News

LW-ASD15ANorth Carolina lawmakers may be mulling a controversial proposal for so-called achievement school districts—a model that could wrest governance powers from local school boards in struggling districts and hand them over to charter operators—but the criticisms of the model nationwide continue to pile up.

This month, the national Center for Popular Democracy issued a scathing report on takeover proposals, including achievement school districts, that blamed such models for “negligible” academic improvement, fraud and mismanagement, high turnover and instability and a “two-tiered educational system” that punishes minority students more harshly.

“There is no clear evidence that takeover districts actually achieve their stated goals of radically improving performance at failing schools,” the report stated.

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Commentary
Solar power

Solar panels

Images from Dan River coal ash spill

Images from Dan River coal ash spill

Sometimes the transparency of fossil fuel industry apologists and their hired helpers who masquerade as government regulators is just so outrageous as to be Saturday Night Live skit-worthy. Such is the case with the latest claims by a McCrory administration official in the eviscerated Department of Environmental Quality that he’s deeply concerned about the potential environmental impact of decommissioned solar panels.

As WRAL.com reported this morning, DEQ Deputy Secretary Tom Reeder — who spends most of his time fighting efforts to control carbon pollution and promoting offshore oil and gas drilling — is now in a tizzy about solar:

‘There are 250 million pounds of these photovoltaic cells in North Carolina,’ Reeder told the [Environmental Review] commission, urging lawmakers to consider adding a bond requirement to solar farms for eventual decommissioning, as he says California and the federal Bureau of Land Management do.

‘They do contain toxic materials,’ he warned. ‘There’s no market for recycling these things.'”

Uh, excuse us Tom, but while the issue of properly decommissioning 250 million pounds of solar panels two decades from now certainly is an issue worth discussing and planning for, the matter of what to do with 264 billion pounds of coal ash right now (not to mention the horrific impacts of climate change that continue to mount as the result our unfettered use of fossil fuels) would seem just a trifle more important. How about you get to work on those matters?

The bottom line: Reeder’s supposed concerns about the fate of solar panels register about as high on the common sense and sincerity meters as a 1980’s tobacco boss railing about the dangers of too much bubble gum chewing by ex-smokers. Fortunately, as a bevy of Facebook commenters recently made plain in response to DEQ’s latest propagandizing against the Clean Power Plan, a growing number of North Carolinians are seeing through the department’s disingenuous smokescreens.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Most non-disabled, childless adults on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) who can work do so, according to new analysis published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities — an important finding given that the harsh three-month time limit for SNAP returns for this population in North Carolina over the course of 2016. More than 100,000 of the state’s poorest adults could be cut off SNAP if they can’t find a job, job-training program, or volunteer opportunity for 20 hours per week.

Due to federal law, the time limit returned for 23 of North Carolina’s 100 counties last month. The remaining 77 counties qualified for a year-long waiver due to a very weak labor market but the Governor and legislature permanently banned state waivers after July 2016. Now, the three-month time limit is returning at least six months sooner for those 77 counties, potentially harming very poor adults who are doing their best to get by in a weak economy.

Lawmakers supporting the ban and voluntary re-implementation of the time limit claimed that the policy change would encourage people to find a job or an education opportunity. Yet, the Center’s new report shows that claim is rooted in misunderstanding. Most childless adults on SNAP are in fact strongly attached to the labor force and they stay on assistance for shorter periods of time compared to the average participant.

Among the key findings in the Center’s report include: Read More

Commentary

The lead editorial in the Greensboro News & Record hits a home run this morning by highlighting a powerful new report out of N.C. State on the enormous potential benefits of equipping North Carolina schools with solar panels.

“A pair of new reports from renewable-energy experts propose a bright idea for enterprising school districts in North Carolina: solar arrays on public school rooftops and in school parking lots.

Such an arrangement could save millions, they say, and, in time, even generate revenue for cash-strapped schools.

It’s as brilliant a notion as a noon-day sun in August. And it’s being pushed by an advocacy group called Repower Our Schools in Durham, whose schools spend $5.7 million a year on electricity, and in Charlotte, whose public schools’ electric bill totals about $18 million a year.

By comparison, Guilford County Schools paid $12.3 million for electricity in 2014-15.”

And this is from the summary to the reports themselves:

“Two reports by the North Carolina Clean Energy Technology Center (NCCETC) released February 3rd found that Charlotte­-Mecklenburg Schools (CMS) and Durham Public Schools (DPS) can meet 100 percent of their electricity needs and save millions over the next 25 years by installing solar panels to power their schools. With solar-friendly updates to solar policies in the state, including the allowance of third party energy sales and changes to net metering policy, CMS and DPS could produce renewable electricity for 25 years and reduce their total electricity cost by 11 percent.”

Seems line a no-brainer, right? Well it clearly is, but unfortunately, when it comes to a shortage of brains in the  North Carolina energy policy world, you can probably already guess who the problem children are. That’s right, it’s the state’s conservative, Koch Brother-loving political leaders and the fun people at Pat McCrory’s old employer, Duke Energy.

Until we get McCrory, the General Assembly, Duke and the denizens of the Flat Earth Society “think tanks” to back down from their destructive obstruction of all things renewable and sustainable, this splendid idea will likely be left moldering on the shelf somewhere.

NC Budget and Tax Center

State lawmakers are once again considering more tax changes that won’t address what’s wrong with our current tax code or what our economy needs. During the Revenue Laws Committee meeting on yesterday, the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division provided committee members information regarding how raising the state standard deduction would impact taxpayers and state revenue.  This tax change would reduce the income tax owed by a taxpayer but is an expensive one that fails to efficiently target the low- and middle-income taxpayers who carry a heavier tax load than wealthy taxpayers.  A refundable state Earned Income Tax Credit is the better tool for North Carolina policymakers concerned about tax equity.

Tax changes passed since 2013 that include large income tax cuts that largely benefit the already well-off and profitable corporations have made North Carolina’s upside-down tax system worst. State lawmakers expanded the sales tax to more goods and services to partially pay for these costly tax cuts. The regressive sales tax hits low-income North Carolinians particularly hard, as they spend a larger share of their income on goods and services subject to the sales tax. This deliberate move by lawmakers to a greater reliance on the sale tax and less reliance on the income tax has shifted the tax load to low- and middle-income taxpayers and away from the well-off and profitable corporations.

In a context in which many working families earn low-wages and struggle to meet basic needs, there is increased recognition at the national level that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is the best tool to ensure workers keep more of what they earn and in so doing move families out of poverty. Here’s why a refundable EITC makes the most sense for North Carolina: many low- and moderate- income North Carolinians are not subject to a state income tax because they don’t earn enough income. However, they pay a significant share of their income in other taxes—like sales and property taxes—and the EITC helps offset the higher tax responsibility they have overall relative to wealthier taxpayers. Moreover, increasing the standard deduction would reduce the income taxes paid for all tax filers who don’t itemize, not just those with low-incomes.

Increasing the standard deduction by $2,000 not only is poorly targeted but is also costly. Fiscal Research estimates that such a proposal would reduce state revenue by as much as $205 million for tax year 2017. The actual cost may be higher considering that a higher percentage of NC taxpayers (beyond the 70 estimate by Fiscal Research) are likely to take the standard deduction as a result of tax changes since 2013. Restoring a state EITC at 5 percent of the federal amount would be half the cost of increasing the standard deduction at that level and reach nearly one million working but low-income families and their children.

If policymakers are willing to spend $200 million to address inequities in our state’s tax code then restoring a state refundable EITC and doubling its value to 10 percent of the federal amount is the better policy choice.