policy Watch prepared and analyzed the effects of a proposed judicial redistricting bill (House Bill 717) and the new maps it would have enacted.

Since that time, however, the House has passed a new version of HB 717 containing different maps that the Senate is expected to consider in January. Indeed, some Senators have already considered the maps in the latest version of HB 717 without access to full information about which judges and counties would be affected by the redrawing of judicial and prosecutorial districts. [Read more…]

4. UNC Board of Trustees face growing pressure to remove Silent Sam
The controversy over “Silent Sam,” the Confederate monument on UNC’s Chapel Hill campus, has been raging for decades. But it appears to be approaching a critical point this year as students, faculty, staff and community members push for removal of the statue in the wake of deadly white supremacist violence at the University of Virginia.

At a rally on campus Tuesday and a UNC Board of Trustees meeting Thursday, those who oppose the statue again called for its removal and decried the recently revealed UNC Police operation that infiltrated the protest movement using an undercover officer.

UNC History Professor William Sturkey spoke at a rally on campus Tuesday, saying the undercover operation undercut the central values of the university. [Read more…]

5. Opponents, supporters turn out in force over air permit for the Atlantic Coast Pipeline

The deadline for public comment on the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s air permit is Monday, Nov. 20: publiccomments@ncdenr.gov

At Garysburg Town Hall, 60 or so people had arranged themselves as if at a wedding, where the families of the bride and groom sit on opposite sides of the aisle. Already, the marriage was doomed.

“Is this the reasonable side?” asked a man named Tom Betts, as he took his seat. The vice-chairman of the Nash County Development Commission and a regular at these meetings, had driven 45 miles to support the Atlantic Coast Pipeline’s application for an air quality permit. The NC Department of Environmental Quality was holding a public hearing on the permit, which would regulate emissions from a compressor station in Pleasant Hill, in Northampton County near the Virginia border. [Read more…]

*** Bonus environmental read:Neutering nuisance laws in North Carolina ***

Upcoming event on Nov. 29: Individual tickets now available for Spotlight on Journalism – a benefit for NC Policy Watch