Four important takeaways from the Governor’s budget proposal

Last week, Gov. Cooper released his recommended budget on the use of funds in the state’s primary bank account, the General Fund. In his first comprehensive plan for the state since 2019, the Governor would plan would shift the course of North Carolina’s spending trends, increase investments modestly in state infrastructure, and implement common sense policy changes that help families secure the health and well-being that supports strong communities and economies. 

Notably, the governor’s proposed plan for the state does not include funds passed as part of the federal American Rescue Plan, which includes approximately $5.3 billion for the state to address COVID-related needs, an estimated $1.3 billion for child care, and additional dollars to address the rising costs of the pandemic and the economic downturn.

The governor’s budget makes no effort to raise revenue; however, it does provide bottom-up tax credits targeted at North Carolina families who face the greatest harm from our state’s upside-down tax code and who have been hit hard by the pandemic’s employment and income impacts.

Here are four key takeaways:

1. The plan proposes a modest increase in spending across the state budget.

Read more

Weekend editorials assail the real election fraud that plagues us

Karen Brinson Bell questioned at the Senate Redistricting and Elections Committee on March 23

You’d think Republican legislators would be pleased with the way the voting process worked in North Carolina last fall. Despite the pandemic, the combination of improved early voting and voting by mail options led to a record turnout and virtually zero credible complaints of fraud or malfeasance.

To top things off, Republican candidates did great – sweeping a host of statewide races.

Unfortunately, as editorials from several major news outlets noted this weekend, when it comes to lawmaking these days, GOP legislators — both in Raleigh and across the nation — tend to base their actions more on the marching orders handed down from the Trump machine and Fox News talking heads than real world facts.

In Georgia, things are so absurd that a new law bans giving water to people waiting in line to vote. This is from an editorial in the Washington Post:

In the grand scheme of voter-suppression measures that Republicans have proposed, limiting water distribution is not the most pernicious. But it is emblematic of a party committed to devising new hardships to impose on voters, and all based on lies about voter fraud, to keep hold of political power.

And so it is that despite the remarkable success North Carolina enjoyed in strengthening its democracy by making it easier for voters to cast their ballots, Republicans in the state Senate have launched their own disingenuous effort to mimic voter suppression efforts from around the country with a bill that would make it much harder to vote by mail.

As the lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer rightfully put it in response to last week’s absurd Senate inquisition in which GOP lawmakers accused State Board of Elections executive director Karen Brinson Bell of all manner of malfeasance in agreeing to a lawsuit settlement that made it easier for voters to cope with the pandemic:

Brinson Bell, of course, answers to the State Board of Elections, which approved the settlement 5-0, a vote that included its two Republican members. Some Republicans think the director should have defied her board. Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, gravely told Brinson Bell, “In my heart, you broke the law.”

No, she didn’t. What she did was oversee a fair election that set a record turnout under the difficult circumstances of a pandemic. And it was an election in which Republicans did well. They should be applauding Brinson Bell, not accusing her. But when it comes to elections these days, Republicans would rather stir suspicion than acknowledge the truth.

Meanwhile, a weekend editorial in the Winston-Salem Journal put it this way:

The new restrictions sweeping through red states are not in response to voter fraud, but to voter turnout. Republican authorities come closer every day to “saying the quiet part out loud”: that they’re willing to suppress voting because they think that will work to their advantage.

They also seem to consider lies and conspiracy theories to be legitimate election strategies.

These strategies may ultimately backfire, increasing support for HR 1, the Democratic voting rights bill that passed the U.S. House and is headed for the Senate. Passing that bill, at this point, would be more than justified. It’s voter defense.

The bottom line: it’s an embarrassing charade that the GOP is pursuing — one that once again elevates ideology over common sense and harms voters of all political parties. Let’s hope Americans figure out who the real purveyors of election fraud are and push Congress to pass HR 1 and S1 ASAP.

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: TikTok pasta unites us with feta cheese and tomatoes

First it was “Tiger King.” Later, “The Queen’s Gambit.” Later still, a sudden onset obsession with sea “shanties.” We hopscotched from one pandemic craze to the next for a year to feel “connected” to one another if only through melting a block of feta cheese on top of some cherry tomatoes and adding noodles.

Most recently the so-called “TikTok pasta” has united us, sort of, as we cook together as a nation. Well, maybe not together. Y’all have snapped up all the 70 percent sheep’s milk Greek feta so the rest of us must make do with some off-brand feta “crumbles” that are nearly expired. Thanks ever so.

It’s progress, I guess. Remember a year ago we were stalking delivery trucks for toilet paper and “LikeLysol” wipes in the pre-dawn cold in the Dollar General parking lot. Yes, a year ago, when “Corona” was most often associated with a beer we would only drink when we had run out of water, we only had eyes for essentials, barely glancing at all those plump bars of feta we would covet in the future.

That the craze came from TikTok only makes it more appealing. Nothing funnier than hearing someone who stopped getting takeout from Asian restaurants because of the “China virus” boast of making pasta from “the TikTok.” The social media platform born in China was famously scorned by conservatives for being a setup for spying on us.

If that’s true, the only thing TikTok can confirm is that Americans love a bandwagon. How else to explain those ghastly dustbowl fashions we’re snapping up at Target?

I don’t think it’s right for TikTok, previously mostly known for dance videos and “challenges” requiring you to dunk your face in flour or drink a beer while doing a one-handed pull-up, should have all the fun. Where is the Facebook equivalent? Instagram? Twitter? I’m pretty sure Parler was cooking up something before it got shut down for being, well, horrible.

Facebook, where people you disliked in high school remind you exactly why, is mostly for older folks. So, Facebook pasta could skip the exotic, youthful ingredients of fresh tomatoes, chopped garlic and imported cheese (the TikTok demo knows nothing of reflux, bless their hearts and sturdy esophagi) in favor of something more Facebooky. Perhaps a “Let Me Tell You How Sick the Vaccine Made Me” Stew. It would be exceedingly bland, involve only pantry ingredients and is best served with a “nice, small hamburger” because, at the end of the day, that’s really all we want anymore. Facebook pasta would require little effort but you would have to post a picture so everyone could respond with “Yum!” or (and I’m not sure why this phrase always makes my skin crawl, but it does) “Nom Nom.”

Over on Instagram, it’s all about lovely pictures so it follows that Instagram Pasta would have to be photogenic first. Think squid ink rotini nestled in an earthenware bowl perched on a spruce bough in Denali National Park. Because why not? Looks are everything on Insta. They will flat scatter some pomegranate seeds on anything. Matters not they feel like mouse eyeballs in your mouth.

Twitter pasta would enjoy the angry boiling of the noodles most of all. The recipe would include lots of short, snappy bits, not all of them tasteful. Think crisp bacon lardons, frizzled capers, and plenty of bitter lemon.

Snapchat would want to play but, since it disappears like a self-destructing note in “Mission Impossible” no one would ever be able to remember the ingredients. Sigh.

I could go on but there is no time. A friend of a friend of a friend said feta blocks are due at Aldi in three, two, one…

Celia Rivenbark is a NYT-bestselling author and columnist. Write her at [email protected].

Governor’s education budget shows that we can give students the education they’re owed

Gov. Roy Cooper

The biggest public school issue facing North Carolina’s state education policymakers this session is whether or not the state will make progress on providing children with the education they are owed under our state constitution. The Governor’s budget proposal marks an important first step towards securing such progress this year.

Under the decades-long Leandro court case, North Carolina’s courts have consistently found that state leaders have been failing to provide students with the type of education they are owed under our state constitution. According to the 2019 WestEd report, North Carolina was once making progress towards meeting its constitutional obligations to children. However, the past 10 years of austerity budgets and misguided legislation have moved our state backwards.

On March 15, the state submitted a detailed action plan to deliver a constitutionally sound education system by the 2028 school year. The plan sets forth specific investments and policy changes that, in the words of the Every Child NC coalition, are strong, equitable, and affordable.

Importantly, the Governor’s budget proposal incorporates all of the elements of the Leandro action plan, including:

  • Pay raises for teachers and principals that will boost average salaries by 10 percent by the 2023 school year;
  • Substantial investments in early childhood programs to expand NC Pre-K, Smart Start, early intervention services, and salary supplements for early childhood educators;
  • Expanded funding for children with disabilities, English learners, disadvantaged students and other funding streams that will greatly improve the equity of North Carolina’s school finance system;
  • Funding to begin staffing school nurses, psychologists, counselors, librarians, and social workers at recommended staffing ratios, and to restore funding for teacher assistants; and
  • Investments to improve the recruitment, retention, and diversity of teachers and school leaders.

If implemented, the proposal would put the state on a reasonable path to achieve its Leandro goals by the 2028 school year.

That said, the Governor’s plan for this biennium could have been more ambitious. The aforementioned WestEd report recommended the state invest more aggressively in the first years of an eight-year plan, while the Governor’s plan would see more aggressive funding increases pushed out to later years. As my colleague Alexandra Sirota points out, the Governor’s budget “misses a critical moment for getting NC on a sustainable path to more equitable outcomes” by “passing on popular options to raise the tax rates paid by high-income taxpayers and profitable corporations.” Additional revenue would have made it easier for the state to meet its goal of providing a sound basic education to all students by the 2028 school year.

Still, the Governor’s proposal would mark the fist substantial increase in public school resources in more than a decade. If enacted, it would begin to reverse North Carolina’s back-sliding and serve an important down-payment on the state’s continuing efforts to provide all students with the education they are owed.

Editorial blasts “arrogant and shortsighted” chancellor search at Fayetteville State

New Fayetteville State chancellor Darrell Allison

If you get chance, check out today’s excellent lead editorial from the Greensboro News & Record about the embarrassingly political hiring process that the UNC system recently concluded for a new chancellor at Fayetteville State University. As Policy Watch investigative reporter Joe Killian has reported in great detail, the Board of Governors and system president Peter Hans selected a person for the job — conservative education lobbyist Darrell Allison — who wasn’t even a finalist when FSU’s Board of trustees vetted numerous applicants.

This is from today’s editorial:

To say his hiring was a shock is an understatement.

According to reports from at least two news outlets, Allison was not among the finalists for the FSU post, which attracted a national field of more than 60 applicants.

He has no administrative experience in higher education.

He has no teaching experience.

He has little apparent support among faculty and students.

He does have plenty of opposition. Students, alumni and faculty have staged protests. The FSU National Alumni Association has threatened legal action. An online petition to remove him from the job had gathered 2,500 signatures as of last week.

After explaining that Allison has professed to be unfazed by the criticism he has received, the editorial rightfully observes:

Even if Allison eventually should win friends and influence people in Fayetteville, the process used to hire him is fundamentally flawed and does not serve the best interests of the UNC System.

The “process” to which the editorial refers, of course, the Board of Governors’ recently adopted policy that, in effect, gives the system president the power to supersede the recommendations of campus trustees and select whomever he or she cares to choose. This, the editorial concludes, is absurd:

Given the heavily weighted vote it now bestows on the UNC Systems president, why even bother with a search? And why even bother to apply if you weren’t suggested by Hans?

…Politics has always threatened to poison chancellor searches, but this process (if you want to call it that) opens the toxic floodgates.

The Fayetteville students, faculty and trustees have good reason to be angry.

And the rest of the UNC campuses have good reason to be concerned.

The bottom line: The conservative majority at the General Assembly — the politicians who are ultimately behind this whole mess — has been  wreaking havoc in the UNC system for years and one can only hope that some sort of rescue can be effected before the damage becomes irreparable.