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The week’s top stories on NC Policy Watch

1. North Carolina lawmakers remind us yet again why they’ve earned our distrust

In the first two paragraphs of state Rep. David Lewis’ ludicrous and lamentable plea for a special session this week, ostensibly to rescue the GOP-approved constitutional amendments from liberal “gamesmanship and politics,” the Harnett County Republican mentions the word “maneuverings” twice.
If you’re having difficulty processing Lewis’ use of the word, you’re not alone. After all, Lewis is the overseer of a decade of nakedly partisan gerrymandering, a divisive figure and Karl Rove-style political strategist who’s adept at manipulating process and voters to Republican advantage.[Read more…]

2. PW exclusive: Beach nourishment bingo?
NC lawmakers bypass DEQ, allot $5 million coastal research grant to politically connected Winston-Salem nonprofit

A North Carolina nonprofit with deep political connections received $5 million in the state budget for a beach nourishment study and design project, even though it has never done that type of work and is headquartered more than 250 miles from the coast.
Lawmakers appropriated the funding to the Resource Institute, based in Winston-Salem, through a one-time “grant-in-aid” – pass-through money – from the state Division of Water Resources. The amount is the largest grant-in-aid from the Department of Environmental Quality since at least 2005, according to state budget documents.

Yet, DEQ said it did not request the earmark; in fact, lawmakers appropriated just $1.8 million to DEQ to conduct its own work related to GenX and emerging contaminants.[Read more…]
Bonus reads:

Go Backstage: How I got the Resource Institute story, plus a guide to documents for budding sleuths, citizen journalists
Concerned about methyl bromide, DEQ puts log fumigation permits on hold

3. Expect anything different?
The lawless leaders of the General Assembly prepare to do once again the thing they do best
It’s always tempting to open each and every commentary about the North Carolina General Assembly in 2018 with that most ubiquitous of modern pop culture phrases: “You can’t make this s[tuff] up.” After all, when it comes to brazen, autocratic assaults on traditional American notions of democratic government, no one does it better than Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and his always ready and willing sidekick, House Speaker Tim Moore.

Even Vladimir Putin’s bumbling buddy in the White House – hemmed in as he is by a handful of federal and state judges, a semi-watchful news media, the prospect of criminal prosecution for any number of offenses, and an occasionally disagreeable Congress (except when it comes to packing the federal courts) – has yet to pull off the kind of raw, “because-I-said-so” power moves that are as common in Raleigh these days as a #MeToo complaint addressed to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. [Read more…] Read more

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Statement on the Passage of the Income Tax Cap Proposal

The passage of Senate Bill 75, proposing a Constitutional amendment capping the income tax rate to lock in recent legislative decisions to reduce rates, is fiscally irresponsible and unnecessary.

In order to keep funding vital public services such as schools and public safety, lawmakers will likely have to raise the sales tax or fees, which will eat into middle class families’ paychecks and financially hurt those who are already struggling to get by.

Lawmakers are not trying to bring greater democracy to the budget process; they are trying to take choices away from future generations of North Carolinians.  Voters in November should reject this effort to limit the tools available to future policymakers and the will of future voters.

Constitutions should be flexible and enduring frameworks for governing, not the place to impose the arbitrary whims of the moment on future generations.

The vote shows just how arbitrary the rate is that legislators choose to enshrine in the state Constitution. The bottom line is that this is about further locking in low tax rates that primarily benefit the wealthy, cutting public investments that serve the common good, and shifting the costs for our state’s needs to local governments and the middle class.

In the end, the results of this unnecessary amendment will be costly for us all.

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The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Democrats: Berger-Moore budget process may quash debate, amendments

When N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger addressed reporters last week, they boasted that negotiations on the state’s estimated $24 billion budget were “far ahead” of years past.

According to top Democrats who spoke to Policy Watch this week, that may be because Republican lawmakers are considering a maneuver that would dramatically limit debate on the privately negotiated spending plan in the coming days.

State House Democratic Leader Darren Jackson says members of his party believe the GOP may pack the entire budget bill—negotiated by House and Senate leadership behind closed doors—into a conference committee report either late this week or early next week. While such a tactic is not unheard of at the General Assembly, this would be an unprecedented move with respect to the state budget according to several longtime lawmakers and legislative staffers.

Because a conference report is considered the final product of House and Senate negotiations on an already-filed bill, General Assembly procedures would provide only for a “yea” or “nay” v ote with no allowance for amendments.[Read more…]

Bonus read: Ten education policies to watch closely in the 2018 legislative session

2. Coincidence or collusion? NC Oil and Gas Commission receives curious requests to frack.

3. Legislators seek background checks, fingerprinting for election workers

4. NC officials order dozens of campaigns to forfeit illegal PAC contributions from pharma giant

5. One simple, moral and business-friendly step NC lawmakers could take to boost the economy

NC Budget and Tax Center, Uncategorized

Governor Cooper recognizes North Carolina is in a hole, stops digging

Governor Cooper released a proposed budget for 2018-19 that takes an important, though modest, first step in reversing the state’s failed tax cut experiment. The Governor proposed freezing corporate income tax rates at 3 percent rather than allowing them to drop again in January 2019, while also stopping personal income tax rate cuts on higher incomes.

Combined, this fiscally responsible approach will ensure $110 million is available in 2018-19 for public investments in areas that have immediate needs. Over the full Fiscal Year, the result will be an estimated $223 million in revenue available. Even more work will be required to undo the years of cuts that have been the priority of North Carolina’s General Assembly.

The hole we are in is deep.

This prudent first step in this year’s budget process demonstrates, however, what is possible when leaders put public investments before tax cuts. The Governor’s budget invests in a number of priorities in communities across the state, including increasing the number of school nurses and psychologists, funding classrooms, ensuring the Department of Environmental Quality gets the funding it needs to monitor air and water quality, and funding the transition of young people to the juvenile justice system under the Raise the Age proposal, among others.

There is no doubt that the damage of cutting tax cuts to our public institutions and communities has been years in the making and a more thorough adjustment from the tax-cutting approach will be required.

That should not diminish the importance of Governor Cooper’s recognition  that the first step when realizing you are in a hole is to stop digging.  Let’s hope the General Assembly follows suit.

Who pays? Read more

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As Congress grapples with how to reduce gun violence, a major gun retailer moves beyond “thoughts and prayers”

The Chairman and CEO of DICK’S Sporting Goods announced Wednesday the company has decided to no longer sell assault style rifles or firearms to anyone under 21 years of age. High capacity magazines will also no longer be sold by the national chain.

The company recently learned that it had legally sold a gun last November to 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, though it was not the gun or the type of weapon used in the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

In a series of tweets the company announced its decision to pull all AR-15s and other semiautomatic rifles from its store shelves and websites.

‘We deeply believe that this country’s most precious gift is our children. They are our future. We must keep them safe.’

The sporting goods chain is also imploring elected officials to:

• Ban assault-style firearms
• Raise the minimum age to purchase firearms to 21
• Ban high capacity magazines and bump stocks
• Require universal background checks that include relevant mental health information and previous interactions with the law
• Ensure a complete universal database of those banned from buying firearms
• Close the private sale and gun show loophole that waives the necessity of background checks

DICK’S Sporting Goods operates more than 715 stores nationwide. You can read their full statement here.