News

Undecided about taking part in Saturday’s 11th annual Moral March? Then just listen to its founder

Reverend William Barber, president of the NC NAACP and Moral Monday movement, recently discussed with Policy Watch why North Carolinians should participate in 11th annual march on downtown Raleigh.

Click below to hear that interview.

Saturday’s March begins at 9:00 a.m. at Shaw University.

NC Budget and Tax Center

NC’s revenue challenge persists despite latest revenue forecast

The ongoing economic recovery has bypassed many North Carolinians and communities across the state. This isn’t surprising news, but it is the reality that we should keep in mind when thinking about how to use $552.5 million in public revenues that are expected to be collected above state’s official’s initial projection.

This revenue forecast is certainly good news for North Carolina, particularly given how much revenue is needed to ensure that all communities thrive and that economic prosperity is broadly shared. Unfortunately, even with the anticipated over-collection, we still don’t have adequate resources to address all of the state’s economic needs.

North Carolina faced a similar reality in recent years amid a modest, yet steady economic recovery. For the 2015 fiscal year, revenue collections were $400 million above original projections. This positive news on the revenue front didn’t erase the tradeoffs lawmakers faced regarding state budget decisions last year, however. Sufficient revenue was simply not available to address the various stated priorities among lawmakers. Meaningful pay raises for teachers and state employees, reducing class size for K-12 classrooms, investing in economic development initiatives, boosting funding for early learning opportunities, among others, were all worthy public investments. However, there just wasn’t enough available revenue for all of these priorities.

Lawmakers will face the same conundrum this year. Choices will have to be made regarding providing additional relief funding to communities devastated by Hurricane Matthews, boosting teacher pay, expanding early learning opportunities, infrastructure investments, and access to an affordable higher education, among other public investments.

The hope now is that state lawmakers patch as many holes as they can with $550 million in additional revenue, and think about how to address the many pressing needs that will still be left unaddressed.

Courts & the Law, News

Judges deliberating halting Senate decisions on Cooper’s appointees until lawsuit resolution

A three-judge panel did not decide from the bench Friday whether to temporarily block the Senate from making decisions on Gov. Roy Cooper’s cabinet appointees.

The panel issued a temporary restraining order earlier this week but heard arguments Friday about whether to issue a preliminary injunction for 25 days until the overall case is resolved.

Cooper’s attorney Jim Phillips, of Greensboro, made a separation of powers argument, stating that the legislative branch is encroaching on the executive branch by exercising advice and consent on Cooper’s appointees.

He also said that the threat of the legislature vetoing one of Cooper’s “most important powers” limits his appointee choices because he has to choose someone to appease the Senate.

“It has a chilling effect on the governor’s decision making,” Phillips said.

Martin Wharf, a Raleigh attorney representing Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore, argued that a law passed by the General Assembly is constitutional “unless it is clearly prohibited.”

The Senate’s authority to give advice and consent does not take away the governor’s power to make appointments, he added.

Berger and Moore’s other attorney, Noah Huffstetler III argued that until the Senate moves forward with confirmation hearings, the harm to Cooper is just speculation — they don’t know what the process actually looks like or how long it will take.

He also said that the May 15 deadline Cooper has to formally submit his appointee names to the Senate is moot when he sends out press releases touting their qualifications and they begin doing “the people’s business.”

He added that it should be assumed Cooper and his aides conducted thorough vetting already of the appointees, but if they hadn’t, it was “all the more reason this confirmation process is necessary.”

Judge Jesse B. Caldwell III questioned Huffstetler about why confirmation hearings hadn’t been held in the past.

“If we have an executive branch that’s out of control, out of control, that needs to be reeled in … then why wasn’t this done before?” he asked.

Huffstetler said the hearings were not established as a reaction to Cooper being elected and that the legislature was a proponent of transparency.

“I think it’s just a good, sound public policy,” he said. “I believe that it’s probably overdue, your honor, that’s the best answer I can give.”

He added that just because it hadn’t been done in the past didn’t mean that it should stop them from doing it in the future.

Caldwell said if a preliminary injunction was ordered, it would not stop the Senate from holding hearings, it would only make their votes null and void until the lawsuit was settled.

Phillips argued that it should stop the hearings altogether because of the time it would require of appointees.

Caldwell and Judges Jeffrey B. Foster and L. Todd Burke will deliberate before making a decision.

Commentary, News, Trump Administration

This Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

 

1. Despite GOP questioning, class-size legislation advances past House budget committee

Despite suggestions from some GOP members that local school districts may be misusing funded positions, a House budget committee gave its approval Thursday to legislation allaying a looming class-size crisis for North Carolina school districts.

Policy Watch reported in November that last year’s directive from the legislature to reduce class sizes in grades K-3 starting with the 2017-2018 academic year could have disastrous impacts for local districts, forcing them to spend millions more in local cash or shelve arts and physical education classes.

Public school advocates and lobbyists for the N.C. School Boards Association, which represents local boards in Raleigh, have been pressuring lawmakers to act quickly this session to resolve the problem, given local districts are already prepping their budgets for the coming school year. [Read more…]

***Bonus Education Reads:

2. The GOP’s false and telling choice for public schools

The 2017 General Assembly session is only a few weeks old but there’s already a compelling example of what’s wrong with the way things are being done in Raleigh and why the conventional wisdom about the legislature often misses the real story.

State lawmakers took up legislation Tuesday that would give local school systems more flexibility next fall dealing with a provision stuffed into last year’s budget directing schools to lower class sizes in the early grades.

The provision would lower the maximum number of children allowed in K-3 classes from 24 to between 19 and 21 depending on the grade and would lower the average class size overall.

Smaller classes are a good idea and they are especially important in the early grades—but there was a problem with the plan.

No extra funding was provided, forcing schools to consider cutting art, music, and physical education classes next year to come up with the money to pay for the smaller classes. [Read more…]

3. In opposition to Amazon Wind farm, NC lawmakers cite #alternativefacts

Overlooking the all caps, italics, bolded passages and occasional exclamation marks, on its face the two-page letter sent by eight North Carolina lawmakers looked overblown but possibly informed.

Last month, the lawmakers — all Republicans — wrote to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, asking him to permanently close the Desert Wind farm just west of Elizabeth City. The letter quoted impressive-sounding government-funded studies about the threat of wind turbines on military radar. It cited a meticulous set of facts and figures. It listed footnotes in superscript, just like the MLA academic style book instructs.

Two of the five citations, though, were from unreliable sources that undermine the truth about the feasibility of wind farms in North Carolina:

Breitbart News, a primary disseminator of fake news, whose former executive chairman and founder sits at the right hand of President Trump. [Read more…]

4. Berger and Moore’s latest destructive power grab
Why holding confirmation hearings for the Governor’s department heads is a lousy idea

Leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly have taken a lot of disastrous turns – both substantive and procedural – over the past six years. Denying health care and unemployment insurance benefits to hundreds of thousands, slashing taxes on the rich, eviscerating voting rights, waging wars on science, the environment, reproductive freedom and LGBTQ equality, pushing loaded guns into every corner of the state, and just generally undermining the health of government; the list of regressive policies goes on and on.

Meanwhile, most of these dreadful policy decisions have been abetted by a series of procedural moves designed to seize and concentrate more and more power in the hands of a narrow cadre of conservative legislative leaders. Whether it’s shutting off debate, ruling amendments out of order, calling sudden and repeated special sessions, altering the composition of committees to silence minority voices, rendering budget subcommittee work virtually meaningless, or seizing authority from local government and the executive branch, House Speakers Thom Tillis and Tim Moore and, especially, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger have taken repeated ends-justify-the-means steps to make themselves the final arbiters of all public policy in the state. [Read more…]

*** Bonus Reads:

5. Fear of Trump immigration order in NC spreads as potential human costs emerge

President Donald Trump has paid a lot of lip service to rounding up the “bad hombres” but it turns out he wants to deport a much larger group of immigrants than he led America to believe.

Trump signed an executive order in January to enhance “public safety in the interior of the United States.” The order did away a previous deportation priority list promulgated former President Barack Obama’s administration and is expected to have dire consequences for a majority of unauthorized immigrants, not just individuals with criminal convictions.

“It essentially renders meaningless this idea that there’s any prioritization,” said Avideh Moussavian, a policy attorney at the National Immigration Law Center. “That’s how every law enforcement agency is supposed to function, you know, you don’t give the same weight to a jaywalker as you would to someone committing a much more serious or dangerous offense.”

The order specifically lists the following priorities (with no hierarchy) to target immigrants for deportation: [Read more…]

*** Bonus Read:

Courts & the Law, News

Court of Appeals overturns lower court order that halted Elections, Ethics Commission merge

The North Carolina Court of Appeals has said that the General Assembly’s bill overhauling the State Board of Elections can move forward, overturning the lower court’s preliminary injunction.

The first part of Senate Bill 4 would eradicate the current State Board of Elections and State Ethics Commission and merge their powers and duties into one new Board. Cooper is challenging the law in court and a three-judge panel had ruled that the board would be prevented from merging until the conclusion of the case.

In light of the Court of Appeals decision overturning that order, Cooper’s attorneys filed an emergency motion with the state Supreme Court.

State Ethics Commission Chairman John Branch said Friday morning that the agency’s 9 a.m. meeting was recessed until 11 a.m. “due to the unsettled nature of what’s going on.”

It’s unknown if the Commission is supposed to continue business or move into the newly created bipartisan Elections and Ethics Commission, under the guidance of Senate Bill 4.

Branch said if the Supreme Court steps in, the Ethics Commission will proceed as if nothing happened, but if the court hasn’t reached a decision by 11 a.m., the agency will call an emergency meeting to meet with attorneys.