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Gov. Pat McCrory unveils his recommended 2015-17 state budget

Governor Pat McCrory unveiled his recommended $21.5 billion budget Thursday, which continues his promise to boost beginning teacher salaries up to a minimum $35,000 a year but does not provide significant increases for veteran teachers and makes yet another cut to the state’s university system.

“We’re changing the basic paradigm of how we evaluate and distribute our limited tax dollars,” McCrory told reporters Thursday. “The new paradigm is directing our monies toward where we’re having the highest attrition, where the greatest need is and based upon the market performance…we’re really speaking in a different paradigm that’s more market-oriented than civil service oriented.”

More than half of McCrory’s 2015-17 recommended state budget is devoted to education. An additional $200+ million is spent on fully funding student enrollment growth in K-12 education over the next two years, and around $84,000 is tagged for increasing beginning teacher salaries from $33,000 (which the General Assembly approved last year) to $35,000 beginning this fall.

While veteran teachers did not receive significant pay bumps in spite of the fact that many say they were cheated out of raises during last year’s much touted teacher pay raise, McCrory’s new budget director, Lee Roberts, emphasized that eligible teachers would still move along the newly-enacted state salary schedule if McCrory’s budget passes.

The old salary schedule for teachers had previously been frozen, Roberts said. The state’s new system provides teachers with pay bumps every five years.

McCrory’s budget hits the University of North Carolina system with a 2 percent funding decrease, also known as “allowing flexibility to achieve efficiencies.”

That cut comes on top of years of budget cuts to the state’s strapped universities. In addition, universities would also be capped at $1 million with regard to how many state dollars they can spend toward private fundraising efforts.

McCrory told reporters that he’s consulted with UNC leaders.

“We’ve talked to the university leaders about this and what they like is the flexibility we’re giving them, said McCrory. “Instead of the politicians out of Raleigh telling them how to find savings, we’re giving them the flexibility to do that.”

The word flexibility was a commonly used one in today’s budget reveal.

“In the past, they’ve [UNC] gotten the directive of what to reduce or increase out of Raleigh. Those days are ending. We want to give that flexibility to our universities and our community colleges and, by the way, our superintendents,” McCrory said.

Other education-related takeaways from the Governor’s budget: Read More

Commentary

NC Left Me OutA group of coalition partners working in North Carolina to close the Medicaid coverage gap has launched a new website called NC Left Me Out to collect stories of people who make too much for Medicaid and too little for private insurance. As the website explains, the Affordable Care Act specifically allocated funds to provide affordable insurance coverage to approximately 500,000 people in our state. Unfortunately, the Governor and the legislature have blocked those funds from coming to North Carolina. Many of the individuals and families who could use this money to get insurance coverage work in low-wage professions like construction, day care, and food service.

At a press conference today Dana Wilson, a woman in the coverage gap who suffers from MS, shared her story. You can watch her video here.

The legislature and the Governor need to hear from more people like Dana, the working poor who are being unfairly denied coverage. If you are in the coverage gap please consider sharing your story on the NC Left Me Out website. If you want to support the campaign then you can sign up as well.

Every week a new Governor shows the leadership to formulate a plan for extending insurance coverage to people in the Medicaid gap. Last week the conservative state of Indiana had a plan approved. States like Wyoming and Utah are moving forward with similar ideas. We need Governor McCrory to show us his plan for closing the coverage gap. He has publicly hinted that he wants to design a state-specific Medicaid waiver. Great, let’s get moving. Every day that we wait is another day people like Dana suffer.

We need to continue telling our stories to the media, to legislators, and to the Governor. If the economic arguments and moral arguments don’t win the day, maybe looking into the eyes of those who have been denied coverage will begin changing minds.

News

N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker says the $22.5 million fund to recruit business to the state is nearly empty, with enough money left to cover one additional jobs project, according to the Triangle Business Journal.

Decker was speaking to a group of commercial real estate developers at the Umstead Hotel in Cary when she made her comments about the state’s Job Development Investments Grants (JDIG) program.

Lawmakers did not fund the incentive program at levels desired by state commerce leaders, and Gov. Pat McCrory has said he is considering calling lawmakers back to Raleigh before their scheduled start in January for the long session.

From the TBJ article:

“And without JDIG, we will not be competitive,” N.C. Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker told members of Research Triangle chapter of NAIOP at its meeting Nov. 7 at the Umstead in Cary.

The JDIG program, since its inception in 2002, has been used by state economic development recruiters to sweeten the pot for companies that are considering a major investment in North Carolina that would lead to the creation of net new jobs in the state.

JDIG has typically been reserved for the largest new jobs deals, and pay-outs are only made after the company reaches a minimum job creation goal. Local companies that have been awarded JDIG grants include MetLife, Ipreo, Sygenta Biotechnology, Allscripts Healthcare and HCL Technologies.

Decker warns that the state is dangerously close to losing its chance to even negotiate on potentially large job-producing deals, including three big economic development prospects that are considering expansion and relocation options in the Triangle that could add another 4,100 jobs in region

You can read the entire article here.

News

A group of Wilmington-area charter schools missed a Monday deadline to provide information to the state about salaries earned by employees of a private contractor that work at the public schools.

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Adademies, with students.

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Academies, with students.

But the private company contracted to run the four charter schools said it will give up the salary information under one condition – that it be considered a “trade secret” and withheld from the public.

“This is a simple yet reasonable approach, utilized frequently throughout North Carolina by state, county and local public agencies to protect confidential and proprietary mutual interests of CDS, DPI, SBE and their constituents, while preserving the sanctity of the RBA Confidential Information,” wrote George Fletcher, an attorney for Roger Bacon Academies in an Oct. 21 letter to John Ferrante, the chair of the schools’ non-profit board of directors.

(Scroll down to read the letter.)

Roger Bacon Academies, the company owned by conservative charter school founder Baker Mitchell Jr., has received millions in public funds as part of the company’s exclusive contracts to run four Wilmington-area charter schools – Charter Day School in Leland, Columbus Charter School in Whiteville, Douglass Academy in Wilmington and South Brunswick Charter School in Bolivia.

Nearly 2,000 students enrolled at the four tuition-free schools this year, which draw down federal, state and local education funds. Mitchell also owns a company that leases land and school supplies to the public charter schools. Close to $9 million has gone to Mitchell’s companies over the last two years, according to the Wilmington Star-News.

Read More

News

North Carolina’s new economic development partnership– a quasi-public group funded largely with public money – started up in earnest last week,  a significant move that privatized how employers are recruited to the state.

The Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina has received $500,000 so far in private donations and $17.5 million in public dollars.

Partnership leaders have not yet identified the donors, as was reported this article published yesterday.The new group is subject to public record laws, as well as various reporting requirements.

John Lassiter, a Charlotte attorney appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory to chair the partnership’s interim board, spoke with N.C. Policy Watch Wednesday after the piece was published.

He reiterated that the group will likely release the identities of donors before the end of the month – but may not specify how much each person or company gives.

That’s because enabling legislation requires the group to keep a list of donors and an “aggregate amount” of donations, he said.

He said he viewed releasing some of the donor information now, instead of at the end of  the year, will be going beyond the transparency requirements.

“Let’s strive to exceed what’s required in statutes,” he said.