News

A final vote is expected today in the state Senate on a measure that would redraw the Wake County Board of Commissioners district boundaries.

Sen. Chad Barefoot told his colleagues Wednesday the new plan outlined in Senate Bill 181 would give small towns a greater voice at the local level. But opponents say the bill that redraws the lines and adds two new regional district seats would simply gerrymander the districts to give Republicans a majority on the board.

Senate Republicans used a procedural maneuver during yesterday’s debate to kill a proposed amendment by Senator Josh Stein that would have allowed Wake County voters to decide on redrawing the districts.

Barefoot’s bill comes just four months after Democrats swept Wake’s Board of Commissioners races last November.

If the bill wins approval today, it moves over to the state House for consideration. To hear lawmakers debate Senate Bill 181 and then table Stein’s amendment, click below:
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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:

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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)