Commentary

DENRpicEver since Gov. Pat McCrory took office, the folks he’s put in charge of environmental protection have been doing pretty much whatever the state’s corporate polluters have demanded.  McCrory’s original DENR Secreatry John Skvarla did just about everything he could to turn the one-time watchdog into an industry lapdog.

Now, however, even McCrory’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources thinks the state Senate has gone too far with its latest “regulatory reform”  proposal. The Department has sent an illustrated 4,100 word letter to the Senate in which it explains why it cannot support the latest version of House Bill 765.

Laura Leslie of WRAL.com has some of the details in the letter in this story.

Of course, given the interest the Senate has displayed in the past for the positions of the Governor, it seems hard to imagine that the letter will have much impact in the near term. The best one can hope for, apparently, is that — as with so many other issues — the 95% conservative House will slightly modify the positions of the 110% conservative Senate or, better yet, that the gridlock and dysfunction that grips the GOP-dominated General Assembly will help to scuttle the entire proposal. Stay tuned. The bill is scheduled to be debated on the Senate floor tomorrow.

Click here to read the full DENR letter.

Click here to read a fact sheet on the bill from the genuine watchdogs at the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club.

News

“They’ve already taken away longevity pay, master’s degree pay, and tenure…and now they’re taking away retirement health insurance,” said North Carolina Association of Educators’ vice president Mark Jewell on Monday.

“The General Assembly is saying to educators thinking of working in North Carolina: please look somewhere else. We don’t want long-term educators in our state,” said Jewell.

Senate lawmakers buried deep in their budget proposal earlier this month a provision that would end health retirement benefits for future teachers and state employees who are hired after January 1, 2016. [Click here for the full story.]

NCAE’s Jewell is concerned about the provision’s implications when it comes to recruiting and retaining high quality teachers.

“Under this provision—if it becomes law—teachers would have to work much later, until they can receive Medicare benefits,” said Jewell. “Or they would have to take another job once they retire to get some kind of health insurance benefit until they qualify for Medicare.”

“We have a lot of teachers retiring coupled with a large decrease in participation in teacher education programs at the university system — enrollments have fallen 27 percent since 2010,” Jewell added. “So it looks like we have a big teacher shortage ahead.”

As the cost of college soars, students are reaching a tipping point when it comes to how much debt they’re willing to take on in order to enter the teaching profession, according to NC State University’s assistant dean for teacher education, Michael Maher.

“We have students who are graduating with degrees in math and engineering making $70,000,” said Maher. “So there becomes this issue of debt load—students say ‘only if I am going to make a good salary can I take on more debt.'”

Maher, who was a high school teacher during the mid-1990s, said the teaching profession was once an attractive prospect thanks to the overall benefits package that teachers were once guaranteed.

“I thought it was great,” said Maher of teaching. “I had access to the state’s retirement system and a guarantee of good health benefits upon retirement. Now out of pocket expenses are increasing, premiums are rising, and salaries are not going up, and now this…so what’s the advantage now?”

Maher noted that the Senate’s proposal to slash health retirement benefits affects UNC faculty, too, making it difficult to retain top notch professors were the provision to become law.

Tacey Miller, a North Carolina Teaching Fellow who graduated earlier this year and just secured a job as a third grade teacher in Onslow County, said she continues to be surprised by the General Assembly’s actions.

“So much has happened with the education system in North Carolina that nothing should surprise me anymore,” said Miller. “But something like [eliminating health retirement benefits] comes out in the news and I just think, why? Where are they redistributing this money, then? Even if they reduce class sizes, you still need actual classrooms to teach the kids.”

“It just seems like we’re making it harder for people to be teachers,” said Miller.

The House and Senate are expected to spend the rest of the summer—and possibly part of the fall—hammering out a final 2015-17 budget deal—stay tuned to see if the elimination of health retirement benefits for teachers and state employees makes it past the cutting room floor.

Commentary
Sen. Phil Berger

Sen. Phil Berger

This week’s Supreme Court decision that reaffirmed the constitutionality of allowing independent commissions to draw congressional districts prompted Charlotte Observer reporter Jim Morrill to ask Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger about legislation sponsored by a majority of the House that would create a nonpartisan redistricting process in North Carolina.

Still not a good idea? Berger thought it was a fine idea when he was in the minority in the General Assembly. He co-sponsored redistricting reform five times, most recently in the 2009-2010 session.

The only thing consistent is his hypocrisy.

News

If you weren’t able to attend NC Policy Watch’s Crucial Conversation with the nationally recognized Center for Death Penalty Litigation, that full program is now available online.

Last week’s event featured CDPL Executive Director retchen Engel, Senior Staff Attorney Ken Rose and Associate Director of Public Information Kristin Collins.

Please watch and then share this special presentation as they discuss their new research: On Trial for their Lives: The Hidden Costs of Wrongful Capital Prosecutions.
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Commentary

As Think Progress reports this morning, there’s good news today for average American workers in the new proposed rule from the Obama administration:

“On Tuesday morning, the Department of Labor released its proposed changes to the rules regarding who is eligible for overtime pay to expand the coverage to more workers.

The proposal would increase the salary threshold to $50,440 by 2016, meaning anyone who makes that much or less would have to be paid time-and-a-half for putting in more than 40 hours a week. It would also increase the total annual compensation a worker would need to make to be exempted as a highly compensated employee, raising it to $122,148 a year for full-time salaried workers. And it would automatically update both requirements to make sure only actual executives and administrative and professional workers get exempted.

On a call with the media, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez estimated that for the subset of workers who work more than 40 hours a week and will become newly eligible for overtime pay, they will collectively see $1.2 billion to $1.3 billion in extra compensation as a result of the change.”

This is precisely the kind of rule change we’ll need lots more of (e.g. a big boost in the minimum wage) if the nation is going to address its destructive and mushrooming gap between the haves and the have nots. Let’s hope the administration keeps ’em coming.