2014 Teacher Pay Rally

  • News Summary

    Senate Wraps

    The Senate early Friday gave final approval to the $21.25 billion state budget compromise and left town after a flurry of late-night and early-morning lawmaking. Before its final budget vote, which passed 33-10, the Senate also approved a controversial sales tax and economic development measure, as well as an elections omnibus bill with mostly minor tweaks to elections laws. The Senate didn't act on proposed coal ash management legislation, instead choosing to debate it in November. It also didn't consider provisions that passed the House earlier in the day to extend the existing film incentives program and create a new historic preservation tax credit, leaving those two proposals all but dead.

    After the budget vote, the Senate passed its adjournment resolution, which Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, called "our favorite time of the legislative session," setting a possible return date on Aug. 14 to consider any vetoes by Gov. Pat McCrory. That would give McCrory 10 days to decide on legislation, not the 30 days allowed after legislators finalize their session. The adjournment resolution also calls for the Senate and House to reconvene Nov. 17 to tackle Medicaid reform, coal ash management legislation, vetoes and possible appointments or confirmation bills. Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, deemed the session "never-ending." "It's August," he said. "We need to be done and completely done." Apodaca responded that he saw no problem in returning to Raleigh to "cover issues that are vital to this state."

    The elections bill, among other changes, would require political and campaign committees to file campaign finance reports electronically beginning in 2017. The Senate also approved and sent to the House a measure that modifies two existing economic development programs – JMAC and JDIG – and creates a special fund for the commerce secretary to use to try to close large economic development deals. The same bill also allows crowdfunding in North Carolina and includes a controversial cap on local sales taxes.

    Earlier in the evening, the chamber sent to McCrory a bill to raise the salary threshold at which employees of the new public-private economic development partnership will be required to file statements of economic interest with the State Ethics Commission. The new threshold would be $80,000, up from $60,000. Democrats called it bad policy and a hit to transparency. Republicans said it was a compromise, as Commerce Department leaders wanted to increase the threshold to $120,000.  (THE INSIDER, 8/01/14).

    Budget Votes

    The driving force behind the Republican-written $21.25 billion budget that gained Senate approval early Friday was to substantially increase teacher pay by moving money around in whatever creative ways were necessary. The price tag on that 7 percent average raise is $282 million. It comes from cuts to health and welfare programs and other state spending, covering ongoing expenses on a short-term basis with one-time funding, and shifting teachers' longevity pay into their salary schedule. The budget also relies more heavily on lottery proceeds, increasing funding for teachers and teacher assistants by $34 million from that source of money. Budget writers also dipped into reserves and used federal grants to replace the funding that had been in place.

    Whether building a teacher pay raise on that financial structure is a good idea is a matter of sharply different opinions. Casting doubt on the plan is the recent report from the General Assembly's fiscal staff that taxes cut last year will amount to a shortfall of $700 million this year, and a total of $5.3 billion over five years -- $880 million more than projected. One-time funding accounts for $50 million in education spending, $89 million in health and human services, and $152 million in the entire budget.

    "The knowledge that there is a higher cost to the tax plan passed last year is not reflected in this budget," said Alexandra Sirota of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center, a group generally aligned against GOP policies, "which calls into question whether this budget is really sustainable, not in the long term but even over this fiscal year." She said the budget could put the governor in the position of having to notify state agencies early next year -- when further tax cuts take effect -- that they will have to start making cuts. "They're not only cutting, they're raiding every possible fund," she said. "That one-time money won't ever be back there."

    Gov. Pat McCrory told reporters at an event in Charlotte on Thursday that protecting a reserve fund for building repair was important to him, along with "reasonable" teacher pay raises and protecting Medicaid eligibility. He said he had been working closely with legislative leaders and thought the budget would meet his concerns. "As I examine it, many of those criteria are being met," McCrory said. "They've been listening to the executive branch." He said that his one disappointment was the omission of a provision regulating large commercial dog breeders. Puppy mill reform is a favorite cause of his wife, Ann. McCrory said he hadn't fully reviewed the budget.

    The budget was preliminarily passed on a vote of 32-13 on Thursday and then by a final vote of 33-10 early Friday. Republicans defend the budget choices as necessary to recover from what they contend were years of overspending and debt by Democratic governors and legislators, while clearing the way for teacher pay. Senate Leader Phil Berger said on the Senate floor Thursday that he didn't like using that much nonrecurring money for education spending, but he said Democrats spent far more than this budget does. "The additional money that has been dedicated in this budget to compensation increases is historic," Berger said. "Is it enough? No, we wanted more than that."

    The N.C. Association of Educators portrayed the longevity pay shift as a loss of a benefit and characterized the 7 percent average pay raise -- amounting to an average of $3,300 a year -- as a "fallacy." The group also said it wasn't fair that other state employees will continue to receive longevity pay as a separate paid benefit. NCAE Vice President Mark Jewell said it was a "regressive" salary schedule that stalls out for the most-experienced teachers and takes away their incentive to stay in the classroom.

    Some of the cost-cutting hits the state's hospitals. Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, said large urban hospitals would pay more for treating Medicaid patients because of increased assessments. The N.C. Hospital Association issued a statement saying the budget disproportionately targets hospitals for Medicaid cuts and will force them to rework their spending at mid-year, which would lead to a loss of services and jobs. Programs under the Department of Health and Human Services were also cut or paid for with nonrecurring funding, including $34 million shifted from the general fund to federal grants for needy children and families.

    The budget also authorizes the use of bonds that can be issued without public approval to build a regional crime lab in the mountains, and to renovate the Albemarle Building in downtown Raleigh and the Department of Public Safety's Samarkand Training Facility near Eagle Springs -- totaling up to $63 million. Sen. Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, questioned the wisdom of accumulating that debt, and also disregarding contributions to build up the state's rainy day fund, which he called disciplined budgeting. He contended it could put the state's triple-A bond rating in jeopardy.  (Craig Jarvis, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 8/01/14).

    Budget Details

    Here are some highlights of the final state budget for 2014-15, as approved by the Senate Thursday and early Friday. The House is expected to vote on the bill Friday and Saturday.

    • Public Education
      • Spends $282 million for teacher raises averaging 7 percent, although some raises could be much larger or smaller.
      • Increases pay for all teachers to at least $33,000 a year.
      • Spends $42 million to guarantee funding for one teacher per 18 students in kindergarten and one student per 17 students in first grade.
      • Adds $18.7 million to restore salary supplements for teachers with master's and other advanced degrees who took courses toward their degrees before Aug. 1, 2013.
      • Reduces Department of Public Instruction budget by 10 percent, or $5 million a year.
    • Community Colleges
      • Provides $1,236 increase in salary and benefits for full-time employees.
      • Increases tuition by 50 cents per credit hour to $72 for N.C. residents and $264 for nonresidents.
    • UNC System
      • Provides $1,236 salary and benefits increases for UNC employees subject to the State Human Resources Act and provides $5 million for pay raises for exempt employees to be administered by the Board of Governors.
      • Increases the management flexibility cut by $2.4 million to $76 million for 2014-15.
      • Provides $3 million for "game-changing" research in areas such as manufacturing, defense and the military, energy and marine and coastal sciences.
    • Department of Health and Human Services
      • Cuts $16 million to contracts and administrative expenses across the department, except to programs that provide direct services.
      • Replaces $20 million general fund appropriation to the pre-kindergarten program with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant money and TANF emergency contingency funds on a one-time basis.
      • Provides a $2 million cap for one year for group home residents ineligible for Medicaid personal care services. Maximum monthly payments are $464.30 for 33 hours of service. Must be used only for supervision and medication management.
      • Reduces by nearly $1 million general fund appropriation for the Home and Community Care Block Grant.
      • Replaces a $14 million general fund appropriation for child-care subsidy program with block grant funds on a one-time basis.
      • Changes eligibility for child-care subsidies from 75 percent of state median income to 200 percent of federal poverty level for children with special needs. Children 6-12 are eligible at 133 percent of federal poverty level. General fund appropriation for this and other child-care subsidies reduced 34 percent to $27.1 million, due to replacing state funds with federal funding.
      • Eliminates $17 million in reserves meant to buy equipment, furniture and information technology for New Broughton Hospital, which was to open in December. Construction problems have delayed the opening to May 2016.
    • Justice and Public Safety
      • Transfers State Bureau of Investigation from the Department of Justice, under the elected attorney general, to the State Department of Public Safety, under a cabinet secretary.
      • Leaves the justice department crime lab where it is; the Senate had proposed moving it under the Department of Public Safety.
      • Transfers misdemeanants to county jails, which allows closings and conversions of prisons. Closes Fountain Correctional Center for Women in Nash County on Jan. 1, and North Piedmont Correctional Center for Women in Davidson County on Aug. 1. Also converts Eastern Correctional Institution in Greene County to a minimum custody female facility on Nov. 1.
      • Allocates $1.8 million to buy vehicles for the 100 new parole/probation officers handling influx of ex-offenders under the Justice Reinvestment Act.
      • Authorizes $15.4 million bond debt to build Western Regional Crime Lab in Edneyville.
      • Tells the Administrative Office of the Courts to find $2.9 million in administrative savings.
      • Cuts the AOC technology budget by 3 percent ($500,000). That’s a cut to a department that is woefully behind in technology, but AOC dodged a bullet: The Senate budget called for a 24 percent cut; the House didn’t include any cut.
      • Establishes a three-judge panel to hear lawsuits challenging on their face the constitutionality of laws the General Assembly passes.
    • Transportation
      • Gives motorists the option of getting "First In Flight" or "First in Freedom" license plates.
      • Incorporates a push to end state funding for driver education classes offered in public schools, starting in July 2015.
      • Halts the yearly transfer of $267,000 in transportation funds to help pay salaries of six staffers of Gov. Pat McCrory, starting in July 2015.
      • Repeals a tax break -- a refund of the state gas tax -- to taxi drivers, starting in July 2015.
      • Hires 14 more driver's license examiners to reduce wait times at Division of Motor Vehicles offices, and authorizes more DMV funds to produce a new-format driver's license and to start allowing some drivers to renew their driver's licenses online.
      • Keeps state ferry tolls unchanged. They are now collected on three routes, with options to start charging tolls in the future on the other four routes. The House had proposed getting rid of all ferry tolls.
    • General Government
      • Cuts three positions from the Historic Publications Unit in Cultural Resources.
      • Eliminates eight positions -- four vacant and four filled -- in the Department of Insurance.
      • Funds three new investigators at the State Board of Elections to investigate possible cases of voter fraud and pursue other violations of election laws.
      • Pays for two new special agents in the Department of Revenue to pursue individuals and businesses with overdue tax debts.
      • Spends $18.3 million to operate recently opened veterans' homes in Black Mountain and Kinston.
    • Special Budget Provisions
      • Establishes a special oversight committee on the lottery, made up of 14 House and Senate members tasked with examining lottery operations and recommending changes.
      • Details the process through which verified victims of the state's bygone eugenics era will be compensated, with initial payments by Oct. 31.
      • Prohibits the use of drones by state and local governments until Dec. 31, 2015, without special permission. Establishes extensive regulations regarding drone use and penalties for unlawful use.
      • Establishes the N.C. Education Endowment Fund from the sale of special "I Support Teachers" license plates and other funding sources. Funds would pay for teacher compensation related to improving student performance.
      • Requires schools to have emergency epinephrine injectors on hand to treat serious allergic reactions.
      • Requires school principals to provide information about bullying and cyber-bullying to staff, students and parents at the start of each school year.
      • Requires a study of various aspects of tuition charged at University of North Carolina institutions.
      • Requires a study on plans to "restore Elizabeth City State University to more financially sustainable conditions."
      • Establishes the intent of the General Assembly to work on Medicaid reform during a special legislative session in November 2014.
      • Requires the Department of Administration to negotiate with the federal government to acquire federal properties around Oregon Inlet.
      • Creates a special fund, funded with revenue from various fishing licenses, to support commercial fishing in the state.
      • Creates a grant program for film production companies in the Department of Commerce to replace existing film tax credit legislation, and provides $10 million toward the grant program in the first half of 2015. (Note: The House tentatively passed a bill Thursday to extend the current film tax credit program, with some minor changes, for a year).
      • Provides 1 percent cost-of-living increases for retirees of the Teachers' and State Employees' Retirement System, the Judicial Retirement System and the Legislative Retirement System.

    (THE INSIDER, 8/01/14).

    Film Incentives

    The House on Thursday tentatively passed a bill that would extend the current film incentives program for a year, with minor changes, but it might be for naught. The Senate adjourned early Friday morning without considering the language, leaving it all but dead for this year. In the House, Rep. Ted Davis, R-New Hanover, ushered through an amendment to a technical corrections bill to extend the existing refundable film tax credit program for a year – to Jan. 1, 2016 – while reducing the rebate available to film production companies from 25 percent of expenses to 22.5 percent. The amendment also would cap spending on the credit next year at $40 million and require the Program Evaluation Division to study the return on investment from the program. The amendment passed 77-36, splitting Republicans down the middle, with all but two Democrats voting for it. The vote came after House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, put his support behind it in a rare speech on the House floor. The full bill passed tentatively as well, with a final House vote expected Friday. Tillis said he believed the film industry would contract in the absence of the current credit. If the General Assembly eliminates the incentive this year, he said he believed lawmakers would come back in 2015 to correct their mistake. He advocated for the one-year extension to allow for more discussions on the issue in the long session.

    The state budget includes a $10 million film grant program to replace the existing incentive, but some film industry advocates say that would kill the industry in the state. Vans Stevenson of the Motion Picture Association of America said the $10 million grant program was "significantly underfunded to support the level of jobs, spending and local investment in North Carolina." The state has spent several times that amount annually luring films and TV series in recent years.

    House members on either side of the issue reiterated the usual talking points Thursday. Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, said the refundable credit means production companies get money even if they don't pay taxes in the state. "Checks get mailed to Hollywood or New York or wherever they are," Stam said. Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, said Davis was looking out for his constituents in Wilmington, where the film industry is active, and that he had to look out for his constituents. "The people in my district are paying for this," he said.

    Said Rep. Larry Pittman, R-Cabarrus: "I believe that (all financial incentives) should be illegal because I believe it's the government overstepping its bounds, exceeding its authority." Citing a study, Davis said the film industry supports 4,200 full-time employees and 15,000 part-time workers in the state, and productions create an economic ripple effect that supports many small businesses. "I honestly feel this is a murder trial and I'm representing the film industry in North Carolina and I'm fighting against the death penalty," he said.  (THE INSIDER, 8/01/14).

    Coal Ash

    Lawmakers were unable to bridge disagreements on how to force Duke Energy to clean up its 33 coal ash sites in the final days of the legislative session. The stalemate means that one of the top policy priorities for the legislature and for Gov. Pat McCrory -- as well as for people living in areas where the coal ash is deposited -- will be delayed. Before adjourning early Friday morning, the Senate amended an adjournment resolution to allow coal ash legislation to be taken up when the legislature reconvenes on Nov. 17.

    Late Thursday, negotiators from the House and Senate were still trying to work out a bill that both chambers could agree to and vote on before the Senate leaves for two weeks. "We are at loggerheads and we can't seem to find a middle way between us," Rep. Chuck McGrady, a Henderson Republican, said after the House adjourned Thursday. "It may mean this needs to be taken up later in the year." Amy Auth, a spokeswoman for Sen. Phil Berger, said Senate negotiators have committed to an agreement and are waiting for their House counterparts. But Rep. Ruth Samuelson, a Charlotte Republican and House negotiator, blamed the Senate for the impasse and said House negotiators have not seen a final version of the compromise bill from the Senate.

    The sticking point dividing House and Senate negotiators is a provision that prioritizes which coal ash ponds are deemed low risk and subject to less stringent regulation, Samuelson said. Samuelson said House members are eager for a resolution and open to considering the Senate's original coal ash legislation, even without the House changes, just to make sure a bill gets to the governor before lawmakers leave town. The Senate plans to adjourn early Friday, complicating the process, Samuelson said. "The original version is better than no version at all," she said. House and Senate negotiators can continue discussions after the legislature leaves Raleigh at the end of the week. But neither chamber would be able to vote on a compromise until the legislature returns on Aug. 14 to deal with unfinished business. Among the differences between the House and Senate bills are how many members the governor and the legislature would appoint to a newly created Coal Ash Management Commission. McGrady wouldn't elaborate on the specifics of the impasse.  (John Murawski, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 8/01/14).

    Tax Cap

    House and Senate leaders have agreed on a retooled bid to limit urban counties' ability to raise sales taxes. That could leave Wake County voters with a tough decision this fall. HB 1224 appeared to be dead for the session Thursday morning, but just before midnight Thursday, Senate leaders unveiled a revised version of the plan. The original bill would have capped the maximum local sales tax in any county at 2.5 percent. While it would have given most counties more flexibility to raise sales taxes with voter approval, it would have restricted taxing power in four counties whose cap had already been set at 2.75 percent. Wake, Mecklenburg, Guilford and Forsyth counties had already been granted authority to ask voters for a half-cent sales tax increase for transit needs, in addition to a quarter-cent for education or general use. Lowering the cap in those counties to 2.5 percent would limit their ability to raise money for both transit and education. Under the new version of the bill, those four counties could keep their elevated cap – but only if voters there have agreed to a quarter-cent increase for general use by the end of 2014. Mecklenburg and Guilford counties already have that quarter-cent sales tax proposal on the ballot this November, so they could qualify to keep their higher cap if voters pass the initiatives. Wake and Forsyth counties, however, do not. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, said the change was made after leaders in the affected counties criticized the earlier plan.

    The final version of House Bill 1224 also includes several grant programs for economic development, including the Job Catalyst Fund, a new grant fund sought by Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker, and legislation allowing crowd-funding of start-ups in North Carolina. Senate leaders also added several revenue law provisions to the bill from Senate Bill 763, an omnibus measure that failed to pass the House in time to be approved by the end of session. However, two high-profile items were missing. The House voted Thursday in Senate Bill 763 to extend the state's film tax incentive program and historic preservation tax credit. Those items were not included in the final version of House Bill 1224. The measure passed the Senate 32-11 shortly after midnight Friday. It will receive a final vote in the House Friday or Saturday.  (Laura Leslie, WRAL NEWS, 8/01/14).

    Historic Preservation

    The House voted 85-26 to retain a historic property redevelopment tax credit, but chances of the tax credit staying on the books are dim after the Senate went home early Friday morning without considering it. Leaders in the Senate oppose the legislation, said Sen. Wesley Meredith of Fayetteville, who would like the tax credit to stay. The program gives an income tax credit to people who develop historic properties. It is scheduled to expire Jan. 1. The House voted extend a reduced version of the tax credit to Jan. 1, 2020. "I think it's something that we need to get some of these buildings that are in downtown Fayetteville re-energized," Meredith said.

    Fayetteville Mayor Nat Robertson visited the legislature on Thursday to try to persuade lawmakers to support the tax credit. Legislators who oppose the tax credit have said that North Carolina is trying to reform its tax code by ending tax breaks and loopholes. By eliminating those breaks, the state is lowering income taxes for everyone. Efforts to retain tax breaks will undermine the tax reform effort, said Rep. John Szoka of Cumberland County. Despite his discomfort with undoing the tax reform effort, Szoka said he would vote for the historic property tax credit bill. "I'm not wild about it, but I was going to vote for it because there's a lot of good stuff in that bill," he said. In addition to the historic property tax credit, the bill has several unrelated programs aimed at fostering job creation. The legislation is scheduled for a final vote in the House. With the legislature shutting down most of its lawmaking this weekend, its uncertain whether the Senate will take it up.  (Paul Woolverton, THE FAYETTEVILLE OBSERVER, 7/31/14).

    Patent Trolling

    A bill that would help North Carolina companies fend off frivolous patent claims is heading to the governor. The measure, dubbed the N.C. Commerce Protection Act of 2014, passed the House 81-30 and the Senate 45-0. The patent protection provisions are uncontroversial. Local tech companies such as the SAS Institute pushed for the measure, saying they were often forced to defend themselves against "non-practicing entities," or NPEs, that are shell companies created for the purpose of holding a patent. Those companies try to enforce the patent against bigger companies, hoping to extract settlements. Although patent suits are heard in federal court, state laws control certain rules related to the cases. This pending bill would allow local companies to hold the owners of NPEs, often called patent trolls, accountable by going after personal assets rather than just the assets of the companies. The idea, sponsors say, is to make it less lucrative and more risky to bring a failed patent infringement claim.

    Another part of the measure was much more controversial. The same bill would cut off liability for companies that have bought other corporations that at one time manufactured asbestos. The bill would, six months from now, limit the ability of plaintiffs to target a category of corporations. Thus far, Crown Cork & Seal is the lone member of that category. "We are going to be cutting off plaintiffs that are ill and dying," said Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland. Other members, including Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, noted that it has been decades since the company has had any asbestos products. At some point, he said, the company's liability should end.  (Mark Binker, WRAL NEWS, 7/31/14).

    NCTracks Certification

    State health officials say they're confident their year-old Medicaid payment system will earn a money-saving seal of approval from the federal government, despite a new audit criticizing the agency's progress toward that goal. Federal certification for NCTracks could save the state $9.6 million a year as the federal government picks up a greater share of the program's operating costs. The audit released Thursday found that the state Department of Health and Human Services did not meet its target of July 1 for certification, pushing the start of the process back to October.

    NCTracks faced a rocky start when it launched on July 1, 2013, and some providers eventually sued the state over problems getting paid. But in January, as the system improved, DHHS officials said in a preliminary report to lawmakers that they planned to earn federal certification for the program by July 1, 2014. North Carolina and the federal government split the operational costs of NCTracks 50-50, but certification would bump the federal contribution up to 75 percent. Three months after the DHHS report, DHHS Chief Information Officer Joe Cooper told lawmakers in an April oversight meeting that the agency's new milestone was October 2014. But one of the audit's main criticisms, according to Auditor Beth Wood, is that DHHS officials failed to provide any additional details on how it planned to meet its newly revised timeline. "I don't know what kind of project management you're looking at when you throw a deadline out for a project and you have no plan for how to get there," Wood said in an interview Thursday.

    Since state auditors concluded their review in June, DHHS officials say they've formally submitted a request to CMS, which should begin the certification process after Oct. 28. Cooper said the delay would not affect taxpayers because the agency budgeted to fund the program at the 50 percent rate through June 2016. Once the system earns certification, Cooper said, federal funding will automatically apply retroactively to the program's launch. But Wood isn't so sure, and auditors noted in their Thursday report that this back pay "is not guaranteed." "CMS has told us it's not an automatic retroactive reimbursement and that there have been other states that did not get reimbursement back to the go-live date," Wood said. State health officials said in the audit that Computer Sciences Corp., the contractor hired to design and build the system, could be liable for any federal funding lost in the delay. But they also acknowledged that would be hard to enforce. Cooper said although that may be an option for recouping money, he doesn't think it will come to that after federal officials arrive in November for their visit.  (Tyler Dukes, WRAL NEWS, 7/31/14).

    Charter Board

    Paul Norcross and Baker Mitchell, two of Senate leader Phil Berger's appointments to the state Charter School Advisory Council, have resigned. A bill introduced, and later passed, in the Senate on Thursday includes two new appointments for the unexpired terms of Norcross and Mitchell. Both men reportedly submitted letters of resignation after the bill's introduction. Sherry Reeves of Pamlico County will fill Mitchell's unexpired seat, and Phyllis Gibbs of Guilford County will fill Norcross' seat, the Wilmington Star News reported. Norcross and Mitchell have been targets of separate ethics complaints. Eddie Goodall, executive director of the N.C. Public Charter Schools Association, filed an ethics complaint in May asking for investigation into a conflict of interest. Goodall said Norcross and Mitchell should have recused themselves from a May 12 vote on the charter application for Bastiat Classical School. This week, George Hartzman of Greensboro filed an ethics complaint alleging that Berger had a conflict of interest when he supported a recent charter school bill. That bill passed despite complaints that it fails to protect students from being discriminated against because of their sexual identity.  (Marquita Brown, THE NEWS & RECORD, 7/31/14; Caitlin Dineen, WILMINGTON STARNEWS, 7/31/14).

    Financial Aid

    A new 4-year tuition guideline for the UNC system would cap tuition increases at 5 percent annually and would substantially limit tuition-funded financial aid for needy students at some campuses. The plan would cap at 15 percent the amount of tuition revenue diverted to financial aid for lower-income students. That would essentially freeze tuition-funded financial aid at N.C. State University and UNC-Chapel Hill, which exceed the 15 percent threshold. A committee of the UNC Board of Governors approved the plan Thursday. The full board is expected to vote on Friday. The vote represents a philosophical shift for the board, now dominated by Republicans. Previously, the board allowed campuses to raise tuition, as long as they provided a healthy set-aside to cover the cost for low-income students. The new board members have complained for months that they don't like the practice of charging middle-income families and using part of that money to subsidize the tuition for lower-income students. Others have said the move represents a departure from providing an affordable education for all students.

    Shirley Ort, UNC-CH's associate provost and director of scholarships and student aid, said many middle-income students now receive financial aid through tuition funds. Those students generally are not eligible for federal or state aid, she said. Ort estimated that the cumulative indebtedness of lower-income students at UNC-CH could double in a matter of four years, from $17,000 to $33,000. "I'm keenly disappointed," she said. "The action this morning is going to result in considerably more borrowing among all students who have need of financial assistance."

    Champ Mitchell, a board member who advocates for the financial aid limit, said some North Carolina families had mortgaged their homes and dipped into their retirement funds to afford higher education. The UNC system, like most public universities, has raised tuition at more than twice the rate of inflation, while state residents are seeing income growth at 1.7 percent, he said. He called that "abusive." "The question isn't should we have need-based aid," he said. "The question is how do we fairly apportion the burden, and it has become unfairly apportioned to working North Carolinians, so we're going to try to, over time, change that situation."(Jane Stancill, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 7/31/14).

    Campus Security

    A UNC system report on Thursday recommended 36 steps to respond to sexual violence, beef up law enforcement preparedness, and combat alcohol and drug abuse on the state's public campuses. The report was compiled after a year of study and discussion by a large task force of university police chiefs, lawyers, student counselors, medical professionals and others who routinely deal with crime, sexual assault and substance abuse. Implementing all of the recommendations would cost $12.8 million, and it's unclear whether the ideas will be funded or what they will ultimately accomplish. But there is little doubt that student safety is taking center stage nationally as Congress, the White House and the U.S. Department of Education seek new accountability from colleges and universities on the issue of sexual misconduct. About 70 campuses are under investigation by the federal government for their handling of sexual misconduct or reporting of crime statistics, including UNC-Chapel Hill, which has had its own task force at work on a rewrite of the university's policies. This week, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators introduced a bill that would require universities to publish online the results of surveys about sexual assault. Colleges that fail to comply could face penalties up to 1 percent of their operating budgets.

    Among the report's recommendations are:                                                              

    • A system policy on sexual harassment and sexual violence.
    • Trained investigators and panelists, who are not students, to hear sexual assault cases.
    • Better standards and competitive pay for campus police officers.
    • A crime records specialist for each campus.
    • More capacity to treat students' mental health issues.
    • Comprehensive programs to reduce alcohol and substance abuse.

    The report will be reviewed in the coming months, with more specific implementation plans.  (Jane Stancill, THE NEWS & OBSERVER, 8/01/14).

    EPA Plan       

    North Carolina's environmental agency has raised equity and legal concerns over the Environmental Protection Agency's plan to curb carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The EPA held hearings this week on the groundbreaking proposal it rolled out in June. The proposal left environmentalists jubilant over action to limit greenhouse gases linked to climate change. Skeptics say it will kill jobs and drive up electric rates. The energy policy adviser for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources under Gov. Pat McCrory says North Carolina could join other states in fighting the EPA in court.

    North Carolina's power plants would have to reduce emission rates, or releases per energy produced, by 44 percent by 2030. That target is compared with emissions in 2012, well after a state crackdown on power plant pollutants that also reduced greenhouse gases (2002) and ordered utilities to generate energy from emission-free renewable sources (2007). Duke Energy has retired half of its 14 coal-fired power plants in the state in a shift toward natural gas fuel. The state wouldn't get credit for those initiatives under the EPA proposal, the DENR said, and would instead be expected to reduce emissions more sharply than states that still rely heavily on coal. DENR energy adviser Donald van der Vaart said the rules would put pressure on the state's utilities to burn less coal and more gas, which produces lower emissions, while expanding renewable energy, energy efficiency and demand-limiting programs. "All those things cost money," he said.  (Bruce Henderson, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/01/14).

    ALEC Award

    The American Legislative Exchange Council has named Rep. Jason Saine its Lawmaker of the Year for 2014. It's the second time in four years a North Carolina lawmaker has won the group's highest honor. Outgoing House Speaker Thom Tillis was ALEC's Lawmaker of the Year in 2011. Saine, R-Lincoln, is a second-term House member. According to a release from the pro-business advocacy group, "Rep. Saine received the award for organizing a successful ALEC tax academy in North Carolina and for being a leader in advancing free market principles." ALEC says its purpose is to encourage productive working relationships between business interests and state policymakers. The group generates "model legislation" on a range issues and encourages member lawmakers to sponsor the measures in their home states. Saine is the group's North Carolina chairman, and the award was conferred at the group's annual meeting, currently under way in Dallas. Gov. Pat McCrory was scheduled to be a keynote speaker at the meeting, and Tillis was also expected to attend, but neither ended up going to the event because of the ongoing budget negotiations.  (Laura Leslie, WRAL NEWS, 7/31/14).

    Highway Money

    Hours before the federal government was set to reduce payments to states for road and bridge projects, Congress approved a temporary fix Thursday that would maintain funding through the middle of next year. But in some ways, the damage already had been done. States were bracing for a drop in payments during the height of construction season. And Congress' inability to agree on a long-term funding solution has wreaked havoc on state transportation departments, which plan projects years in advance. "We've got a short-term fix," said David Parkhurst, staff director and general counsel for the National Governors Association's Office of Federal Relations, "but the long-term challenges remain." On Tuesday, the Senate approved an $8 billion plan on a vote of 79-18 to bolster the highway fund through December, with the intent of hammering out longer-term legislation after the November elections. But Thursday, the House voted 272-150 to send its $11 billion, 10-month extension to the Senate. Late in the day, the Senate voted 81-13 for a bill that pushes the tough choices into the next Congress. (Curtis Tate, MCCLATCHY WASHINGTON BUREAU, 8/01/14).

    Broadband Battle

    Facing stiff competition from AT&T and possibly Google, Time Warner Cable said Thursday that it plans to bring faster Internet speeds and enhanced TV service to seven metro areas, including two in North Carolina. Time Warner said it will upgrade next year to speeds up to six times faster than its current broadband service in Charlotte, Raleigh, Dallas, Hawaii, Kansas City, San Antonio and San Diego. Current Internet customers will get the faster speeds and upgraded DVR service at no additional cost, the company said. The new metro areas will join Los Angeles, New York City and Austin, Texas, which will complete their rollout of the new service by the end of 2014. The new service is called TWC Maxx. (Eric Frazier, THE CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 8/01/14).

    Inlet Management

    Coastal regulators may consider altering the windows for dredging and nourishment projects as part of a comprehensive management plan for the state's 12 developed inlets, according to a presentation given Thursday to the Coastal Resources Commission. The CRC, which oversees development in the state's 20 coastal counties, met this week in Beaufort. Talk of an inlet management plan began in December, when CRC Chairman Frank Gorham proposed the measure in response to a study on redrawing regulation boundaries at the mouth of the Cape Fear River. That research, mandated by the General Assembly in 2012, required the CRC to gauge the feasibility of designating an area of environmental concern, or AEC, near Bald Head Island and Caswell Beach. The CRC directed staff members to conduct a management study for all 12 of the state's developed inlets. As part of that study, the state Division of Coastal Management held a series of public hearings throughout the state this spring, collecting comments on potential inlet management practices. Staff members presented those comments to the CRC in May. Commissioners whittled that to a final list of 10 priorities, including standards for beach fill material, funding sources and dredging windows. Due to environmental regulations, dredging can currently take place in North Carolina from Dec. 1 to March 31, dates designed to avoid storm season and minimize impacts on nesting sea turtles. But those impacts could be mitigated in other ways, according to a study presented to the CRC Thursday.  (Kate Elizabeth Queram, WILMINGTON STARNEWS, 7/31/14).


    Posted Aug 2, 2014, 9:21 AM by Nakiya J Cohen
  • Your Choice Counts....

     Dear Citizens,

     We cannot afford another two years of the following:

                    ·            Major education cuts on all levels

                    ·         Teacher Layoffs

                    ·         Lack of State Employees cost of living increase

                    ·         Opposition to  Affordable Healthcare Act

                    ·         War on  Women’s Rights

                    ·         No Economic Development/Jobs Plan

                    ·         Threats of Voter Suppression

                    ·         No Environmental Conservation Plan

     The Republicans have cut Education by over $600 million. North Carolina is ranked 49th in per pupil spending in the US. Since the Republican majority in the General       Assembly following 2010 elections unemployment remains high in North Carolina.

    Join me in doing the following:

        ü  Invest in our Children’s Education from Pre-K to Higher Education

        ü  Put our Teachers and Support Staff back to work

        ü  Pay our State Employees accordingly

        ü  Keep Affordable Healthcare

        ü  Allow Women to  Govern over their own bodies

        ü  Have a plan to increase Economic Development/Jobs

        ü  Protect the Right to Vote

        ü  Have a Environment Conservation Plan that Protects  the environment

    What can you do?

        ·         Make your voice heard by casting YOUR vote

        ·         Encourage others to VOTE

        ·         Financially support our campaign against the GOP machine

        ·         Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer…….


    Robin Bradford

    Posted Sep 18, 2012, 12:13 PM by Nakiya J Cohen
  • July 2, 2012


    Today our General Assembly has turned "Back the Hands of Time"!


    The Racial Justice Act was overturned and there are potentially enough votes to allow fracking in North Carolina in spite of the Governor’s veto. Next education will not be available to all children of North Carolina if the General Assembly continues to overturn the Governor's Vetoes.

     Who we elect matters!! We are seeing the results of low voter turnout in 2010 and not supporting candidates that truly have the "best interest of North Carolina" in mind. We need to work smarter and together to make sure North Carolina is restored to the leading state that it once was.

     If it is important to you to take a stand and say “I will not allow the current General Assembly or like minded candidates to continue to destroy North Carolina!”; I need your support!

     Show that you want North Carolina to be a leader in:

    ·         Education

    ·         Economic Development/Jobs

    ·         Health Care

    ·         Social Justice & Civic Liberties

    Show your support for "Common Sense Leadership"!!!

    To ensure that the right candidate is elected more than your vote is needed. Multiply the impact of your support by volunteering, providing financial support and spreading the word.  

    Donations can also be made by mail PO Box 963 Huntersville, NC 28078 or ActBlue

    Posted Jul 10, 2012, 8:54 AM by Nakiya J Cohen
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