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Democrats react to scant House budget details

House Minority Leader Darren Jackson (D-Wake), flanked by his Democratic colleagues, responds to what details are available in the GOP crafted House budget plan.

Democrats in the N.C. House of Representatives responded to the House’s draft budget Thursday afternoon — or at least what they’ve seen of it.

The full budget won’t be rolled out until Tuesday, after the Memorial Day weekend. But some details from various sections were discussed in House committees Thursday.

It’s not how things should be done, said the House Minority Leader, Rep. Darren Jackson (D-Wake). But without the chance to see the full budget until the day the House is expected to vote on it, people should start contacting their representatives now.

“We’re going into a holiday weekend and this is the time for members to hear from their constituents – be seen out at holidays things, events that are happening,” Jackson said. ” We’ll come back, it’ll be rolled out on Tuesday morning and we’ll vote. So this will be the people back home’s only opportunity to speak to their representatives and inform him or her how they feel about the budget.”

Jackson admitted that what has come out about the House’s budget plan is an improvement over the Senate’s – but overall, it wasn’t that encouraging.

“The House budget’s top line numbers are the same as the Senate’s and significantly short of the governor’s [proposed budget],” Jackson said. “That means there are missed opportunities in this budget – missed opportunities to invest in education, work force development and job creation, especially in our rural communities.”

Jackson said the top line numbers also suggest more tax cut proposals rolled out next week.

“Tax cuts, at least in the past, have been 200 times larger for millionaires than they have been for families at the medium level of income,” Jackson said. “That is the Republican record on tax cuts the last few years.”

Budgets are all about priorities, Jackson said – and Gov. Cooper’s budget proposal showed emphasis on the right priorities without fee or tax increases. The proposed House budget, crafted by the GOP majority? Not so much, Jackson said.

Governor’s Cooper had more money for community colleges, Jackson said, which are a generator of jobs and help people in both urban and rural communities better themselves.  But the House budget, like the Senate’s, does not include funding for the NC Growth Scholarships that would have allowed North Carolinians to attend community college for free – a move other states are now adopting. Additional job training through community colleges aren’t funded either, Jackson said.

Rural job growth isn’t a priority in the House budget, Jackson said – as is obvious beyond the failure to adequately fund community colleges. The house budget doesn’t expand broadband access or NC Job Ready Sites either, Jackson said – and does very little to address the opioid crisis.

“A single pilot project in Wilmington,” Jackson said of the anti-opioid funding in the budget proposal. “That’s great for the Wilmington area and I’m sure that program will be a model for the future – but what about the rest of the state?”

Cooper’s budget called for $12 million for health services and $2 million for law enforcement to combat the problem, Jackson said. Tax cuts shouldn’t come before that sort of essential spending on such a deadly problem, Jackson said.

Jackson and other Democratic representatives on hand also criticized proposed K-12 education spending.

Though some of the infamous 3 a.m. cuts to education programs proposed in the Senate budget  have been restored under the House plan, Jackson said no one but the Republican House members know exactly which line item was cut to restore that funding.

Since the amount of spending is the same in both budget plans, Jackson said, every sigh of relief at a program or funding stream restored will be followed by a mad dash to find the cut that made that possible.

That’s going to be the work of reporters, citizens and House members next week, Jackson said.

Once the House has approved their budget, leaders from the House and Senate will confer on a compromise between their two plans. That compromise will go to the governor for his approval or veto.

News

NBA All-Star Game returns to Charlotte over LGBTQ protests

The NBA has announced its 2019 All-Star Game will be held in Charlotte.

This year’s game was held in New Orleans due to the NBA’s opposition to HB2.

But LGBTQ advocate groups Equality NC and the Human Rights Campaign are denouncing the decision. The HB2 compromise recently struck by the General Assembly wasn’t a true comprise, the groups said in a statement Wednesday – and corporations and sports groups shouldn’t be rewarding it.

The groups pointed out that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has said  event sites, hotels, and businesses involved with the NBA All-Star Game must put in place LGBTQ inclusive non-discrimination policies inclusive of the LGBTQ community. But no such guidelines have yet been put in place by the city or the state.

“We need to see concrete guidelines and policies put in place that will live up to the proposed principles put forward by the NBA designed to protect all of its players and fans,” said Equality NC Interim Executive Director Matt Hirschy in the statement. “As we move forward with the NBA All-Star Game returning to Charlotte, LGBTQ people must be invited to the discussions between the NBA, the city of Charlotte and NCGA leadership to provide input and feedback on how to best protect LGBTQ people.”

“North Carolina’s discriminatory law prohibits the city of Charlotte from implementing non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ residents and visitors attending the All-Star Game. Nothing has changed that fact,” said JoDee Winterhof, HRC Senior Vice President for Policy and Political Affairs. “It’s critically important that people understand the gravity of this situation, which has had the effect of extending discrimination and endangering LGBTQ people across the state of North Carolina.”

HB 142 is not a true HB2 repeal, the groups said in their statement. Instead it replaces one discriminatory, anti-transgender bathroom bill with another and bans local LGBTQ non-discrimination protections statewide through 2020. It substitutes the previous anti-transgender bathroom provisions with a new provision that forbids state agencies, public universities, primary and secondary schools, and cities from adopting policies ensuring transgender people have access to restrooms consistent with their gender identity, the groups said.

News

A look at the affordable housing crisis in NC

If you’ve been paying attention in the last few years, you already know there’s a crisis in affordable rental housing.

For a good look at the problem in North Carolina, take a look at this recent report from the UNC Center for Urban and Regional Studies.

From the report:

Decent, secure, and affordable housing is a fundamental need, but finding such housing is increasingly difficult, and it’s not just an urban or rural problem. An interactive map the Urban Institute recently produced illustrates that this dilemma reaches every county in the nation.

The story is no different in North Carolina, where we face a statewide crisis in affordable rental housing. A quick scan of recent news stories in North Carolina—from Greensboro, Wilmington, Cary, Winston-Salem, and Charlotte—shows that inadequate facilities, affordability, and overcrowding in rental housing is a widespread and diverse problem.

 

The report cites a number of well-crafted stories and columns, including this report from Triad City Beat and this one from Susan Ladd at the News & Record in Greensboro.

The report comes to the obvious conclusion – and an important one during this state budget season: the government simply isn’t doing enough to address this problem.

The stats:

  • Census tracts with extreme housing conditions were found in 46 of North Carolina’s 100 counties and in all regions of the state.

  • In 2013, more than 377,000 (or 28.2 percent) of the state’s rental households experienced severe cost burdens, were overcrowded, or lacked critical facilities.

  • The number of severely cost–burdened households increased by 53,737 (or 22.5 percent) between 2008 and 2013.

  • In eight census tracts, over 60 percent of renter households were severely cost burdened, with the highest percentage being 77.4 percent in a Wake County tract.

  • The number of overcrowded households increased by 20,437 (or 45.4 percent) between 2008 and 2013.

  • In six census tracts, over 30 percent of renter households were overcrowded, with the highest rate being 53 percent in a Wake County tract.

The housing problems described in the report also increase public health care costs and reliance on social support programs and lower productivity. The study’s authors suggest that combined efforts of state and local governments are needed to reverse the negative trends in housing affordability and overcrowding and improve the quality of life and economic productivity of North Carolinians.

Although the state funds the North Carolina Housing Trust Fund and administers federal programs such as the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit and the HOME Investment Partnerships Program (HOME), more needs to be done to improve and expand affordable rental housing. The most important action the state can take is to increase its contributions to the North Carolina Housing Trust Fund, which is used to produce quality affordable rental housing.

Read the full report here.

News

NC’s largest managed care organization misspent federal, state dollars

Huge salaries for CEOs. Lavish corporate retreats at luxury hotels. Booze, first class airline tickets and car detailing.

Those are just some of the ways North Carolina’s largest managed care organization misused federal and state funds, according to a state audit release Thursday.

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare Solutions provides services for mental health, developmental disabilities and substance abuse to more than 85,000 North Carolinians.

The 22-page audit lays out some unorthodox spending by the company, including:

* More than $400,000 in spending on chartered planes, luxury hotel stays in Charleston, S.C., monthly detailing of the CEO’s personal car and alcohol purchases.

The retreat expenses, broken down in the audit, are particularly interesting.

Then there’s the Christmas parties.

From the report:

In FY 2016, Cardinal hosted 75 attendees at the Whitehead Manor Conference Center, a retreat-like historic venue. Cardinal paid $18,130, with an average cost of $242 per attendee. The total includes $3,250 for facility rental, $6,122 for a caterer, $1,337 for hotel stays, $668 for hotel cancelation fees, $1,385 for decorations, and $1,126 for alcohol. In FY2015, Richard Topping21 hosted 69 attendees at his personal residence. Cardinal paid $9,621, with an average cost of $139 per attendee. The total cost includes $1,141 for hotel rooms, $3,491 for a caterer, $2,072 for decorations, and $683 for alcohol.

* Annual salaries of between $400,000 and $650,000 for current and former CEOs of the company – far above the $187,365 salary cap got mental health directors set by the Office of State Human Resources.

According to the audit report, Cardinal’s CEO made $260,000 in 2014. Cardinal increased the CEO salary three times until, by 2016, the CEO salary was $635,000.

The audit concludes Cardinal spent nearly $1.2 million in unauthorized salaries that could have been used for other services.

The audit points out that Cardinal could have to reimburse the state for any unauthorized payroll expenditures.

Cardinal denies it did anything wrong in a reply to the audit. The company says the spending was necessary, it was never told to scale it back and that it did not violate any specific laws or statutes in spending the money the way it did.

The audit argues that Cardinal’s spending is “unreasonable” and could erode public trust.

The unreasonable spending on board retreats, meetings, Christmas parties, and travel goes against legislative intent for Cardinal’s operations, potentially resulting in the erosion of public trust. Cardinal was established by North Carolina General Statute 122C as a local management entity (LME) and a local political subdivision of the State to plan, develop, implement, and monitor Behavioral Health services within a specified geographic area to ensure expected outcomes for consumers within available resources. Furthermore, if Cardinal has money available for these types of expenses, it raises questions about whether this money could be used for services to advance its core mission.

News

Sen. Thom Tillis collapses during charity race

Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) collapsed while running a charity race Wednesday morning, according to reports.

From the Associated Press story:

 

Tillis, 57, was seen on the ground being administered CPR by bystanders at about 15-20 minutes into the race, which started at 8 a.m. The three-mile race was being held in Anacostia Park in the southeast part of the city.

Tillis at first appeared unconscious but was revived and breathing when taken away by ambulance from the ACLI Capital Challenge Three Mile Team Race. Tillis was participating in the ACLI Capital Challenge race, an annual event in Anacostia Park in the district. He was leading his own team, “Team Tillis.”

 

It was not immediately clear to which hospital Tillis was taken.

Tillis tweeted a photo of his team before the race:

A local television news anchor tweeted a photo after the collapse, as Tillis was being treated.

Tillis served in the N.C. General Assembly from 2006 until 2015, serving as the Speaker of the N.C. House from 2011 to 2014. He was elected to the Senate in 2014 and serves on a number of influential committees including Senate Armed Services, Housing and Urban Affairs,
Veterans Affairs and Banking.

UPDATE:

Tillis has tweeted a video in which he says he’s doing fine, just got overheated after about 2.5 miles and will see everyone back on the Hill.