Environment

DEQ confirms van der Vaart, Evan on “investigatory leave” — apparently with pay

The email was brief, just a sentence-long, and sent to the media shortly before 9 last night: “DEQ employees Donald van der Vaart and John Evans have been placed on investigatory leave.”

The statement was attributed to NC Department Environmental Quality Secretary Michael Regan and came from the agency’s communications director, Jamie Kritzer. It was prompted by an Policy Watch story yesterday that reported van der Vaart nor Evans, former top officials at DEQ, had been inexplicably absent for work and without a definite return date.

Van der Vaart and Evans have worked as section chiefs in the Division of Air Quality since the first quarter of this year. That’s when van der Vaart demoted himself and Evans– both political appointees under former Gov. Pat McCrory. to avoid being fired by the new administration.

No reason was given for their placement on leave, but both men had openly rebuked current leadership’s environmental stance by publishing an anti-regulatory op-ed in a national law journal; meanwhile van der Vaart accepted an appointment to the EPA’s revamped and anti-regulatory Science Advisory Board, which DEQ leadership also opposed.

According to the state’s online disciplinary handbook, investigative leave “temporarily removes an employee from work status” but does not constitute a disciplinary action. However, the information during the investigation may be the basis of disciplinary action.

Presumably then, van der Vaart, who earns more than $98,000 a year, and Evans, whose annual salary is nearly $93,000, are being paid while on investigative leave.

There are four reasons to place an employee on investigatory leave, according to the handbook,

  • To investigate allegations of performance or conduct deficiencies that would constitute just cause for disciplinary action;
  • To provide time within which to schedule and conduct a pre-disciplinary conference;
  • To avoid disruption of the work place and/or to protect the safety of persons or property;
  • To facilitate a management directed referral or fitness for duty evaluation to ensure the employee’s safety and the safety of others and to obtain medical information regarding the employee’s fitness to perform his or her essential job functions.

Investigatory leave can last no longer than 30 days without written approval of the State Human Resources Director, for a maximum of 60 days. At the end of the leave period, an agency must place an employee on active work status or take disciplinary action.

Commentary

Chris Fitzsimon departing from NC Policy Watch after 13 remarkable years

After 13 years of amazing and visionary leadership, our dear friend and colleague, NC Policy Watch founder and Executive Director Chris Fitzsimon, is leaving the organization later this month.

Yesterday, Rick Glazier, the executive director of the NC Justice Center — the parent organization of Policy Watch — issued the following statement:

A note to friends of NC Policy Watch and the North Carolina Justice Center from Rick Glazier

RALEIGH (November 9, 2017) – It is a with mixture of emotions that I write to tell you that Chris Fitzsimon, the founding director of NC Policy Watch, will be leaving the project after 13 amazingly productive years. As you all are well aware, Chris is an institution in North Carolina policy and journalism circles. For more than three decades – first as a reporter, and later as an assistant to then-House Speaker Dan Blue, founder and executive director of the Common Sense Foundation, and since 2004, the director of NC Policy Watch – Chris has served as a passionate, powerful and relentless voice for justice in our state.

Now, in a development that serves as a tremendous validation of Chris’s remarkable work in growing Policy Watch from a one-person shop into a formidable and unique eight-person news and commentary organization, he has been asked to help take the Policy Watch model national. Later this month, Chris will start work for The Newsroom, a new nonprofit incubator that will help establish and manage a network of similar projects in states around the country.

Thus, while it is with great sadness that we contemplate his departure, it is also with great pride in his accomplishments and excitement for him and the nation that we look forward to the work ahead.

One other especially positive aspect of this transition is that, in the course of negotiations with his new employers, Chris has been able to convince them to allow him to stay in North Carolina, based in a Chapel Hill office. Not only will this allow him to remain a close friend and adviser to Policy Watch and other progressive North Carolina nonprofits, it will also allow him to remain a semi-regular Policy Watch columnist and as a weekly cast member on the syndicated political TV talk show, NC SPIN. We know that many of our more conservative friends will be disappointed.

Please be on the lookout for announcements in the very near future about a farewell event for Chris and next steps for NC Policy Watch.

Needless to say, there will be no let-up in the quantity and quality of the news and commentary emanating from the Policy Watch team.

And please join us on November 29 for a special event (“Spotlight on Journalism” – click here for more information) highlighting the fine work of all of the members of the NC Policy Watch team.

 

Environment

Francis De Luca of Civitas loses argument against DEQ before Environmental Management Commission

Francis X. De Luca, president of Civitas (Photo: LinkedIn)

In his attempt to undermine a deal brokered among the court, state and Chemours, Francis X. De Luca offered the Environmental Management Commission some weak legal sauce.

De Luca, president of the conservative think tank Civitas, asked the EMC today to issue a declaratory ruling that ultimately could have voided a partial consent order between Chemours and the NC Department of Environmental Quality over GenX contamination in the Cape Fear River.

But the EMC voted unanimously that it would not meddle in an issue that, its members agreed, was outside their purview. “I don’t see our value in adding to that,” said Richard Whisnant, EMC member and former DEQ general counsel.

De Luca had argued that he had been denied the right to comment on the state’s deal with Chemours. Under that partial consent order, approved by a Bladen County Superior Court judge, DEQ agreed not to seek damages from Chemours as long as the company stopped discharging GenX and other perfluorinated compounds.

The consent order also requires Chemours to allow the EPA to turn over confidential information about these chemicals to DEQ, and to quickly provide the state with information, as requested.

De Luca was also upset that the consent order foiled his ability to pursue a citizen lawsuit against DEQ. He alleged that the order “appears to be a conspiracy between DEQ and Chemours specifically designed” to deny him a hearing in federal court.

Whisnant and other EMC members agreed that De Luca could still ask the court to designate him as an intervenor in the case. Otherwise, though, such an EMC decision could set a bad precedent.

“I dread the idea that anyone could file a petition who disagrees with a DEQ enforcement action,” Whisnant said. “That risks swamping the EMC’s time.”

NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

816,000 NC kids would be left out of GOP tax bill’s Child Tax Credit proposal due to low income

House Republican leaders highlight an increase in the maximum value of the federal Child Tax Credit (CTC) as their tax bill’s signature benefit for working families, but the provision completely excludes 354,000 children in North Carolina whose parents work in low-paying jobs, according to a new report from the Washington, DC-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Another 462,000 North Carolinian children in low-income working families would receive less than the full $600 increase in the credit that would be available to higher income families.

Altogether, about 816,000 North Carolinian children in working families would either be excluded entirely or only partially benefit from the increase in the CTC. A larger share of North Carolinian children are excluded or only partially benefit than in the country as a whole.

Nationally, roughly 23 million children would be partially or entirely excluded from the House Republicans’ plan, even as it newly extends the CTC to families with incomes between $150,000 and $294,000. For example, a single mom of two working full time at the minimum wage would get no benefit from the CTC expansion under the House Republican plan while a married couple earning $230,000 would receive a new $3,200 benefit.

Republican Senate leaders have suggested that they may increase the CTC further when they release their tax bill this week. Unless they revise the proposal’s basic structure, however, it would provide far larger benefits to higher income families than to families that face difficulties affording the basics.

Analysis on the Children and Top Working Parent Occupations Affected

Analysis shows that of the roughly 23 million children across America that would be partially or fully excluded from the CTC increase:

  • 8 million are children under the age 6
  • 7 million are Latino children
  • 3 million are white children
  • 6 million are African American children
  • 600,000 are Asian children

According to the report:

“The average income of working families with children that would be partially or entirely left out of the CTC increase is $22,000.  Among these working families, two-thirds include at least one parent who works full time for most of the year.”

Analysis of available data shows that the top occupations of working parents fully or partially left out of CTC proposal in house tax bill are:

  • Office and administrative support
  • Sales
  • Food preparation and serving
  • Building and grounds cleaning and maintenance
  • Construction and extraction
  • Transportation and material moving
  • Manufacturing
  • Personal care and service
  • Health care support

Based on this latest report it is clear that rushing this tax legislation without real debate, without informed analysis, and without input from key stakeholders is not the way our Congress should operate.

Luis A. Toledo is a Public Policy Analyst for the Budget & Tax Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.

News, Trump Administration

State, national educators say U.S. House tax plan would risk K-12 jobs, funding

School busesState and national education leaders say a U.S. House tax proposal to nix much of the state and local tax deduction (SALT) would “blow a hole” in public school funding from state and local governments.

Its just the latest criticism of ongoing tax wrangling in the nation’s capitol. Teachers are also fired up over a House proposal to do away with a $250 deduction for classroom supplies.

But K-12 leaders with the National Education Association (NEA) and the N.C. Association of Educators (NCAE) say Congressional Republicans’ SALT plan may put about 250,000 education jobs at risk across the country.

NEA’s state-by-state analysis of the SALT plan says that more than $5 million in revenue to support public schools would be jeopardized in North Carolina over the next 10 years, along with more than 6,000 educator jobs.

On Thursday, public school chiefs with the NEA and NCAE characterized the SALT proposal as a “$5 trillion tax plan giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations.”

From their statement:

“The Republican leadership’s tax plan is another example of misguided priorities in Washington,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen García. “The plan is a tax giveaway to the wealthiest and corporations paid for on the backs of working people, students and educators.”

The NEA analysis also showed that nationally the bill would lead to cuts of approximately $250 billion in public education funding over the next 10 years. Corporations, by the way, get to keep their state and local tax deductions. A cut of this magnitude is akin to eliminating the Title I and IDEA special education programs overnight. If enacted, the elimination of state and local tax deduction could have a negative, ripple effect on states’ and local communities’ ability to fund public services such as public education. In North Carolina, that amounts to nearly $5 billion over ten years.

“Eliminating the state and local tax deduction would jeopardize the ability of our state and local governments to adequately fund public education,” said Mark Jewell, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. “This will translate into cuts to public schools, lost jobs to educators, overcrowded classrooms that deprive students of one-on-one attention, and threats to public education.”

The impact of eliminating SALT on public education is nearly equal to the education jobs lost during the Great Recession. By most accounts, the country lost about 300,000 education jobs during that time. To cope with the economic crisis our country faced, schools made draconian cuts to public education funding that had a negative impact on students. In addition to losing teachers, school aides, and other key education support professionals, some school districts reduced the number of school days from five to four; critical education programs (before and after school programs, kindergarten) also took a hit. Class sizes ballooned.

The Republican leadership bill comes as the nation also faces a teacher shortage. At the start of the 2017-18 school year, every state in the country was facing a teacher shortage. In addition, according to the Washington Post, school districts also are struggling to fill positions in math, reading and English language arts, as well as finding substitute teachers.

“Instead of tax cuts for the wealthy, we must ensure that our students have caring, qualified, and committed educators in order to succeed. Now here come the tax cuts for the rich paid for by students and middle-class families,” said Jewell. “This bill is terrible for our state because it is a giveaway for the wealthy and corporations funded on the backs of our students and the middle class. We urge Congress to reject it.”

The criticism from public school leaders comes with U.S. Senate Republicans expected to announce their own tax plan in the coming days.