Commentary

His words, not ours: Lt. Gov. Forest says he’s offering “reactionary commentary”

Lt. Gov. Dan Forest

Since winning reelection last November, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest has clearly been using his mostly ceremonial office as a platform to run, more or less full-time, for Governor in 2020. As we reported in this space, Forest told attendees at a Craven County GOP event in February that he plans on being Governor of the state in 2021.

Since then, Forest has continued to spend a great deal of his time traveling the state (and the country), smiling for the camera, speaking to Republican groups and championing discriminatory laws like HB2. Rather remarkably, GOP lawmakers have now even gone to the trouble and expense of directly abetting this effort by inserting language in the state budget bill that will establish a taxpayer-funded, three-person security detail for Forest and his family that will serve at his complete discretion.

Interestingly and not surprisingly, however, despite all of the advantages that come with having a taxpayer-funded campaign platform, Forest, who has long represented the extreme right wing of the religious Right, continues to insert his foot in his mouth.

In the past, of course, Forest has raised eyebrows (and provoked guffaws) by claiming that Raleigh’s News & Observer inserts hidden message in its news headlines and co-founding an organization that purports to rate companies on their supposed devotion to conservative Christian ideals (the Sears catalog got downgraded for featuring lingerie ads). Now, if probably inadvertently, he’s done it again.

This is from a recent article in the conservative Republican publication known as North State Journal that was clearly intended to be a flattering puff piece on Forest:

“It’s obviously different,” said Forest, a Republican, of his relationship with new Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper compared to Pat McCrory. “But it doesn’t change what we do on a daily basis. It certainly changes how we react and communicate with the governor’s office and the things the governor does and says obviously there’s going to be more reactionary commentary out there from us. It’s just the way it’s got to be.” (Emphasis supplied.)

To which all a caring and thinking person can say in response is: thanks for clarifying and confirming that for us Mr. Lt. Governor. No one really had any doubts about the matter, but it’s good to see you taking ownership of your positions and ideology.

Commentary, News

Hopeful sign for NC NAACP as respected pastor seeks to succeed Rev. Barber

Rev. T. Anthony Spearman – Image: Facebook

Rev. William Barber II

A lot of North Carolina progressives have been feeling a bit of unease in recent weeks as they became aware of the impending departure of longtime NAACP President, Rev. William Barber. Rev. Barber, of course, has become national leader over the past dozen years as he transformed the North Carolina NAACP — often through sheer force of will — from what had been a troubled and often irrelevant group into one of the nation’s strongest state conferences. The notion that Barber, who announced earlier this month that he is stepping down to help launch a new national Poor People’s Campaign, will no longer be available on a daily basis to lend his formidable leadership skills has caused some caring and thinking people to worry that the organization might falter.

Happily, however, there is cause for optimism with recent word that one of Barber’s ablest lieutenants is now seeking to succeed him. Rev. T. Anthony Spearman, the senior pastor of St. Phillip A.M.E. Zion Church in Greensboro and current third vice president of the organization, has announced his formal candidacy in recent days. This is from a statement Spearman released earlier this week:

“Over the past twelve years, the N.C. NAACP founded a movement, shifting from ‘Banquets’ to ‘Battle’. The eyes of the world are on our movement in awe over the explosive growth of the Historic Thousands on Jones Street People’s Assembly Coalition (HKonJ). In 2006, we began with sixteen coalition partners, and today we have over 200 diverse social justice organizations working to implement our 14 Point People’s Agenda in 100 counties across North Carolina.

In 2012, many of us traveled throughout N.C. to put a face on poverty, and we were utterly astounded by some of the atrocities we encountered. In 2013, the Moral Monday Movement was formed, using a five-point justice vision that we are fighting to achieve:

1. Pro-labor, anti-poverty policies that ensure economic sustainability

2. Educational equality that ensures that every child receives a high-quality, well-funded, constitutional, diverse public education;

3. Healthcare for all by ensuring access to the Affordable Care Act, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and by providing environmental protection.

4. Fairness in the criminal justice system by addressing continuing inequalities for black, brown, and poor white people.

5. Protect and expand voting rights, women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, and the fundamental principle of equal protection under the law. Read more

News

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.

agriculture, Environment

What’s that smell? The Farm Act of 2017.

This is a farm. To keep wedding venues from posing as farms, Senate lawmakers had to define the term in the Farm Act.

W hile the House dashed through its version of the state budget at the speed of light, for the past two days the Senate Agriculture/Natural Resources Committee plodded through other Very Important Business: the finer points of the farm act, the criminal element that is rumored to loiter near stream buffers, a hinky provision concerning coastal development, and what has become a crowd favorite — leachate aerosolization.

First, SB 615, the farm act.

Veterans of the legislature rightfully become concerned when a lawmaker says “All this section does is x.” Or, as Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican, quipped: “This is one of the shortest ones I’ve run in the last few years and the least controversial. We’ll see here in a moment.”

The 16-page bill (that started as four) would temporarily exempt from odor rules those farms that store poultry manure to be used for renewable energy. The Environmental Management Commission would have to craft an amendment to the existing odor rule governing waste-to-energy storage. These changes must go through public comment so the rule could take several months, if not a year to enact.

“All this does is allow a farmer to buy poultry litter from multiple sources to burn as renewable energy,” Jackson said. Otherwise the facility would fall under an industrial class and be subject to odor rules. “If there’s just one source, you may not have enough to keep the system running.”

The premise sounds reasonable, except the so-called hog nuisance bill just became law, and the language is vague enough that poultry operations could be included in it. Under that statute, citizens are limited in the amount of compensatory damages they can be awarded for agricultural inconveniences like bacteria from fecal matter on their homes or acrid odors in their living rooms.

“Let’s say I’m a citizen who wants to complain about odor, can I get an injunction?” asked Sen. Angela Bryant, a Democrat from northeastern North Carolina.

The answer is yes. Citizens can file an objection with the NC Department of Environmental Quality. They can sue and/or ask a judge for an injunction. But lawsuits require money and time. And odor exemptions could be abused.

The other reasonable-on-its-face-questionable-in-real-life section would strip counties of their authority to adopt zoning regulations governing all types of farms. If a farm is “bona fide” — that is, generates at least 75 percent of its gross sales from farming activities and qualifies for a conservation agreement — then it is exempt from local zoning regulations.

Jackson said the 2007 permanent moratorium on the construction of new hog farms removes the need for county ordinances governing them.

We’re trying to clean up our boots,” Jackson said.

Existing farms are grandfathered under the moratorium, although they can’t expand. Farms with advanced waste systems can be built, but none have been, so far. But if such a modern farm were to be constructed, a county could not use its zoning power to restrict its location.

And finally, it might seem silly that lawmakers have to define the term “farm,” but indeed they do. Many rural Orange County residents oppose the Barn of Chapel Hill, aka “the Party Barn,” which hosts weddings, because of concerns over noise, bright lights and drunken driving.

The Barn is on 22 bucolic acres near White Cross. But two beehives and a smattering of flowers do not a farm make. There must be official government paperwork. There must be evidence that you’re legit. Only then can there be noise, bright lights and drunken driving.

The bill passed the Senate Ag committee. It now heads to Finance and Judiciary.

Next: HB 56 and HB 576, environmental laws and the leachate bill.

Commentary

Blue Cross: Trump, Congress to blame for new rate hike request

How disastrous would Trumpcare be for North Carolina? This disastrous: It’s only passed one house of Congress and it’s already badly destabilizing the insurance market. This is from the NC Justice Center’s Health Advocacy Project:

Today, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina announced it is requesting an average premium rate increase of 22.9 percent for individual market plans in 2018. Before the Trump administration took power, Blue Cross had been making progress in managing costs of new members who gained coverage as a result of the Affordable Care Act. In 2016, the company reduced their losses on the individual market by 86 percent and returned to overall profitability. The company notes today that they were seeing the market begin to stabilize with a healthier risk pool.

However, since January, the Trump administration has deliberately undermined the health insurance markets in an attempt to cause the Affordable Care Act to fail. Despite continued requests from the health insurance industry, health care providers, and consumer advocates alike, the administration has threatened to hold hostage payments it owes to insurers for cost-sharing reductions. Blue Cross notes that this uncertainty is directly responsible for three-fifths of their requested increase (14.1 percentage points alone). Without the Trump administration destabilizing the market in such a way, Blue Cross would only seek an increase of 8.8 percent for 2018.

The administration has also undermined enrollment, threatening to not enforce the individual mandate, scaling back marketing and outreach efforts, and instituting new rules that make it harder for consumers to enroll.

The aggregate impact of these policy decisions is a climate of uncertainty and instability for the health insurance market, leaving insurers little choice other than to raise premiums higher than otherwise necessary in order to brace against potential losses. Like Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, insurers in other states have clearly attributed significant portions of their rate hikes directly to uncertainty from the federal level.

What’s more, Congress’ ongoing and misplaced attempt to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act has further destabilized the health insurance markets, as insurers face an unclear legislative and regulatory environment moving forward. Read more