Last week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. An offensive, belligerent and vindictive display in the halls of government

The last week has featured some of the most offensive, belligerent, and vindictive behavior by elected officials in generations—and that is not a reference to President Trump and his associates in Washington, though the characterization fits there too.

No, this startling episode came in the middle of the night last week in Raleigh when furious Republican leaders of the state Senate interrupted a debate on the state budget with a recess to meet with legislative staff.

They returned from the break with an amendment to the budget to punish Democratic senators by slashing funding for education projects in their districts and cutting the budgets of other programs and institutions represented by Democrats, from the N.C. Museum of Art to downtown revitalization efforts.[Read more…]

2. Trump, NC conservative leaders to eastern NC: “Drop dead”
Hurricane Matthew non-response sets a new low when it comes to basics of governing

With the increasingly precarious situation in which he finds his presidency vis a vis the inquiries of the Senate Intelligence Committee, one would think that Donald Trump might well be taking any and all steps available to cozy up to the Committee’s chairman, North Carolina’s Richard Burr. Weirdly, however, no such actions were in evidence last week when it came to one of the most basic components of running the federal government – meting out disaster relief funds.

As multiple North Carolina and national news outlets reported, the Trump administration has largely denied the state’s request for federal assistance in responding to Hurricane Matthew. This from an article in Newsweek magazine: [Read more…]

3. The $1 million mystery: The Senate budget gives a low-risk hazardous waste site a major windfall — at the expense of hundreds of critical projects

Off a stub of Pine Grove Road behind the West End fire station in Havelock, an old sand mine turned wayward recycling facility has become an environmental and civic albatross. The 34-acre former Phoenix Recycling site contains an assortment of wood, metal, plastic and cardboard — plus construction and demolition detritus that has been illegally dumped there since the company closed and declared bankruptcy in 2000.

Phoenix is one of more than 3,000 inactive hazardous sites that the state has catalogued in North Carolina. Although labeled “inactive,” most of these locations are still quite active, in that they continue to pollute.

But because of their environmental histories and financial complexities, these sites are essentially environmental vagabonds. They have nowhere else to land but NC Department of Environmental Quality’s Inactive Hazardous Sites Branch. That branch oversees their cleanup and enforcement — albeit with too little funding each year to make a noticeable dent in the list. [Read more…]

4. NCGOP expects legislature to resurrect “monster” voting law ‘in an acceptable fashion’

North Carolina’s GOP Chairman Robin Hayes is confident the legislature will move “very quickly” to pass a new law that reflects the “monster” voting bill’s premise.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided today that it would not take on an appeal to reinstate the omnibus voter law, which would require an identification to vote, reduce early voting from 17 to 10 days, abolish same-day registration, preregistration for teens in civic classes and out-of-precinct voting.

In an unusual move, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote that the decision was not reflective of justices’ opinions on the merits of the case.

Republicans were disappointed in the decision but took Roberts’ statement as an opportunity to blame Gov. Roy Cooper and Attorney General Josh Stein for meddling in the case as the reason it was denied certiorari. Democrats are celebrating the decision as a victory for voting rights.[Read more…]

5. State House budget, which is likely to be kinder to public schools, expected early next week

North Carolina House legislators expect to announce their much-anticipated budget plan either Tuesday or Wednesday of next week, a top Republican budget writer tells Policy Watch.

That plan is expected to phase in across-the-board teacher pay raises, limit the Senate’s extensive cuts to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction (DPI) and restore some of the highly controversial K-12 funding cuts approved just after 3 a.m. last Friday, according to Rep. Craig Horn, the influential Union County Republican who sits as vice chair of the chamber’s budget committee.

“The House committee chairs have been working all this week to develop a budget to put before their committees,” said Horn.

The state lawmaker said that, “with any luck,” he expects a House floor vote on the budget plan a week after its release. Horn adds that he believes the House will allow the budget plan to make its way through committees .[Read more…]

*** Bonus read: House members push to clean up Senate’s budget ‘mess’


Senator Burr: Burden is on the New York Times to prove Comey memo exists

U.S. Senator Richard Burr is voicing skepticism about a New York Times report that President Trump asked FBI Director James Comey to shut down the investigation of national security advisor Michael Flynn.

The chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee told PBS NewsHour if Comey had written such a memo, the Times should produce it.

“Somebody is going to have to do more than just have anonymous sources on this one for me to believe that there’s something there.”

The NYT story came on the heels of a report from The Washington Post on Tuesday that suggested President Trump had shared highly-classified intelligence with Russia.

Trump tweeted earlier in the day he had the ‘right’ to share that data.

Click below to hear Senator Burr’s full interview with PBS NewsHour’s Lisa Desjardin:

News, Trump Administration

NC Congressman says Trump’s intel leak will test Congressional leadership, require independent investigation

A day after the Washington Post published a report that President Trump revealed “highly classified” intelligence to Russia’s Foreign Minister last week, Trump tweeted he had the ‘right’ to share that data.

The White House spent much of the day trying to shift the focus of the bombshell story to questioning the source of the ‘selectively’ leaked information.

Now members of Congress on both sides of the aisle are demanding information from the White House about what was shared with Russia and how this may impact national security.

Congressman David Price (NC-04) on Tuesday said this latest episode underscores the need for an independent prosecutor. (Click below to hear Rep. Price’s interview with NC Policy Watch’s Chris Fitzsimon.)

“We are clearly in uncharted territory — the President has no respect for longstanding diplomatic norms or the grave responsibilities of his office, and his Administration is regularly misleading the American people. It’s time for my Republican colleagues to join Democrats in holding President Trump accountable for his actions.”

Republican Senator Richard Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, is withholding comment on the ordeal until he has further facts:

“The Senate intelligence committee has reached out to the White House to request additional information on recent reports about alleged dissemination of intelligence information,” Becca Watkins, a spokeswoman for Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard Burr, told CNN.

HB2, News

Gov. Cooper pledges to issue ‘comprehensive’ executive order protecting LGBTQ individuals

Gov. Roy Cooper told a group of people at the Center for American Progress’ Ideas Conference in Washington D.C. that he plans to issue an executive order to increase protections for the LGBTQ community in North Carolina, according to The Huffington Post.

“I’m going to issue an executive order pretty soon that is comprehensive, that helps with LGBT protections and we’re going to keep working every day,” he said during the Center for American Progress’ Ideas Conference.

Cooper’s office told HuffPost they could not immediately give additional details about the order. His office was not immediately available for a similar request from NC Policy Watch.

His vow to issue the order comes in the wake of House Bill 142, which repealed HB2, the state’s sweeping anti-LGBTQ legislation, but replaced it with language that bans local governments from enacting future anti-discrimination protections until 2020.

The new law also states that the General Assembly will dictate future bathroom policies.

The Huffington Post reports what Cooper told folks at the conference about his role in HB2’s repeal compromise — a move that was criticized by LGBTQ and civil rights organizations.

On Tuesday, Cooper said he wanted a clean repeal without a compromise but didn’t think it would be feasible, since North Carolina’s Republican-controlled legislature operates under the Hastert Rule. That means one has to have the majority of one’s own party to get anything considered on the floor.

“I had a choice. Do I continue to make a statement and pound the table and nothing happen? Or do I take a positive step, make progress and continue to fight?” he said. “I chose the latter for my state because we got rid of the birth certificate requirement. We opened up the ability of local governments to provide some protections now and some in the future.”

You can read the full article here.

Below is a video of Cooper at the Conference.

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.