NC Budget and Tax Center

Governor McCrory provides glimpse into his budget proposal that he will unveil in late April

At a press conference earlier today, Governor Pat McCrory provided a narrow and preliminary look into his budget proposal for the 2017 fiscal year that begins in July 2016. His remarks focused solely on the investments that he would make in the health and services (HHS) section of the budget. The Governor stated a desire to boost investments targeting vulnerable communities such as at-risk children, adults who suffer from mental health and substance abuse disorders, and older adults with Alzheimer’s.

Governor McCrory did not mention any additional rounds of tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations—a genuine concern given his willingness to sign into law such tax breaks in the last few budgets. He also did not mention any details for other investments that the state budget funds such as education, community economic development, and the justice system.

Without knowing all of the details of his likely $22+ billion budget and tax plan, it is unclear how he pays for the investments in his new proposal. He could pay for them with money expected to be left on the table this year, new revenues that are coming in due to a slowly improving economy here and across the nation, and/or by relying on a mix of new revenues and tax cuts. Several fiscal scenarios exist.  As such, a complete analysis of today’s news must wait until the Governor releases the full proposal later this month.

Below are topline summaries of the Governor’s health and human services budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Read more

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Head of troubled DHHS technology system for food stamps leaving

The director of the N.C. Health and Human Services’ troubled public benefits technology and food stamp system is leaving his state position for a job in private industry.

Anthony Vellucci, the program director for N.C. FAST (Families Accessing Services Through Technology) is leaving for a job in private industry, according to a DHHS news release sent out late Wednesday afternoon.

He is taking a position with Maryland-based EngagePoint, a private healthcare and IT software company, and his last day with DHHS is March 7.

Vellucci, 40, was making $168,000 a year, including a $23,384 raise he received from Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos in June in order to counter a job offer. Vellucci’s raise was one of several $20,000-plus raises for top DHHS officials after N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory called for a salary freeze for state workers.

NC FAST has encountered significant issues over the last year, and the months-long delays for food stamps for thousands of struggling North Carolinians led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to threaten withdrawing administrative funding from the state. (Click here for more information about the backlog.)

The state agency had just met a Feb. 10 deadline set by USDA to resolve the backlog of thousands of high-priority food stamps cases, and is facing another deadline on March 31 to reduce the remaining backlog of cases.

Vellucci first came to DHHS in 2010, during Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue’s administration.

Angela Taylor, a DHHS employee since 1995 who joined the NC FAST team in August, will take over as NC FAST’s interim director.

 

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DHHS releases emails on Dianna Lightfoot, Pre-K head who resigned

Dianna Lightfoot, who resigned before taking a job as the head of the state’s early education and child development division, saw media interest in her online commentary as attacks, according to emails released as part of a public records request.

“Just got a call saying someone had found a Tweet where I termed Hillary Clinton butch,” Lightfoot wrote in a Feb. 6 email to Matthew McKillip, a DHHS policy advisor. “Guess they’re really after me.”

That phone call Lightfoot referenced appears to have been from N.C. Policy Watch, which published this post about one of the more controversial comments Lightfoot made online. Lightfoot, who headed a group that questioned the value of early education, was the subject of several media  stories after the Feb. 5 announcement of her hire. She took down her Twitter feed shortly after the press inquiries.

Dianna Lightfoot

Dianna Lightfoot

McKillip, who worked for Gov. Pat McCrory’s campaign before joining DHHS, and Lightfoot exchanged several emails about Lightfoot’s appointment by DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, both before and after Lightfoot’s position on early education and Twitter posts attracted media attention.

“You may already know that I’ve been appointed DHHS Director of Child Development and Education,” Lightfoot wrote in a Feb. 2 email to McKillip. “Thanks for your help!”

“Yes! Congratulations! I’m glad it’s official!,” McKillip wrote back a few hours later. “Look forward to having you on board!”

The emails were released Monday as part of a Feb. 8 public records request N.C. Policy Watch and several other media organizations made about Lightfoot’s appointment and subsequent resignation.

Read more

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Scrutiny over Dianna Lightfoot moves to voter registration questions

Dianna Lightfoot is facing more questions, after a Winston-Salem news outlet discovered she’d registered to vote using an address of a UPS store.

Dianna Lightfoot

Dianna Lightfoot

Lightfoot, 61, of Winston-Salem, resigned yesterday morning after being appointed two days earlier by new N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos to heading the state’s pre-K and child development division. Lightfoot’s resignation (more about that here) came after comments and positions she’d taken  criticizing government-run early education programs and Tea Party-related causes surfaced. Those comments included a comment from her now-deactivated Twitter account in which she referred to women appointed in the Obama Administration as a “butch bunch.” Lightfoot Tweet

The news about the voter registration issues was first reported Thursday morning by the Camel City Dispatch, a relatively new independent, non-profit news website in Winston-Salem that found Lightfoot registered to vote in the spring of 2012 using the address of a UPS store at 353 Jonestown Road, a UPS store where Lightfoot has an address. State elections law requires that individuals use their residential, and not mailing address, when registering to vote.

Providing false or misleading information on a voter registration form can lead to a lower-level felony charge.

The news was later picked by the Winston-Salem Journal, which ran a story today that included an interview from Lightfoot’s mother who said Lightfoot had been devastated by the intense media attention this week.

DHHS has not chosen a successor to Lightfoot.

UPDATE (added since original publication): Robert Coffman, the director of elections in Forsyth County, said he will refer to matter to his three-member board, who can then ask for the state board of elections to look into the matter, or the local district attorney. Prosecution over voter registration address matters are rare, he added, and his office is waiting to see if the voter, Lightfoot, contacts them to change her voter registration to her residential address. That hasn’t happened yet.

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New DHHS Pre-K director who criticized early education, called Clinton “butch” quits, two days after appointment

Dianna Lightfoot’s tenure with the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services was short-lived, without her ever having a first day on the job.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services released a statement Thursday that Lightfoot will not take over at the head of the state’s early education and child development division.

Dianna Lightfoot

Dianna Lightfoot

Lightfoot, of Winston-Salem, had been the president of the National Physicians Center for Family Resources since 2001, a pro-abstinence organization that took the position that early education for low-income children could create dependence on government programs for young children.

She also was outspoken on her personal Twitter account where she tweeted several anti-gay comments, including a July 2011 tweet where Lightfoot called former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “butch.” (Click here for our previous post.)

DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos appointed Lightfoot to head the state’s child development and early education division on Tuesday, calling Lightfoot a “strategic and tactical top tier executive with extensive health care, child welfare and education expertise.”

Below is the release from DHHS about Lightfoot’s resignation:

Dianna Lightfoot was scheduled to start at HHS next week as Director of Child Development and Early Education.  Ms. Lightfoot informed Secretary Wos this morning that she does not wish to be a distraction to the department and will pursue other opportunities.  Secretary Wos accepted this decision.