Commentary, News

The Week’s Top Five on NC Policy Watch

1. Haven’t read Tuesday’s 205-page partisan gerrymandering ruling? We’ve got you covered

Three federal judges agree: North Carolina Republican lawmakers drew a congressional map that intentionally discriminated against voters and entrenched their party’s power.

They struck down the 2016 map as an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander and ordered the state not to hold an election until a remedy is enacted. The legislature has until 5 p.m. Jan. 24 to redraw the congressional map, and with a candidate filing deadline looming, the court said it also intends to appoint a special master to help draw an alternative plan.

It’s the first time a federal court has blocked the use of a congressional map because of an unconstitutional partisan gerrymander.[Read more…]

*** Bonus read:

2. Senate ghosts the House on GenX bill, leaving $2.3 million and DEQ directives in limbo

On the House floor last night, Rep. Jimmy Dixon — a colorful Duplin County turkey farmer whose personality crosses an endearing grandpa with a shotgun-toting crank running kids off his lawn — reiterated a point he had made at least four times in two committees over the past two months: Environmental advocates had warned lawmakers and state environmental officials 10, 15 years ago that North Carolina’s water was in peril, but those admonitions “fell on deaf ears.”

Now, though, the deaf ears are mounted on the head of Senate.

A hard-fought measure, House Bill 189 would direct the Department of Environmental Quality to tackle the statewide problem of emerging chemical contaminants in surface, groundwater and drinking water. DEQ would do this by analyzing its permitting process, sharing data about emerging contaminants with other states and study statutory and reporting requirements.

Alone, these provisions are a start, but still not particularly impressive. But unlike other GOP-driven unfunded mandates, this bill is backed by money. Real money, by modern standards of GOP stinginess. The House Appropriations Committee unanimously approved $1.3 million in one-time funding, siphoned from an ill-advised and stalled project to chemically treat Jordan Lake. Plus another million to buy a high-resolution mass spectrometer, necessary for detecting unknown chemicals at extremely low levels, and to pay for the DEQ scientists to master it.[Read more…]

3. See for yourself: The math clearly shows that 2018-19 class size requirements remain unfunded

Somehow, legislative leaders remain under the false notion that they have fully funded the 2018-19 K-3 class-size requirements. Recently, Sen. Phil Berger has claimed that since 2014, local school districts have received roughly $222 million to lower class sizes, and that this additional investment is sufficient to meet next year’s smaller class sizes.

Senator Berger is very wrong.

Additional funding from the legislature has allowed North Carolina school districts to hire an additional 1,966.5 teachers, as compared to the 2013-14 school year. However, as compared to the 2013-14 school year, the new class-size requirements necessitate the hiring of 6,678.5 additional teachers. There remains an unfunded gap of 4,712 teachers, or approximately $304 million.

The funds mentioned by Sen. Berger have nothing to do with meeting next year’s change in class sizes. [Read more…]

*** Bonus reads:

4. Five myth-busting truths about the North Carolina economy
Conservative happy talk doesn’t change several important basics

The mantra from conservative North Carolina politicians and pundits these days is that North Carolina’s hard right policy turn of recent years somehow provides “a model for the nation.” If you spend any time on policy-oriented social media, you can hardly refresh your browser without being pummeled by the claim that North Carolina’s economic outlook is amazingly bright and that it’s all the result of conservative decisions to slash taxes and “get the state’s fiscal house in order.”

Never mind that the North Carolina’s post-Great Recession economic recovery – such as it has been – basically mirrors the national trends. Never mind that the recovery has left vast swaths of the state behind. Never mind that conservative disinvestment in essential public services and structures leaves the state increasingly ill-prepared to compete in the long run, much less lift up struggling regions and socioeconomic groups. [Read more…]

5. Trove of emails provides a window into conflicts at UNC

UNC Board of Governors Chairman Louis Bissette began the New Year by penning a column urging his own board to avoid internal conflicts, refrain from political partisanship and avoid micromanaging UNC leaders and administration.

The move came as a surprise to some. Many members of the board had spent 2017 dismissing stories of conflict and partisanship on the board as overblown by the media.

But those paying close attention to the board were well aware that the recently concluded year was racked with controversies and internal strife.

“I think you could read it as a dressing down of the board,” said board member William Webb. “I wasn’t offended by it. I think [Bissette] has been frustrated because the tenor of the board has changed and some members are more aggressive.” [Read more…]

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