Commentary, News

The growing grassroots movement to pay American workers a living wage got a nice boost last night. The Greensboro News & Record explains:

“The minimum wage for city employees is going up.

The City Council voted 7-2 Tuesday to increase minimum wages to $10 an hour for regular and seasonal employees, except for those at the Greensboro Coliseum, and $12 an hour for employees who also receive benefits.

Councilmen Tony Wilkins and Justin Outling voted against the plan, which also sets a goal of raising the minimum wage for city employees to $15 by 2020.”

You can watch TV coverage of the vote in this Fox 8 story.

Meanwhile, advocates who have been pushing for the  action for years praised the Council’s decision. This is from a statement by the good people at Working America:

“Carolyn Smith, North Carolina state director for Working America, praised the city workers for banding together and pushing the City Council to take up the issue.

‘This is a step in the right direction for Greensboro and working families,’ Smith said of the planned increase. ‘What we’ve heard from city workers is that they love Greensboro; they’re loyal to their jobs, but they struggle to take care of their families. This vote moves us closer to creating a family wage that will strengthen our community and gives businesses an incentive to follow suit.’

‘It’s great to see elected leaders standing with the women and families of Greensboro,’ Smith added.”

Let’s hope last night’s action helps spur many similar actions in the weeks  and months ahead.

News

DENRpicIn papers filed yesterday, the state through the Department of Environment and Natural Resources asked the court hearing the enforcement actions against Duke Energy to stay the proceedings with respect to ten of Duke’s 14 coal ash plants, saying that a delay would allow the department and Duke Energy to classify and prioritize the ten sites as required under the new Coal Ash Management Act.

The four plants not included in the request are the Asheville Steam Electric Generation Plant, Riverbend Steam Station, Dan River Combined Cycle Steam Station and L.V. Sutton Steam Electric Plant — which the General Assembly already classified as high-risk and are subject to motions for judgement pending in court.

DENR contends that a stay would allow members of the public to participate in the assessment of the ten plants, touting provisions of the Act.

But the Southern Environmental Law Center, which represents advocacy groups that had early on pushed the state to take action and have been permitted to intervene in the enforcement actions, called the motion just another delay tactic, illustrating how DENR continues to work side-by-side with Duke Energy as opposed to aggressively enforcing state regulations.

According to Frank Holleman, senior attorney with the Center, DENR has done nothing to pursue the enforcement cases and never asked the Court to order a cleanup of any site.

“We learned this month that DENR has even agreed with Duke Energy that it will not seek any information from Duke Energy through the enforcement proceedings,” Holleman said in a statement.

“Now, DENR is trying to stop the citizens groups from obtaining from DENR and Duke Energy information to enforce the law. This attempt to stop the enforcement of the law follows DENR’s incomprehensible attempt to stop the Court from ordering the cleanup of three dangerous and polluting coal ash sites, even though Duke Energy agrees they should be cleaned up. DENR has become a bureaucracy that puts its bureaucratic turf issues ahead of its mission to protect North Carolina’s communities and clean water.”

 

Commentary

There are several contenders this week for most egregious recent example of conservative hypocrisy when it comes to the role and value of government.

There’harry browns the phenomenon of ultra-conservative lawmakers from rural areas (like state Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown) who deride government day after day and then, suddenly, when faced with a debate over divvying up state sales tax revenue, turn passionate about the critical role that public investments play in supporting the economy and growth.

And then there’s the spectacle of longtime anti-government ideologues like Raleigh’s Paul Coble who never met a public program they didn’t want to slash being only too happy to swap their private industry lobbying gigs for six-figure government jobs.Paul Coble

For my money, though, this week’s most aggravating example comes once more from the office of Gov. Pat McCrory. Gov. McCrory, as  you will recall, has been helping to deny decent and affordable health care to hundreds of thousands of struggling North Carolinians for almost three years now by refusing to expand Medicaid under the terms of the Affordable Care Act.

His oft-statPat McCrory 4ed excuse: the supposed unreliability of federal money and desire not to grow the size of a supposedly broken government program. Add to this his absurd refusal to acknowledge the huge stimulus impact that adding billions in federal dollars would have on the state economy and you’ve got a complete, far right, market fundamentalist case of denial.

Now, contrast all of this with McCrory’s big announcement yesterday touting the huge, beneficial impact of federal spending on the military in North Carolina. Here’s the lead from the press release:

“The military supports 578,000 jobs in North Carolina and more than two thirds of those jobs are in the private sector, demonstrating the impact of the military ripples across the state’s economy and not just concentrated near military installations. Those are the key findings of a new report released today by the North Carolina Military Affairs Commission and the North Carolina Department of Commerce.”

You got that? The same administration which has devoted years to blasting the idea of federal dollars helping the economy and spurring growth by supporting loads of good jobs in the health care industry is…wait for it…celebrating the idea of federal dollars helping the economy and spurring growth by supporting loads of mostly so-so jobs in the U.S. military. Read More

News
BEST-NC_D042550

Brenda Berg
CEO and president of BEST NC

Citing a ‘crisis of mediocrity,’ when it comes to North Carolina’s educational outcomes, CEO and president of BEST NC Brenda Berg told attendees at a John Locke Foundation luncheon on Monday that her organization is working to set an education vision for the Tar Heel state.

Working collaboratively with a broad spectrum of stakeholders, Berg said the business community should be the one to set a vision for public education in North Carolina —as they did in Massachusetts decades ago—because they are the ultimate end consumer of education.

“We have a long term focus, we’re not subject to the whims of 2- and 4-year election cycles, or superintendents or university presidents who change over,” said Berg. “The business community as a force is consistent and can be continuous…we understand the value of talent.” Read More

Commentary, News

Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore have agreed to a $21.735 billion budget for the current fiscal year.

Governor Pat McCrory announced lawmakers settled on the amount this morning during a meeting at the Executive Mansion:

“This agreement is the result of ongoing dialogue during the last several weeks. We remain committed to working with the House and Senate to find common sense solutions that create jobs, strengthen education and fund critical infrastructure in North Carolina,” said Governor McCrory in a statement to the press.

With a gentlemen’s agreement on the spending limit set, house and Senate budget conferees must now decide on the finer points – how much to allocate for K-12, health care, public safety, as well as teacher and state employee raises.

Both chambers and the Governor have been feeling the heat to finalize a state budget, now 49 days overdue with a continuing resolution keeping state government operating through August 31st.

Once a deal is in place, the question remains whether legislators will have the desire to stay in Raleigh and continue working on other controversial issues like the Taxpayer Protection Action.

Amber Moodie-Dyer with the NC Budget & Tax Center spoke over the weekend with NC Policy Watch about the disastrous impact a constitutional amendment like SB 607 (TABOR) would have on North Carolina, giving lawmakers limited flexibility in future investments and for future state budgets.

Click below to hear an excerpt from that radio interview where Moodie-Dyer discusses how TABOR adversely affected Colorado, the only state to ever take this approach to capping state spending.  (A podcast of the full radio interview is available here on the main Policy Watch website.)

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