Early morning Senate budget changes head to House, further controversy

In the wake of the final Senate budget vote at after 3 a.m. on Friday even many Senators weren’t sure about the contents of the hastily-passed, heavily amended budget they sent to the N.C. House.

But some of those highly partisan changes – included stripping education funding from some Democratic senators’ districts, cutting arts and redevelopment funding, defunding anti-food desert initiatives and eliminating a federal legislative coordinator from the governor’s staff – will likely become sticking points between the chambers in the final budget negotiations.

In a Saturday e-mail, Gov. Cooper’s spokesman Ford Porter was blunt.

“Middle of the night budget games are rarely good for North Carolina families,” Porter said.“In this case, Senate Republicans chose to cut funding for science and math class, access to fruit and vegetables in rural communities, and staff to work with the federal government to, among other things, bring hurricane recovery funds back to North Carolina. These are the wrong priorities.”

HB2, News

Chris Sgro stepping down as Executive Director Equality N.C.


Chris Sgro, executive director of Equality North Carolina.advocacy group announced this morning its executive director, Chris Sgro, is stepping down after nearly four years.LGBTQ advocacy group announced this morning its executive director, Chris Sgro, is stepping down after nearly four years.

LGBTQ advocacy group Equality North Carolina announced this morning its executive director, Chris Sgro, is stepping down after nearly four years.

Sgro is moving to Washington, D.C. to become Director of Communications with the Human Rights Campaign.

Sgro became widely known as one of the faces of the struggle against HB2, even briefly serving in the N.C. House as the General Assembly’s only out gay member when he finished the term of late Rep. Ralph Johnson (D-Guilford).

“Serving as Executive Director of Equality North Carolina for nearly four years has been an honor for me,” Sgro said in a statement Friday morning. “Together, we have accomplished so much. I realize that there is much left to be done to achieve true equality across the state, and I know that the talented staff and committed board of directors will continue to work with LGBTQ North Carolinians, day after day, to fight against discrimination from Murphy to Manteo. ”

“Equality North Carolina has never been about me,” Sgro said. ” Equality NC is the oldest state-based LGBTQ equality group in the country, and since its founding, its mission has been to advance both the legal and lived equality of LGBTQ North Carolinians. Equality NC has never been stronger than it is today because our community stepped up during the HB2 battle to stand with us to fight discrimination in our state. We will always stand with them.”

Equality NC credited Sgro with helping to build “a permanent coalition of over 500 pro-equality business voices, [grow] a faith program focused on building a group of affirming faith leaders in both urban and rural parts of the state, and [hiring] the organization’s first-ever Director of Transgender Policy.”

The group’s board of directors are beginning a national search for Sgro’s successor.

Sgro’s announcement comes the same week Rev. William Barber, the nationally renowned leader of the NC NAACP, announced he would step down to begin a new national poor peoples’ campaign in the vein of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.




Senate overrides Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto on hog nuisance bill

In addition to passing its proposed budget bill Thursday, the N.C. Senate voted to override Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of House Bill 467.

The bill will cap the compensatory damages North Carolinians can win in nuisance lawsuits like those over fecal bacteria rampant in residential areas near hog farms.

Though the veto override vote in the House was close, the Senate voted to override 30-18 with no debate.


Senate passes budget plan, debates “philosophy and approach”

The N.C. Senate gave preliminary approval to its $22.9 billion budget bill Thursday evening.

In a straight party-line vote, the spending plan passed its second reading 34-15 and will have its third reading at shortly after midnight on Friday.

Debate over the bill lasted several hours and remained civil. But Democratic and Republican lawmakers outlined the sharp philosophical contrast between the ways they view both the budget and the direction of the state.

In a series of prepared remarks, Democratic Senators assailed what they called anemic spending on education, state employee and state retiree pay and benefits and tax cuts that most benefit the wealthy.

“We can’t keep cooking up new schemes for the wealthy if want to meet our potential as a state,” said Sen. Mike Woodard (D-Durham).

Woodard called the debate “a tale of two budgets” – one version crafted by the GOP majority in the Senate and the plan proposed by Gov. Roy Cooper.

The Senate’s spending plan includes an increase in the standard deduction and a small cut to the personal income tax rate, but a much larger cut to the corporate income tax rate.

Woodard called it a “billionaire’s budget” and Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) condemned it as “fiscally irresponsible.”

Republicans called that overdramatic.

Sen. Ralph Hise (R-Mitchell) said there only four billionaires in North Carolina. One of them, Michael Jordan, has a primary residence in Florida because, Hise speculated, that state has no income tax. The Republican strategy of tax cuts, reigned in spending and the building of historic surpluses has created a business environment that will benefit the whole state, Hise said.

“We are going to grow business and we’re going to grow billionaires in this state and keep them,” Hise said. “We won’t take every opportunity to punish success.”

Republican Senators cited North Carolina being chosen as Site Selection Magazine’s number one environment for business and said they have no intention of going back to the “spend it all” method of budgeting under Democratic majorities.

But Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue (D-Raleigh) said that was a mischaracterization of what Democrats want out of the budget. They don’t want to “spend it all” but to make wise investments when the state is in an economic position to do so. That includes investing in the state’s most valuable resource, Blue said – its people and its employees.

Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) said the debate illustrated “a difference in philosophy and approach.” The GOP majority, he said, wants to continue the path that has led the state from deficits to surpluses and allowed them to make strides on things like teacher pay and employee raises – even if those efforts have fallen short of what Democrats would like to see.

Blue said he thinks the average North Carolinian would like to see more investment, not less. The state can’t get there with a budget that benefits corporations over average families, he said.

“We place too much emphasis in this budget on issues regarding people who sit around boardrooms and board tables,” Blue said. “The discussion should be about how we’re affecting people’s conversations around their dinner tables.”

When it wins gets its final approval, the Senate plan will head to the N.C. House where lawmakers said they would like to see a little less austerity and smaller tax cuts.


Rev. William Barber cutting short his leadership of state NAACP

Rev. William Barber, the nationally renowned leader of the North Carolina NAACP responsible for the Moral Monday movement, is stepping down after more than a decade.

Barber told the Wilmington Journal he’s joining a new “national poor people’s campaign” to keep fighting poverty and social inequality.

From that story:

“I’m not going to run for another term [as president ] of the North Carolina NAACP, and I will step down in June,” the civil rights leader said Wednesday during a teleconference.

Maintaining that the NC NAACP is “…strong in our legal victories; strong in our organizational structure; strong financially and strong in the clarity of agenda…,” the civil rights leader expressed confidence that the next state president, coming from among the organization’s four vice presidents, will be up to the task.

Barber has been president of the North Carolina chapter, the largest in the South, since 2005. He led the once troubled conference into national prominence with weekly Moral Monday demonstrations at the North Carolina state legislature since 2013, and challenging the state on controversial cases of alleged racial injustice.

The key to Barber’s success was his ability to lead diverse racial and religious coalitions to demand change on issues ranging from equal education to affordable health care. Subsequently the Christian leader was invited to twenty-three states last year to do “moral revival” training, sparking Moral Monday demonstrations as far away as Chicago.

In recent years, Rev. Barber has been recognized as a key voice in the progressive movement nationally, garnering him numerous appearances on MSNBC and CNN, and stories in The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal; an address during the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia; and the keynote sermon at Riverside Church in Harlem last month commemorating the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s April 4, 1967 “Beyond Vietnam” address.

His numerous appearances across the country gradually fueled speculation that Rev. Barber was steadily ascending to national leadership. Last Wednesday, he confirmed that he will be “following a deep calling” and  “transitioning to an expansion of the work around the country.”

“We found that there is a deep hunger for a shift in our moral narrative in the nation, and I’ve been asked by a number of moral leaders and impacted persons and advocates to join with them in helping to bring some leadership, energy and unity to helping to build the Poor People’s campaign, and a national call for a moral revival. “

Rev. Barber said the campaign will focus on 25 states and the District of Columbia, with at least half of them in South, including North Carolina, culminating with the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s 1968 Poor People’s Campaign.

“In the times in which we live, our country still needs to address the issues of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and militarism, and our national morality,” Rev. Barber said. “We need a moral narrative.”

Barber’s term isn’t officially up until October. Though he’s stepping down early he says he’ll still sit on the national board and be part of the state conference.