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Offshore windThis just in from the good folks the the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club:

For Immediate Release

North Carolina Moves One Step Closer to Offshore Wind Development

WILMINGTON – Earlier today, the US Department of the Interior announced that it has defined three Wind Energy Areas off the coast of North Carolina which total 307,590 acres. The possibility of offshore wind development for the state intensified after a study by UNC Chapel Hill researchers found that potential wind resources off our coast were the largest on the Atlantic seaboard. A report by Governor Perdue’s Scientific Advisory Panel on Offshore Energy came to a similar conclusion in 2011.

After the announcement, Zak Keith, lead organizer for the NC Sierra Club issued the following statement:

We have known for years that North Carolina has the best offshore wind resource potential of any state on the East Coast. This announcement is a welcome sign that our state can start to take advantage of the clean energy opportunity sitting on our doorstep.

We are one step closer to creating clean energy jobs in North Carolina. It’s becoming clear that offshore wind is a better option than drilling off our coast.

UNCIn case you missed it over the weekend, the Greensboro News & Record posted a good editorial on North Carolina’s gradually declining commitment to its colleges and universities. As the editorial rightly noted, the state has been reduced to charging higher tuition of some students in order to generate funds to subsidize tuition for those who can’t afford it.

The UNC Board of Governors confronted a tuition dilemma and didn’t solve it. It can’t. The problem is this:

* Raising tuition leaves more students who can’t afford to pay.
* This calls for greater expenditures for financial aid.
* Which requires more money.
* Tuition is one source of money.
* So there’s more pressure to raise tuition.

Of course, as the editorial also notes, the real solution to funding higher education adequately and keeping it within the constitutional mandate of being “as free as practicable” for everyone lies with state policymakers and taxpayers stepping up and doing their part:

Yet, higher education isn’t free. The taxpayers subsidize low tuition. Lately, though, taxpayers have been covering a declining share, while students and their families are paying more.

That trend must stop. Even capped at 5 percent, future tuition increases will price more young people out of our universities — or put more in need of financial aid.

The Board of Governors can’t resolve the dilemma without more support from the state.

Amen. Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

At yesterday’s NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon on the future of marriage equality, Chris Brook, the Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, made it pretty clear what he intends to argue in federal court when he next gets the opportunity in the organization’s challenges to North Carolina’s marriage discrimination law. Brook said he’s going to point to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond (the precedents of which apply to North Carolina), show the judge that court’s decision in the recent Bostic v. Schaefer case and then just sit down.

It’s an obvious strategy — namely, that the ruling striking down Virginia’s discrimination law in Bostic is right on point and there really isn’t much that a North Carolina federal judge can do but abide by it.

This is why Attorney General Cooper made his recent announcement that he would stop wasting North Carolina taxpayers’ money by trying to defend North Carolina’s indefensible law.  It would be a futile and costly gesture — not unlike attempting to defend a law that banned interracial marriage.

Of course, as Sharon McCloskey’s story immediately below makes plain, this patently obvious logic is apparently lost on Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis who are, quite remarkably (if one of Berger’s members is to be believed), taking steps to impeach Cooper over his utterly reasonable, constitutional and ethically-bound decision.

By all indications, Berger and Tillis simply want Cooper to tilt at the Bostic windmill and manufacture insipid, sure-fire-loser arguments as is being tried in a few other states. Today, we got a good idea of what some of those arguments would look like when the folks at ThinkProgress published a handy list of The 10 Craziest Arguments Two States Are Using to Defeat Marriage Equality.” This is from the post: Read More

Voices of concern are growing louder as more and more individuals and institutions directly impacted by the new state budget signed by Gov. McCrory yesterday come to grasp what is actually in the 260 page document. As reported in the post immediately below and in this story by Sarah Ovaska on Wednesday, the list of changes buried in the fine print is long and full of significant policy decisions.

And as this story in today’s Charlotte Observer details, one of the most important and worrisome changes involves how the state funds public education:

A provision of the state budget that changes how schools are funded will put Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools at a disadvantage in recruiting talented teachers and make planning much more difficult, Superintendent Heath Morrison said.

As part of the budget signed by Gov. Pat McCrory on Thursday, the state legislature will no longer automatically fund growth in public school enrollment. Districts had long used that assumption to plan their staffing ahead of the North Carolina budget debate each summer. Now, they will have to wait until after the legislature adjourns, or later, to learn how much money they’ll receive.

“We view it as a very radical change,” Morrison said Thursday.

Charlotte-Meck isn’t the only system worried. This is from Sarah Ovaska’s story: Read More

Technical corrections billAs previously reported here, here and numerous other places, this year’s “technical corrections” bill at the General Assembly was and is an especially egregious example of secret legislative sausage making at its worst. The bill is chock-full of substantive (i.e. a lot more than “technical”) changes to the law – many of which were never even the subject of separate legislation – much less public hearings or debate.

A classic example is buried on page 20 of the 58-page, 94-section special interest Christmas Tree. The official explanation from legislative staff and even the explanation from some legislators in committee and on the floor suggested the provision added needed protections or in some manner merely “clarifies” an “ambiguity” in the state’s anti-predatory lending law by specifying that first loans on manufactured homes are also covered.

Sounds innocuous and maybe even okay, right?

Here’s the problem (and the reason why baloney like this shouldn’t get mislabeled as “technical” and then passed in the wee hours of the legislative session when no one is even paying attention):

The manufactured housing industry asked for the change so that lenders would be able to charge an upfront “origination” fee when they sell a manufactured home by itself – i.e. in situations in which no land is involved in the transaction. Currently, under the law in question, a lender can charge such a fee but only where the manufactured home is sold attached to real estate. With this last minute “technical correction,” the barn door is now open to the assessment of such a fee with all manufactured home sales – even though there was never a bill on the subject or a genuine public discussion at the General Assembly on the merits (and problems) of such an idea  This is obviously a big deal that will cost the state’s consumers millions of dollars in the years to come.

The bottom line: It’s not surprising that an industry long known for selling marginal products with the deceptive tactics perfected in the used car business would support squeezing yet another fee from what are typically unsophisticated, lower income consumers. And sadly, it’s even less surprising that the folks currently running the General Assembly would blithely label the legalization of such a rip-off as a “technical correction.”

FYI -  the Governor has until next Tuesday to sign the bill and has given no indication that he will do otherwise.