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56 NC politicians voted to protect Chinese billionaires over North Carolina families

Everyday, many rural North Carolina families wake up to the stench and residue of hog waste. It clings on their clothes, sticks to the walls of their houses, covers their yards, and for years it has prevented neighboring kids from experiencing the fun of an outside birthday party.

Chinese-owned pork producers like Smithfield Foods are responsible for ruining the property values of nearby homeowners and small farmers. But their pay-to-play contributions to state politicians paved the way for House Bill 467, which gives special protections to the giant pork producers, effectively weakening nuisance laws and protecting them from a variety of legal claims.

Recognizing their blatant attempt to stop pending litigation related to 26 lawsuits filed against Smithfield Foods subsidiary Murphy-Brown, lawmakers narrowly voted to amend the bill so that it would only apply to future litigation. Yet 56 House members still voted to protect Smithfield Foods from current litigation by opposing the amendment.

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Video: Despite his own bill, Sen. Wesley Meredith votes against rural broadband

In February Senator Wesley Meredith introduced S65, the BRIGHT Futures Act which encourages the establishment of a digital infrastructure, “necessary for economic innovation,” including broadband, in rural areas.

Meredith joined Cumberland Rep. John Szoka and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest for a press conference on February 9, in which Meredith expressed excitement about the bill saying it was something he had been working on for six years. 

“We have a lot of people who do not have access to broadband,” Meredith said, “we need to have that.”

S65 puts the Rural Economic Development Division in charge of giving grants to the Rural Infrastructure Authority to build digital infrastructure to support broadband. But while S65 is stuck in Senate Rules, Meredith had a chance to vote for the exact broadband investments he says he wants.

Instead, Meredith voted against a budget amendment that would have resurrected his six-year endeavor to connect rural North Carolina during the late-night Senate budget debate on May 12.

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Lawmakers-turned-lobbyists find family on Jones Street

The revolving door between lawmakers and lobbyists is nothing new, but what’s with the rash of Republicans claiming to resign to spend time with their families, only to end up back in Raleigh a few months later?

Former Majority Leader Mike Hager resigned in August, announcing “after much prayer and consideration, it is time to spend more time with my family and pursue other opportunities.” So much for returning home to his family in Rutherford County. Weeks after the required six-month cooling off period, Hager cashed in, registering with the state and starting a lobbying firm focused on deregulation and public utility issues.

In 2014, Senator Thom Goolsby of New Hanover County chose not to seek a third term. At the time he said, “I’m just ready to come home. It’s been a long four years.” However, Goolsby could not wait to get back to Raleigh, and according to the North Carolina Secretary of State’s website, registered as a lobbyist in March of 2015. Some of Goolsby’s clients have included the Education Freedom Alliance, NC Small Business Coalition, NC Clean Energy Business Alliance, and the NC Friends of Midwives.

Republicans who came into power saying they would change the culture in Raleigh, have turned the lobbying revolving door into an art form. By resigning early a lawmaker can start the clock on the six-month cooling off period sooner rather than later. Cashing in has proven to be the culture at the General Assembly under Republican leadership.

At least former Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca was honest. When he resigned in mid-2016 he admitted he was considering becoming a lobbyist. "I've got a lot of options, and government relations is one of those options,” he told WRAL. Apodaca registered as a lobbyist in January of 2017 and started a new firm. His new clients included Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina, Altria, and the NC Wine and Beer Wholesalers Association.

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Where in the world is Dan Forest?

North Carolina’s Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest has been noticeably absent from several key events in the state so far in 2017.

  • Most recently, Forest was in Salt Lake City, Utah and missed the NC Senate’s budget debate on May 11-12. (A budget that would add three people to his security detail btw, see below)

The NC Senate debated the budget on May 11 from about 4 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. They came back into session for the third reading at 12:05 a.m. on May 12. Forest, who’s role as Lt. Gov. makes him President of the Senate, did not preside over either session. Instead Forest was presiding over an empty chamber in the Utah Senate.

  

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Video: Senate budget packed with policy changes

The North Carolina Senate tentatively passed their version of the state budget after a late-night debate on Jones Street. Their budget contains several policy positions aimed at Republican leaders ideological agenda more than state spending. Here are a few notable items.

Certificate of Need: The senate budget would eliminate the certificate of need system for healthcare facilities by 2025. Healthcare experts have claimed that repealing certificate of need programs “would be a disaster for rural healthcare.” Eliminating certificate of need would lead to healthcare price inflation and smaller, rural hospitals will suffer.

State Health Benefits: The senate budget would eliminate medical insurance for future state employees after retirement. All state employees hired after July 2018 would not be entitled to health benefits when they retire. 

Wind Farms: The senate budget would impose a three year moratorium on new wind farms in order to study the potential safety risks that wind farms pose to military operations – when asked on the floor Republican Senators could not name one military leader that had expressed this concern on the record. If passed, the moratorium could potentially derail the proposed Timermill Wind Farm in Chowan and Perquimans counties.

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Video: Senate budget ignores the needs of rural North Carolina

Earlier this week, Sen Phil Berger told the crowd at Rural Day that the Senate remains focused on “how we can improve the life of hard-working folks like you and your families” such as “confronting the opioid crisis” and creating common senses change that “enables rural North Carolina to thrive just like the rest of North Carolina.

Apparently, he forgot to tell his budget writers because the Senate budget clearly cares more about millionaire’s than rural communities. 

  • Broadband. Despite the desperate need to expand access to high-speed internet in rural, underserved portions of the state, the Senate budget calls for a paltry $250,000 increase for the state’s Broadband Office. Governor Cooper’s budget, on the other hand, called for an additional $20 million to increase access and improve service in Tier 1 and 2 counties — the poorest counties in North Carolina.
  • Economic development. Major manufacturers who locate in rural areas can be transformational for the economy of an entire region. The Senate plan spends only an additional $2.5 million preparing potential manufacturing sites for development. Governor Cooper called for an additional $30 million for his Ready Site program targeted at Tier 1 and Tier 2 counties.
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NEA REPORT: NC Per Student Spending Drops

The newest NEA State Education Rankings were released today and the biggest news is that North Carolina's per pupil funding actually dropped from 2016 to 2017. Here are the highlights:

  • NC currently ranked 43rd in per pupil spending, was ranked 42nd last year 
  • NC per pupil spending went down from 2016 to 2017
  • NC currently spends $3,044 less per student than national average
  • NC only beats Mississippi in Southeast in per pupil spending

 

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2017 North Carolina Senate Budget - Quick Takeaways

It’s clear from Senate Republicans’ proposed budget that they are determined to follow their same misguided priorities - placing the millionaires and billionaires that fund their campaigns ahead of the needs of everyday North Carolinians. When compared to the governor's budget, this budget falls short in several key ways:

  • Cooper’s plan is a realistic plan to get teacher pay to the national average in five years and raises teacher pay by 5% this year. The Senate plan only raises teacher pay 3.7%.
  • Every teacher gets a raise under the Cooper plan. Under the Senate plan, the most veteran teachers get no raise at all.
  • Cooper’s budget invests $8 million more in textbooks and increases per pupil spending by almost $200 more than the Senate plan.
  • Instead of eliminating the wait list for Pre-K or providing for tuition-free community college as Governor Cooper did, Republicans have chosen to spend another $44 million on private school vouchers.

Instead of investing in schools, the Republican leaders in the Senate are willing to give away hundreds of millions of dollars on tax breaks for billionaires and giant corporations.

This plan would give millionaires a tax cut 60 times the size of what middle class families would receive.

Since Republicans have taken control of the state legislature they’ve chosen millionaires before the middle class every step of the way. Under the Senate plan, eighty percent of state tax breaks since 2013 went to the wealthiest North Carolinians.

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