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Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, Raising the Bar 2015
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in “Raising the Bar” — a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina nonprofit leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.We need an energy system that protects our vital resources and creates sustainable jobs. The good news is that North Carolina has great potential for such a system. The bad news is that the current budget takes us further from that goal, not closer to it.

The ongoing discussions of the 2015-2017 state budget provide a useful context for analyzing the health of our state’s economy. The budget’s treatment of the environment makes clear just how shortsighted the planning for economic development is in this state. Over the last several years, rather than pursue the myriad opportunities to leverage clean technology and innovation to protect our environment and spur job growth, the state budget has ignored the need to protect our state’s most valuable resources.

Since the Great Recession of 2008, cuts to North Carolina’s primary environmental regulatory body have constituted a wholesale assault on our state’s living environment. The scale and pace of cuts to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) represent a structural dismantling of numerous regulatory bodies, diverting systems of revenue generation for the foreseeable future. If continued, these trends could spell disaster for North Carolina’s families. Instead, we should pursue a budgetary structure and job creation scenario that benefit both our economy and the planet by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, remediating current environmental degradation, and repairing existing infrastructure.

Our current reality, however, is far different. In 2009, 30 positions were eliminated from DENR. Over the next two years another 225 jobs were cut, but in Gov. Pat McCrory’s first year of office, while the economy was supposedly in recovery, another 131 positions went to the wayside, with 1,500 additional positions transferred out of the department over that same four-year period.

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Commentary
Gene Nichol

Prof. Gene Nichol

John Drescher, the executive editor of Raleigh’s News & Observer, had an odd and flawed column over the weekend regarding UNC Law School professor Gene Nichol entitled “Gene Nichol doesn’t regret column about Pat McCrory.” (Full disclosure: Nichol used to serve on the Board of the NC Justice Center, NC Policy Watch’s parent organization).

It was odd because it awkwardly combined what was, by all appearances, a brief news report/interview with Nichol along with Drescher’s own take on Nichol’s falling out with the state powers that be  — some of which stemmed from some columns Nichol has authored for the N&O. Drescher quoted Nichol as saying he had no regrets in likening Governor McCrory to reactionary conservative governors from the Civil Rights era. As Nichol told Drescher:

“I said he was a successor to them.I do think it’s fair. I think it’s accurate. I’m not saying he’s exactly the same.”

But then Drescher went on to tack a commentary of his own into the last few sentences of the column in which he rejected Nichol’s explanation. According to Drescher:

“By going after McCrory in a personal way, Nichol made it easy for his opponents to focus on Nichol and ignore his broader, more significant message.

Professors ought to be able to write in The N&O (or anywhere else) without fear of retribution from politicians or their appointees. But they should inform us through research and lead us though debate at a high level that is focused on ideas and aspirations. In that regard, Nichol came up short.”

Hmm – let me get this straight, John. Are you really saying that “professors” should never issue “personal” barbs and only “inform us through research”? Really? Why? Indeed, what the heck does that even mean? And how do you define “research”? What was Nichol supposed to do — insert footnotes in his columns? Read More

News

North Carolina’s newly privatized economic development group may create a business advisory board with seats designated as rewards for private funders, board members said during a meeting Friday.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina gets most of its funding from state taxpayers, but members of an advisory board could draw its membership from its private funders, said Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat and a member of the public-private partnership.

Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat CEO. Source: Red Hat

Jim Whitehurst, Red Hat CEO. Source: Red Hat

At Friday’s meeting, Whitehurst said the structure of the business advisory board wasn’t finalized, but he envisioned 20 members from a variety of industries and areas of the state. He said the advisory board would be designed in conjunction with the group’s fundraising plan.

Several seats on the advisory council may go to those who donate to the private arm of the partnership, Whitehurst said, in response to a reporter’s questions after the open portion of Friday’s meeting.

“There may be a few seats for people that are large contributors,” Whitehurst said.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina opened last October, when the state’s business recruitment, tourism and marketing functions were moved out of the state Commerce Department to the newly formed private non-profit.

Lawmakers, when they authorized the move, held the group subject to open meeting and public records laws, and members of the partnership’s board also must adhere to the state ethics law.

The general public is the biggest backer of the partnership, with more than $16 million in public dollars funding the venture.

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Commentary

Be sure to check out Tazra Mitchell’s excellent essay over on the main Policy Watch site this afternoon: “Governor McCrory’s flat budget proposal ignores research and reality.” As Tazra explains, the state is cutting essential services to provide enrollment growth increases in education and health care. As a practical matter, everything else remains frustratingly and destructively stuck in neutral:

“With his 2015-2017 budget, Governor McCrory chose to ignore the need for reinvestment in public education, health, safety, and the other programs that improve well-being for us all. Total state investments under his 2016 fiscal year budget proposal would be 6.1 percent below pre-recession levels, adjusting for inflation. North Carolina’s lived experience shows us this is the wrong way to go—in past economic recoveries, state investments returned to and exceeded pre-recession levels far more quickly. Our former leaders understood that investing in the infrastructure of opportunity spurs economic growth.

Governor McCrory’s spending plan, in large part, freezes state investments at a time when his priority should be to roll back harmful budget cuts enacted since the downturn. His budget for the 2016 fiscal year increases year-to-year spending by nearly $439.8 million, or two percent, but the costs of enrollment growth in public schools, the UNC system, and the Medicaid/Health Choice programs are estimated to slightly exceed that year-to-year increase. That means every new dollar, on net, is dedicated to funding enrollment growth rather than replacing budget cuts that stifle economic mobility or pursuing new initiatives to position the state competitively.

And despite promises that the 2013 tax cut for the wealthy would deliver a huge boom to the economy, North Carolina has experienced nothing of the sort. Job growth has largely followed national trends in recent years, but we still have not gotten back to the level of employment—when accounting for population growth—that was the norm before the recession. Wages in North Carolina have slipped further behind the national average and are not even keeping up with inflation, which means many people’s paychecks do not go as far as they did before the downturn.

So the promise of an economic boost from tax cuts has failed to pan out, but state leaders are sticking with those cuts rather than reinvesting in the long-term building blocks of opportunity and prosperity like schools and environmental protection.”

Click here to read the entire article.

Commentary

More lousy national publicity for North Carolina today and its political leadership. The New York Times has joined the list of media outlets to report on the Governor’s failure to grant a pardon to two men (Henry McCollum and Leon Brown) who were wrongfully imprisoned for more than three decades for a crime they did not commit.

In case you’ve already forgotten, the men were released more than six months ago, but have failed to receive a pardon that would open the door to financial compensation for 31 years of their lives that were stolen. This is from the new Times article – “Pardons Elude North Carolina Men Exonerated After Decades in Prison”:

“Mr. McCollum, 50, was released from prison last September after DNA evidence showed that he did not rape and murder a young girl in 1983. But since then, he and his half brother, Leon Brown, who was also exonerated and freed from prison in the same case, have led anything but a glamorous post-prison life. Instead, because of legal decisions made to help accelerate their release, as well as Gov. Pat McCrory’s deliberate approach to granting what is known here as a pardon of innocence, both men have clung to a minimal existence, absent substantive remuneration, counseling or public aid in transitioning back to society….

Mr. McCollum and Mr. Brown each received $45 when they left prison and have lived on charity since. They resided for a time at a home here, where Mr. Brown slept on a couch in one room and Mr. McCollum’s mattress and box spring rested on the floor in another.

Without money for a car or any knowledge about how to drive one, the men walked to a grocery store to buy subsistence fare like canned potatoes and pork and beans. Mr. McCollum, who was a janitor while he was incarcerated, said he wanted to apply for a job, but he was reluctant until he had a pardon.”

Come on, Governor, do the right thing and help these men.