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Coal ash clean upThis morning’s Weekly Briefing tries to bring readers up to date on the sad state of North Carolina’s coal ash debate and the surprising — and potentially tragic — lack of action by state leaders to confront Duke Energy and protect the public’s well-being.

One important side story to the coal ash crisis that it does not get into, however, is the increasingly absurd saga of Gov. McCrory’s failure to report his Duke Energy holdings on required state ethics forms. Fortunately, Sunday’s Charlotte Observer editorial page took care of that issue pretty comprehensively:

“We’re not sure which is most upsetting:

• That Gov. Pat McCrory owned a substantial amount of Duke Energy stock for his first 15 months in office, including for two months after Duke’s massive coal ash spill, even though that posed an obvious conflict of interest as the utility lobbied the administration hard on all kinds of matters.

• That McCrory filed an inaccurate report with the State Ethics Commission, saying he didn’t own any Duke stock as of Dec. 31, 2013, when in fact he did. Doing so reveals either a desire to mislead or gross incompetence by him and his general counsel.

• That McCrory still doesn’t get it. The governor maintains “we haven’t broken any rules” when that is indisputably untrue. He says he is “amazed” at the questions surrounding his mistake, fully unable to comprehend that it’s a matter most North Carolinians consider newsworthy.”

Read the rest of the editorial by clicking here.

Read more here: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/08/16/5109117/mccrorys-mishandling-of-his-duke.html#.U_IW-8VdVAI#storylink=cpy
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(UPDATED – see the bottom of the post) Here’s a fascinating and disturbing, if not terribly surprising, sidebar to the story that has erupted in recent days around Governor McCrory’s failure to disclose his Duke Energy holdings: one of McCrory’s own appointees (Note: see the update below) to the State Ethics Commission (the group that would likely review the Governor’s behavior in the matter) appears to have made an ethically questionable public statement about the matter.

The Commission member in question is Francis DeLuca, the head of the Pope-Civitas Institute and Civitas Action — its 501 (c)(4) affiliate. Here is a tweet that appeared earlier today on DeLuca’s Twitter account:

De Luca (2)

 

 

 

You got that? One of the seven members of the government panel charged with enforcing state ethics laws appears to have already formed an opinion on the matter and be willing to share it with the public. Read More

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Tillis_McCrory_Berger-400You know…the day that North Carolinians can finally say adieu to the 170 members of the 2013-14 General Assembly? As has almost always been the case with the current crop of state lawmakers, the signals are mixed and confusing.

News reports this morning indicate that even as legislative leaders  look for ways to append a badly needed fix onto the terribly flawed budget that was just passed a few days ago, they’re once again playing political games with each other and the citizenry.  If this is how things end — with a critical provision to help schools made contingent upon a new corporate giveaway scheme — it will be a fitting conclusion to a remarkably ineffective and discombobulated session.

As Charlotte Observer columnist Fannie Flono notes this morning:

Perhaps it’s only fitting that the N.C. legislature comes to the end of its long short session in a squabble over how and when to end it. It hasn’t mattered much that the Republicans are in charge of everything – the state House and Senate and the governor’s office. GOP infighting and House vs. Senate power plays – along with a little muscle-flexing or attempts at it by Gov. Pat McCrory and his staff – have been constant backdrops during the session that began May 14.

In the plaintive words of Rodney King, paraphrased: Can’t they all just get along? Or at least agree to close down the shop and get out of town? And save us taxpayers the $50,000 a day it typically costs for them to be in session?

Of course, there’s a very good chance this will not be THE day. Having apparently failed to fashion a coal ash clean up plan in the more than six months that have passed since the Dan River disaster, the General Assembly may return yet again after the fall election for a rare “lame duck” session. If that happens, at least a couple of things appear to be certain:

1) It won’t be the first time the adjective “lame” will be used in the same sentence with the 2013-14 legislature and  2) Coal ash will be far from the only mess that will be left behind for future General Assemblies to clean up.

/www.charlotteobserver.com/2014/08/14/5106886/legislative-session-was-a-squabble.html#.U-3lMKMf6So#storylink=cpy

 

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Gov. Pat McCrory’s office is working with local school superintendents to come up with a fix for two hotly contested budget provisions lawmakers just enacted that would stop funding public schools on the basis of enrollment growth and cut funds to teacher assistants, according to a Lee County Schools superintendent and a lobbyist for the N.C. Association of School Administrators (NCASA).

“We have verbal confirmation from the Governor’s staff that they are concerned with the issue of no longer funding local school districts on the basis of enrollment growth as well as problems with trading teacher positions to fund TAs, and they are asking for budget technical corrections to present to the General Assembly that would fix these issues,” said Katherine Joyce, a lobbyist for NCASA.

Gov. McCrory signed a 260-page budget bill last week that contains a provision that would stop automatically paying for enrollment growth at public schools. The budget also spends $105 million less than what was previously budgeted for teacher assistants, even though McCrory has repeatedly said he was proud to sign a budget that preserves all TA positions.

The two budget provisions force local school districts to plan their budgets in the spring without knowing whether or not the state will pay for increased numbers of students in their schools, making it difficult for principals and superintendents to figure out if they will have the means necessary to hire the teachers and other school personnel they actually need. In addition, the budget cuts teacher assistant funds for local school districts by 22 percent.

Joyce explained to N.C. Policy Watch that NCASA, along with their local superintendents, are engaged in conversations with the Governor’s office to come up with language for a budget technical corrections bill they hope to see taken up by the General Assembly in August that would ensure schools go back to the old system of receiving their budget allotments from the state on the basis of student enrollment growth.

The bill would also allow local districts to use average teacher salaries, instead of beginning teacher salaries, to fund teacher assistant positions—freeing up more funds to save TAs. That fix, said Joyce, would effectively hold districts harmless when it comes to losing TAs and bridge the $105 million funding gap.

“Now we just need the General Assembly to actually come back into a real session and take up a budget technical corrections bill that will make these changes happen,” said Joyce.

Lee County Schools Superintendent Dr. Andy Bryan told the Sanford Herald this weekend that he learned Gov. McCrory plans to ask the legislature to implement corrections to the education budget on August 14.

“The Governor is recommending a technical correction that would allow school districts to receive planning allotments based on growth. As noted earlier, that is a really big issue for school districts and planning,” Dr. Bryan told the Sanford Herald.

In signing the $21.1 billion budget, Gov. McCrory said, “this budget reflects a pragmatic approach to managing taxpayer dollars.” He also said previously that critics of the budget should come up with their own spending plan instead of complaining about it.

This budget reflects a pragmatic and thoughtful approach to managing taxpayer dollars,” – See more at: http://governor.nc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/20140807/governor-signs-211-billion-budget-law#sthash.HXefpdLN.dpuf
This budget reflects a pragmatic and thoughtful approach to managing taxpayer dollars,” – See more at: http://governor.nc.gov/newsroom/press-releases/20140807/governor-signs-211-billion-budget-law#sthash.HXefpdLN.dpuf

Calls to the Governor’s office and his education advisor seeking comment on the possible budget fixes were not returned.

 

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Governor McCrory approved a controversial charter schools bill today that some had speculated might be the only veto of the 2014 session. As NC Policy Watch reporter Lindsay Wagner reported last week in a story entitled “Less transparency, fewer protections hallmarks of latest charter school legislation,” the bill provides a means for supposedly public charter schools to keep compensation paid to employees secret and opens the door to discrimination against LGBT students.

In his signing message, McCrory said that the salary secrecy issue had been adequately addressed  in the bill.

“I am pleased the Legislature responded to my concerns and required full transparency for the names and salaries of all charter school teachers and employees. I have also asked Chairman Bill Cobey and members of our State Board of Education to ensure that contracts with private entities also provide transparency on salaries and other personnel information. Consistent with the State Board of Education’s authority to oversee the successful operations of public charter schools, Chairman Cobey has assured me that he will direct agency staff to collect information from charter schools, including all financial and personnel records, necessary to achieve that goal.”

As Wagner’s story noted, however, the Governor may be missing an important point:

“The bill, SB 793 Charter School Modifications, stipulates that the salaries of charter school teachers and those who sit on charter schools’ non-profit boards of directors are subject to public disclosure.

But many charter schools in North Carolina contract with for-profit companies that manage them—and the salaries of the employees of those private organizations would not be required to be made public.”

Not surprisingly, the Governor left the issue of discrimination against LGBT children completely unaddressed in his signing statement.

Read the rest of Wagner’s story – including critiques of the bill by various experts – by clicking here.