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Jobs ImageAs state lawmakers continue to go about the business of overhauling important aspects of state government “on the fly” with complex, last-minute proposals that receive only superficial review in kangaroo committee meetings — see, for example, the Senate’s latest mad effort to privatize the state’s Medicaid system in the waning days of the 2014 session — here’s something new and unusual: an actual thorough and thoughtful report on a critically important and under-reported subject that’s not just a collection of soundbites.

The report, not surprisingly, comes from the good folks at the N.C Budget and Tax Center and it deals with the unsexy but vital subject of how North Carolina rebuilds its middle class. The central finding: We ain’t gonna’ succeed by trying to do it on the cheap and/or relying upon race-to-the-bottom tax cuts and low-wage jobs. This is from the release that accompanied the report this morning: Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

Sharon DeckerThe unfortunate quest to privatize the state’s business recruitment and job creation efforts took a big step forward yesterday, when the Senate agreed to a House proposal creating a new nonprofit partnership to oversee much of the state’s economic development efforts.

This misguided proposal is a bad deal for North Carolina taxpayers, businesses, and workers—schemes for privatizing economic development have repeatedly proven to be ineffective at job creation, wasteful of taxpayer dollars, and prone to financial mismanagement, conflicts of interest and pay-to-play incentive granting, and the inability to raise private funds in many of the states where they’ve been tried.

The only good news is that the General Assembly finally ended up supporting the House-passed measure, which includes somewhat better taxpayer protections than the original Senate measure.

Perhaps most importantly, the House bill did not include a new incentive program for the film industry, an extra policy tacked onto the Senate version two weeks ago. Given ongoing controversy over the effectiveness of film incentives, the Commerce privatization bill was just not the appropriate place for creating an entirely new incentive program.

A second important improvement over the original Senate measure involves the inclusion of new ethics rules. While the Senate suggested allowing the new nonprofit to develop and implement its own code of ethics—potentially creating legal loopholes for problematic ethical behavior—the final House bill requires that all board members, officers, and staff members remain subject to the existing state ethics act, just like all other state appointees and employees. This will protect taxpayers from the kinds of ethics scandals that have plagued other states’ privatization efforts, as in Wisconsin, Florida, and Texas.

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AF-Jobs

As long as North Carolina’s overall job creation remains anemic and rural regions continue to lag behind the rest of the state, it will be critical to adequately invest in proven economic development strategies like increasing small business lending, supporting development in economically-distressed communities, and strengthening the nexus between cutting edge research and innovative industrial development in key sectors. These are many of the types of investments that made North Carolina a leader in innovative economic development over the past 30 years.

Although significantly less supportive of these efforts than in past years, the House budget proposal for FY 2014-2015 does a better job of funding the state’s most effective economic development investments than does the Senate proposal, which relies on largely unproven strategies like fracking.

Both proposals are ultimately constrained by the continued commitment to tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations that are also unlikely to deliver on the job creation promises that their proponents have made.

In the years since 2011, the General Assembly has largely dismantled much of the state’s most innovative economic development efforts. It eliminated the nationally-acclaimed rural development entity—the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, dramatically scaled back investments in the biotech sector, abolished the state’s regional economic development planning partnerships, and eliminated state support for 13 nonprofits performing community-based economic development in the state’s most distressed communities. Both budgets continue this long-term trend of dismantling North Carolina’s system—the House just restores some of the lost investments.

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This is the 6th post of a Budget and Tax Center blog series on public services and programs that face cuts in the budget process or have been underfunded in past years. See the other posts here.

If the Senate budget passes this year, rural communities are going to be living through a nightmare. Despite promises by the McCrory administration to support economic development in rural North Carolina, the budget passed by the state Senate last week continues long-term disinvestment in the very initiatives that rural communities need in order to create jobs and grow their local economies.

For most of the past 30 years, the state’s primary actor in promoting economic development in the state’s 85 rural counties was the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center. Incorporated as a state-charted nonprofit in the late 1980s, the Rural Center used a mix of state funding and private fundraising to support a range of rural development work—everything from small town revitalization efforts and building rehabilitation grants, to small business lending and workforce training programs.

Over the past three years, however, the legislature has significantly reduced state investment in these important activities, undermining the state’s ability to promote job creation and economic revitalization in rural communities, many of which are still grappling with long-term decline in manufacturing. Even in the darkest period of the Great Recession in FY 2009, the state strongly supported these efforts by funding the Rural Center at $24 million. Unfortunately, the new legislative majority in 2011 significantly reduced support for rural development, cutting the Rural Center’s budget down to $16 million.

Then, in last year’s budget, the General Assembly eliminated all state funding for the Rural Center, instead opting to move some of these operations into a newly-created Division of Rural Economic Development in the N.C. Department of Commerce. As part of this move, the legislature reduced state funding for rural development even further, from $16 million in FY 2012-13 for the old Rural Center down to just $13.8 million in FY 2013-14 for the new Rural Development Division, of which $2.5 million was dedicated to a newly created Limited Resource Communities grant program intended to support economic development specifically in designated low-resource communities (e.g., the poorest 40 counties in the state). And the damage to rural development extends beyond the dollar reductions—the new division simply doesn’t carry out many of the specialized initiatives once conducted by the Rural Center: the state no longer supports small business lending in rural areas, targeted rural workforce development, or small town revitalization efforts.

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Lindenmuth

Lindenmuth

If there’s one news story about North Carolina state government that you don’t want to miss this morning it’s NC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska’s new investigative report on the McCrory administration’s “jobs czar,” Richard Lindenmuth. As Ovaska reports, the man charged with overseeing the privatization of the state’s business recruiting efforts (something that former Republican governor Jim Martin calleda “dumb and dangerous idea”) has some controversies and questions in his own background in private industry. This is from the report:

“N.C. Policy Watch investigation into Lindenmuth’s background uncovered federal court records showing that controversy has marred his career in recent years. He placed his Raleigh consulting company, Boulder International, into bankruptcy in 2010 and had his fiduciary abilities called into question by a federal bankruptcy judge in a separate incident.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Barbara Houser, the chief bankruptcy judge for the Northern District of Texas, found that Lindenmuth improperly overcharged expenses by nearly $117,000 while consulting for a home décor company undergoing bankruptcy, a situation she found ‘very, very troubling’ and potentially criminal.

‘[T]his appears to violate the criminal violations of the Bankruptcy Code, and I mean this is not right,’ Houser said, according to a hearing transcript.

Court records don’t show that law enforcement ever pursued the situation, and Lindenmuth denied any wrongdoing in court records and to N.C. Policy Watch. He did, however, agree to return $250,000, nearly half of what he was paid for seven months of work at the company.”

Click here to read the rest of the story including more of Judge Houser’s scathing characterization’s of Lindenmuth’s actions. It will be interesting to see if Gov. McCrory stands by the appointment given the numerous controversies already swirling around his administration’s economic development efforts.