Commentary

UNC-Chapel Hill Chancellor James Moeser. In background is the Old Well.In case you missed it, be sure to check out the thoughtful essay written for the group Higher Education Works by former UNC chancellor James Moeser yesterday.

In it, Moeser laments the morale-busting policies of the current state political leadership:

“My point here is not to re-litigate the closing of the Poverty Center at UNC Chapel Hill, the Center for Biodiversity at East Carolina University, or the Institute for Civic Engagement and Social Change at N.C. Central University; or the abrupt dismissal without explanation of President Tom Ross.  Rather, it is to focus on the collateral damage to the university from these actions and from statements from people in high places that suggest a lack of support for academic freedom, a lack of understanding of the real purpose of a public university.”

In holding up a recent letter to Raleigh’s News & Observer by Professor Joseph Ferrell, Moeser also says this:

“Joe Ferrell speaks of the ‘right of inquiry that lies at the very foundation of the university.’  That is the right to speak truth to power, to question the assumptions and the motives of those in power, and yes, to advocate for action and change.  It is that tradition that has made Carolina one of America’s truly great universities.  It was, indeed, the pioneering work of people like Howard Odom and Frank Porter Graham, viewing the racism and poverty of the South through the critical lens of scholarship, that allowed North Carolina to surpass all other Southern states.  It was the courage to do that work, often unpopular at the time, that led North Carolinians to love UNC.

Charles Kuralt famously asked the question, ‘What binds us to this place as to no other? It is not the well, or the bell, or the stone walls, or the crisp October nights and the memory of dogwoods blooming. . . . No, our love for this place is based on the fact that it is, as it was meant to be, the University of the People.’

Now, I believe, it is time for the people to come to the aid of their university, so that it may continue as a place of free expression and free inquiry, with a positive climate in which great faculty and students can thrive for the benefit of all North Carolinians.”

Amen.

News

Mark Martin, Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court will address a joint session of General Assembly this afternoon at 4:00 p.m. Martin will be making the case for an additional $30 million for the state’s court system.

Hours before Martin delivers his State of the Judiciary Address, the House will take up an incentives bill that would give the McCrory administration $45 million a year to attract new employers to North Carolina.

State Commerce Sec. John Skvarla told members of the House Finance Committee Tuesday incentives are an essential tool for his department.

Still several Republicans questioned the effectiveness of incentives in bringing jobs to rural North Carolina.

Rep. Johnathan Jordan told the House Finance Committee the majority of incentives were being spent in larger urban counties, not in areas like Ashe County that he represents.

“The fact that these incentives have gone historically to the wealthy counties shows you exactly what this is, which is corporate entitlements. This is welfare for corporations.”

Rockingham County Rep. Bert Jones told the committee what was needed was a better tax climate, not more incentives for a select few businesses:

“I’m not against my governor. I ask some people on my side of the aisle, Would you be jumping up behind this is Governor Perdue were still governor?”

The NC Competes Act (House Bill 117) passed the Finance Committee 30-9 and gets its first full vote on the House floor this afternoon at 2:00 p.m.

Chief Justice Martin will address the NC house and Senate at 4:00 p.m.

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NC Budget and Tax Center

The News & Record had an editorial this weekend on the inconsistent choices policymakers have made as it relates to tax code spending. Some tax breaks have ended while others remain and even may get expanded this session. From the piece:

Tax breaks for movie productions and historic property renovations are out. Tax breaks for more data centers are in. The North Carolina legislature is still picking “winners and losers,” but the criteria have changed.

The bottom-line is that policymakers have not established the appropriate processes to evaluate tax code spending and base their decisions on the results of such analysis. Nor do they have a set of economic development goals that reflect the realities of different regions and the needs of North Carolinians.

The result is that the pursuit of ideological purity by eliminating all tax breaks no matter their public good often falls prey to the influences of various political forces that continue to carve out special tax breaks, often inconsistently.

As we noted in a recent piece on the options available to policymakers to address the revenue shortfall, a renewed look at tax code spending is needed. So too is a criteria and process for evaluating that spending against a set of shared and relevant goals for our economy.

News

After a slow start thanks to snow and ice wreaking havoc on legislative meeting schedules for the past two weeks, members of the House K-12 Education committee finally gathered this morning to get acquainted and begin moving legislation.

Rep. Craig Horn (R-Union), co-chair of the committee, introduced House Bill 18, “Planning Year for CIHS,” which would provide institutions seeking Cooperative Innovative High School (CIHS) status (also known as early college high schools) with a planning year prior to opening.

Members of the committee approved the bill, but stripped its $750,000 appropriation that was recommended by the House Study Committee on Education Innovation.

Also up for debate was HB35, “Education Innovation Task Force,” which Rep. Elmore said would offer a more permanent solution for the work of the Education Innovation study committee by establishing a permanent entity to examine innovative practices happening in schools across the state of North Carolina.

The task force would comprise 19 politically appointed members that would include teachers, parents, administrators and lawmakers.

Rep. Jimmy Dixon (R-Duplin, Wayne) stressed the importance of choosing for the task force teachers and school officials who are near the end of their careers. “I have found in my district a tremendous hesitancy for school teachers and school personnel to speak up out of various concerns that they have from the administrative level,” said Dixon.

“There’s great wisdom to be gained once teachers who have been in the trenches for a long time understand where the problems are and are unencumbered by the fear of retaliation if they speak up,” said Dixon.

Members approved HB35.

Earlier this morning, the joint education appropriations committee met to continue the orientation process before getting down to work on the state education budget. For a thorough look at how the state funds North Carolina’s schools, check out this presentation by the Fiscal Research Division’s Brian Matteson.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Senate Bill 20 passed another hurdle this morning, moving out of House Finance and to the floor for a full vote.  As I recently highlighted, state lawmakers are pursing tax changes that would further shift responsibility for paying for public investments and services to low- and middle-income taxpayers and away from the wealthy and profitable corporations.

Senate Bill 20 includes a provision that would no longer allow taxpayers to deduct expenses for tuition and related expenses such as course-related books, supplies, and equipment. The federal tax code includes this deduction, but state lawmakers are proposing that the deduction be done away with.

Eliminating this deduction would come at a time when North Carolina students and families have seen a steady increase in the cost of a college education. And this trend will likely continue, as another round of tuition increases look to be on the horizon for students attending public universities in the state. Meanwhile, state funding for need-based financial aid has not increased in recent years, meaning students likely have to incur increasing amounts of student loan debt. Read More