senate

ICYMI: Senate Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting

The Senate Select Committee on Judicial Redistricting had its first meeting on November 8 – where they were given presentations by HB 717 sponsor Representative Justin Burr, Brad Fowler of the Administrative Office of the Courts, and Judges Joe Buckner, Brad Letts, Joe Crosswhite, Michael Crowell, and Gerry Cohen.

Republican Senator Dan Bishop asked Burr outright if his new maps were part of “some evil partisan plot” or an intentional “racial gerrymander” after extending his sympathies to Burr in hopes that his feelings have not been hurt by the negativity surrounding HB 717.

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VIDEO: Redistricting Public Hearings

Hear what North Carolinians had to say on new maps proposed by House and Senate Republicans.

In Halifax County the public hearing took place in one of the districts ruled an unconstitutional racial gerrymander. 

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Video: First Redistricting Committee Meeting

The joint legislative redistricting committee met for the first time on Wednesday in Raleigh. 

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Unconstitutional GOP majority proposes budget—our first take

This unconstitutionally elected Republican majority continues to legislate, not on behalf of the people of North Carolina, but on behalf of their billionaire backers. Instead of protecting the middle class and building world-class public schools, this budget gives tax breaks to billionaires. Under this budget, North Carolina will keep falling behind when it doesn’t have to.

  • The Republican budget fails our schools, middle class families, and the future of our economy at a time when we do not have to.
  • Cooper found a way to raise teacher pay more than 5% next year. Republicans only offer 3.3%. Instead of investing in classrooms, Republicans are giving millions in tax breaks to billionaires.
  • Cooper offered free community college for high school graduates, money to help teachers pay for out-of-pocket expenses, and eliminated the waitlist for pre-K. Republicans did none of those things.
  • Under this budget, we are still spending less that we did before the recession per student, teachers are still underpaid, and we have seven thousand fewer teaching assistants than we did in 2008.
  • Instead of prioritizing education, Republicans are undercutting our kids and it’s our economy that will suffer as North Carolina falls farther and farther behind other states and competitors like China and India. 

In addition to education, the GOP budget fails to provide for critical areas of need for rural North Carolina - including broadband and economic development..

  • Governor Cooper's budget invests $20 million to expand access to broadband and improve the economy of rural North Carolina, while the Republican budget would spend $250,000 on state IT bureaucrats.
  • Cooper proposed $30 million for a ready-sites program to attract new jobs to rural areas. The Republican budget leaves rural areas behind, choosing to spend only $2 million on ready-sites.

The GOP budget also wastes money on projects of the extreme right:

  • The Republican budget spends $1.3 million on an anti-abortion advocacy group that masquerades as a provider of health services to women, pushing dangerous and misleading propaganda on vulnerable women.
  • The GOP spends $40 million on private school vouchers which send tax dollars to unaccountable private and religious schools.

 

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Which Republicans will be most endangered without a gerrymander?

Real Facts NC today released a report that ranks the 20 Republican state lawmakers most likely to face more competitive districts when maps are redrawn. Last week, the US Supreme Court affirmed that North Carolina’s current maps are unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, but GOP leaders are dragging their feet. Meanwhile, rank and file legislators are predictably anxious about their new districts.

“I’m sure GOP leaders have new maps drawn already, but they’re not letting anyone see them,” said Daniel Gilligan, Executive Director of Real Facts NC. “So we’re going to try and pull back the curtain a bit to give everyone a peek at what the political landscape might look like in the next election.”

“Without unconstitutional racial gerrymanders, GOP leaders will be hamstrung in their ability to draw maps that will preserve their legislative super-majorities. Some safely-held GOP districts will have to be more competitive and some rank-and-file members will be facing their first competitive election in years,” said Gilligan.

Here are the Top 20:

1. Bob Steinburg
2. Larry Yarborough
3. John Bell
4. Susan Martin
5. (Tie) Reps. Jon Hardister, John Faircloth and John Blust
8. Trudy Wade
9. John Szoka
10. Jeff Collins
11. Greg Murphy
12. Jimmy Dixon
13. Chad Barefoot
14. Wesley Meredith
15. (Tie) Reps. Andy Dulin and Scott Stone
17. (Tie) Sens. Dan Bishop and Jeff Tarte
19. Brenden Jones
20. Rick Horner

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While Republicans haggle over minor budget differences, neither offers “real competition” to the Cooper plan

Though there are several key sticking points between House and Senate versions of the budget that need to be negotiated, neither version holds a candle to the Cooper plan. As the Raleigh News & Observer said, Cooper’s budget offers a “better vision” for North Carolina.

Benefits for state retirees

The Senate budget provides no cost-of-living adjustment for retired state employees, and the House version includes only a one-time bonus of 1.6 percent.  When House Democrats tried to increase the cost-of-living adjustment for state retirees with an annual adjustment of 2 percent, Speaker Moore successfully tabled the amendment. With the House “adamant” to include the retiree bonus in the final budget, cost of living adjustments might become a sticking point between chambers.

Wind farm moratorium

The wind farm moratorium could be a deal breaker as the House might not have enough votes to override a Cooper veto if the final budget contains a moratorium. The Senate’s version of the budget includes a three-year moratorium on wind farms. Several key members of the House, including Rep. Bob Steinburg, said they could not support a budget with a wind energy moratorium. 

School construction grants

The chambers do not agree on the greatest needs in education funding. The Senate’s budget included a $75 million fund that would help pay for school repair and construction in poor counties. The House directs more money toward financial aid for college students and K-12 buses instead.

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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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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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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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