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State Senate leaders are unveiling their approach today to cleaning up the state’s hazardous coal-ash ponds, but a leading environmental group is already saying new legislation doesn’t go far enough.

The proposal will be discussed at a 3 p.m. committee hearing in Raleigh at the N.C. General Assembly.

The AP first reported last night that the Senate proposal (click here to read) would require Duke Energy to close its coal-ash dumps within 15 years, and WRAL had this wrap-up as well and a summary to the Senate proposal here.

Coal ash from February spill near the Dan River

Coal ash from February spill near the Dan River

But Frank Holleman, the attorney steering the Southern Environmental Law Center’s litigation over coal ash, said the Senate bill still defers many of the decisions to the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources. That, he said, could mean that Duke Energy could continue to get passes on cleaning up the toxic by-products found in 33 unlined pits at the electricity utility’s 14 coal-fired plants in the state.

All the pits have contaminated nearby groundwater, and environmental groups have criticized DENR’s reluctance before the February coal ash spill in the Dan River to demand cleanup.

“What North Carolina needs but is not done in this bill is a direct requirement that Duke clean up its coal ash,” Holleman said. “It leaves it to the failed state agency.”

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State lawmakers still want to see $10 million in cuts by shutting down four regional offices of a state health program that aids developmentally delayed babies and toddlers.

DHHSThe N.C. Infant-Toddler Program, an early intervention program managed under the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services, faced $18 million in cuts in the two-year budget passed last year — $8 million in the first year and $10 million for the fiscal year beginning in July 2014.

A DHHS attempt this spring to meet mandated cuts by shutting down three Eastern North Carolina children’s developmental services agencies fell apart in April.   East Carolina University’s medicine school turned down a proposal to absorb the work in an existing contract it had to manage another CDSA office. (Click here for background.)

Now, both the Senate and the House budget have tightened the language around the cuts and want to require DHHS to shut down four of the state’s 16 child-developmental services agencies by January.

DHHS “shall close four State-operated CDSA’s, effective January 1, 2015,” both the House and Senate budget say.

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This is the 4th 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 and here and here.

Chances are schools across North Carolina will continue to rely on outdated textbooks and limited resources for classroom supplies for the upcoming school year. The Senate budget approved last week fails to provide additional funding for these two classroom areas in the wake of dramatic state funding cuts to both textbooks and classroom instructional supplies in recent years.

Since the 2009-10 fiscal year, state funding for textbooks has been cut by 81 percent, down from $119 million when adjusted for inflation to around $23 million for the current school year. As for classroom materials and instructional supplies, state funding has been cut by nearly 47 percent since FY 2009-10, down from $90.7 million when adjusted for inflation to around $50 million for the current school year. Local schools systems have been challenged with replacing these state funding cuts with other funding sources or continuing the trend of doing more with fewer resources.

K-12 ed_Textbook & Classroom Supplies
Inadequate state funding for textbooks means the continued use of outdated textbooks, and in some cases schools have resorted to making photocopies from textbooks to ensure that students have learning materials. Diminished funding for classroom instructional materials has meant teachers having to reach into their pockets to buy supplies for classroom instruction.

The decision to not restore funding for textbooks and classroom material and supplies in the Senate budget comes on the heels of policymakers passing a tax plan last year that significantly reduces annual revenue for public investments now and in the years ahead. Policymakers now face huge revenue shortfalls for the current budget as well as for the upcoming 2014-15 fiscal year budget, which are driven by the tax plan passed last year. This foregone revenue could have help boost investments in our public schools.

As House budget writers work to put together their proposed budget, restoring funding for textbooks and classroom supplies would represent a positive step in promoting a quality education for all North Carolina students. Revenue options are available to responsibly demonstrate this commitment. Policymakers should stop the additional income tax cuts slated to go into effect January 2015. Doing so would allow for greater investments in the state’s future workforce, and in turn, the Tar Heel state as a whole.

ff3072013We’re just a couple of weeks into the 2014 session of the North Carolina General Assembly, but the annual legislative silly season has already commenced. Not familiar with silly season? That’s the time of year in which legislative leaders force their members to work all kinds of silly, late night hours in order to limit media coverage and handicap/wear down those who might want to criticize or contest their agenda (i.e. the minority party).

Usually, silly season doesn’t start until there have been several months (or, at least, several weeks) of actual, semi-normal  legislative process, but this year, in keeping with the current majority’s increasingly pathological aversion to sunlight and transparency, it’s starting just days after the session itself commenced. The Senate is kicking silly season off today with a wholly unnecessary Friday afternoon session, followed by an even more unnecessary post-midnight session early tomorrow morning, during which it will ram though its destructive 2015 budget proposal.

And lest you get the mistaken impression that lawmakers will actually be working longer hours during silly season, rest assured that this will almost certainly not be the case. Read More

Golf ball on teeState lawmakers are rushing through a bevy of important and destructive bills during the 2014 short session — often with remarkably little process or debate.  The Senate is even going so far as to take the most important bill of the session — the 274-page budget bill — from its moment of unveiling to final passage in just 48 hours. Meanwhile, House Speaker Thom Tillis threatened his chamber with a rare Friday session if they didn’t speed along a bill to legalize fracking.

Ah, but happily, the mad rush doesn’t apply to all matters. According to an announcement emailed out early this afternoon by the House Commerce and Jobs Development Committee, that august body will be devoting two full hours of precious short session time next Thursday to the subject of golf. This is from the announcement:

“NORTH CAROLINA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
JOINT COMMITTEE MEETING NOTICE AND BILL SPONSOR NOTIFICATION
2013-2014 SESSION

You are hereby notified that the House Committee on Commerce and Job Development will meet as follows:

DAY & DATE: Thursday, June 5, 2014
TIME: 10:00 AM
LOCATION: 544 LOB
COMMENTS: This is an informational meeting. The objective of the NC Golf Economic Impact meeting is to review the historic and ongoing economic contributions golf has made to the state. When examined in a historic context one reaches a simple conclusion: NC has been very good for golf and golf has returned the favor in kind. Read More