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Monday, May 9, 2011

(Updated) Shutdown ahead? Perdue, Republicans are toe to toe on the budget — and far, far apart

Posted by on Mon, May 9, 2011 at 11:03 PM

Gov. Bev Perdue at the One Voice rally sponsored by the NCAE Tuesday

(Update — 5/10: Originally, the headline on this said Perdue and the Republicans are toe to toe on the budget, which can only lead to — drumroll — a compromise. But when I raised the subject with Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger today at his weekly press conference of a possible government shutdown if no compromise is struck, Berger smiled and said he's asked his staff to look into what happens in a shutdown. They've been thinking about it for a few weeks, he said. Later, after a good deal of discussion with other reporters about what a shutdown might mean, I again asked Berger if a compromise wasn't the obvious answer. "We intend to pass a very good budget, and we hope the Governor will sign it," Berger said.

(Because of the language in the unemployment benefits bill which is discussed below, I also asked Berger whether, if it comes to it and there is no budget deal by June 30, the Republicans would pass a temporary budget — a continuing resolution — with a short time span. His answer: It will depend on whether the legislature's GOP leaders think they can reach a final deal with Gov. Perdue within that time span.

(So, for example, they'd pass a three-week C.R. if they decided there was some chance of reaching agreement with Perdue in three weeks. The unstated converse of that — if Berger, Tillis & Co. don't think they can reach a deal with Perdue, i.e., they won't raise taxes and she won't sign a budget that cuts $700 million-plus out of education, then the C.R. they send her would not be time-limited. And if she vetoed it, as she presumably would, the result would be a shutdown.

(What happens then? Read on.)

***

The original post follows —

— a compromise.

Right?

But let's just say, for argument's sake, that the Republicans refuse to compromise, and they stick to their position that they will never — ever, ever — raise taxes.

And let's say that Gov. Bev Perdue, who isn't that dug in yet but is nonetheless campaigning furiously for a tax increase to stave off the GOP's draconian cuts to education, refuses to sign the Republicans' budget when it comes to her in June.

Are we looking then at the possibility of a government shutdown?

***

We've had a foretaste of the stalemate that might occur in the form of the Republicans' refusal to send Perdue a "clean" bill to extend unemployment benefits for 37,000 people who've lost their jobs and can't find new ones.

In mid-April, the Republicans passed a bill to extend the jobless benefits, but the GOP made it contingent on Perdue caving in on the budget. A provision in the bill said that if she hadn't signed a budget bill by June 30, the end of the fiscal year, then July 1 would dawn with the state operating under a "temporary" budget 13 percent less than Perdue's proposed budget, which itself was a 5 percent cut.

"Temporary" was defined as the entire fiscal year. In other words, sign our stingy budget or we'll make you swallow one that's even worse.

Perdue properly denounced the Republicans' bill as extortion, and she vetoed it. But the Republicans haven't backed down either. Thus, four weeks later 37,000 innocent citizens continue to be held hostage to the GOP's efforts to make Perdue blink.

***

Clearly, the Republicans were thinking ahead. They control the House and Senate, so they control the budget process up to the point that their work reaches Perdue's desk.

But if she vetoes their budget, then what? If June 30 comes and goes, the usual process is to pass a temporary budget resolution that continues spending at about the same level as in the previous year, but of course, that's a level well above what the Republicans want.

So what if the Republicans pass a "temporary" budget that, say, cuts spending by 13 percent, or 10 percent, and doesn't actually expire until there's a permanent budget? Perdue would almost certainly veto that as well.

Or the Republicans might send her a time-limited "temporary" budget that she could sign, but refuse to compromise on a permanent budget, forcing the Governor to choose between signing a series of miserly temp-budgets or else pull out the veto stamp and call their bluff.

If that happens, we'd be into the new fiscal year with no budget, and no temporary budget, and that spells:

— Well, in Washington they call that situation a government shutdown. Except that "vital" government functions don't really shut down because the courts allow the President to continue with military operations, prisons, hospitals, etc. Parks do close, however, and Social Security checks don't go out, which makes older people very, very mad. And doctors don't get Medicare reimbursements and there's no money for Amtrak, and no money for highway contractors, and pretty soon million of people are steamed.

— In Raleigh, on the other hand, there's no precedent for a shutdown as far as I know. But then, there's never been a General Assembly controlled by the Republican Party, or at least not since the 19th century.

I asked Gerry Cohen, the General Assembly's legal savant (title: director of bill drafting), about a possible shutdown, and he directed me to the state constitution, which clearly states that "No money shall be drawn from the State Treasury but in consequence of appropriations made by law" (Article V, Section 7).

"It doesn't say, 'except for this, and except for that,'" Cohen said. There's a good deal of precedent for temporary budgets, he added. The longest he can remember? He said it was about three weeks.

Not a year.

if a government shutdown should occur, a court could permit the Governor to continue vital functions like prisons, federally mandated programs, and other powers of her office by reading some meaning into her constitutional duty to (Article III, Section 5.4) "take care that the laws be faithfully executed."

Still, the legislature would have the upper hand.

Remember that the temporary 1-cent sales tax enacted two years ago at the depths of the Great Recession is set to expire on June 30, as is a smaller income-tax surcharge on wealthy taxpayers. Together, they're worth about $1.2 billion a year.

Perdue asked, in her 2011-12 budget, that a 3/4-cent sales tax be enacted in their place, about $800 million a year.

With no legislative action, however, state revenues are set to decline on July 1 by the larger number, giving the Republicans a $100 million a month tax cut for as long as a stalemate, or shutdown, continues.

Perdue's only power to make the Republicans negotiate with her? The power of persuasion — and public opinion.

But if there's a government shutdown — no schools, no universities, no football? — that power could prove to be irresistible.

Even for a Republican who vowed never to vote for a tax hike.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Help Raleigh's battered cemeteries, learn to write a best-seller (!)

Posted by on Thu, May 5, 2011 at 3:42 PM

City Cemetery, East Hargett Street

You know you want to write a best-seller. And with all your worldly experience, how hard can it be?

So here's the deal. You give a few $$$ to the cause, and on May 21 you receive the critical secrets — direct from their best-selling author — of The Emperor's Tomb, The Romanov Prophesy, The Charlemagne Pursuit and many others.

First, the cause.

City Cemetery in Raleigh dates from 1798, one of those hidden jewels in plain sight that you perhaps have never noticed even though it's located literally a short trot from Fayetteville Street. It's on the northeast corner of East Street and E. Hargett Street, which is one of the places the tornados struck 19 days ago — and City Cemetery was hammered.

Huge trees are down, others are split, some headstones have been pushed off their graves or were hit by falling limbs ... it's hard to see exactly what the damage is because the city's got the gates padlocked and rightly so. But it's extensive. (Pictures on Facebook here.)

Much the same is true at nearby Mt. Hope Cemetery, another Raleigh landmark.

It turns out that there is a group called Raleigh City Cemeteries Preservation Inc. It got started in 2006, Board Chair Jane Thurman says, as a spinoff from the Raleigh Historic Districts Commission. The rationale was simple: The old cemeteries needed some TLC, which the commission recognized but it wasn't their job. So Thurman, whose commission term was ending, shouldered the task and things were going quite well ... until the tornados hit.

Now the RCCP needs some help.

Enter Steve Berry. Berry writes thrillers that are ripped from the pages of history, and he has 11 million books in print — in 50 countries — to show that he's pretty good at it. He also has a foundation called History Matters whose purpose is historic restoration and preservation. Says Berry:

History comes alive when someone is able to not only read about the past, but also able to visit the places, see the artifacts, appreciate the images, read the actual words. For most people, history starts with learning about their family or their community. Imagine trying to discover your genealogy without anything tangible to search. Preservation of our heritage is a vital link to cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational, and economic legacies — all of the things that quite literally make us who we are. History plays a vital role in our everyday lives. We learn from our past in order to achieve greater influence over our future. History serves as a model of who to be and who not to be — of what to champion and what to avoid. Every day, decision-making around the world is based on what came before us.

Why?

Because history matters.

***


So Berry's coming to Raleigh in a couple of weeks to pitch his 11th book, The Jefferson Key, at Quail Ridge Books & Music — that's on Friday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m.

On Saturday, May 21, Berry is staying in town to conduct a daylong workshop for all you would-be best-seller writers. It's called "Lessons from a Bestseller," and it promises to teach the four big C's of story structure, effective dialogue, point of view and the all-important (I'm taking this from the brochure) 10 Rules of Writing. Plus pointers about the business of writing.

No, I don't know what the four C's are either, nor can I name the 10 Rules. I guess that's the point.

Or maybe the point is that Berry persisted, by his count, through 85 rejections over 12 years on five different manuscripts before breaking into print.

Berry's workshop will be held at Peace College in the Kenan Recital Hall, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. It's $115, including lunch, or $30 for lunch only (featuring Berry's tales of rejection and perseverance). All proceeds go to RCCP's restorations efforts.

To sit at Berry's table at lunch (7 seats only), add $35 to either sum.

Here's the brochure:

RaleighBerrylores.pdf

(If you have trouble with the pdf, there's a link to workshop info from the QRB link above as well as from the RCCP website — go to workshops.)

***


So who's buried in City Cemetery? Among others, William Polk, cousin of U.S. President James Polk and kin to L.L. Polk, founder of the Progressive Farmer magazine (which became Southern Living) and one of the great populists in American history.

This is from RCCP's map of the cemetery:

William Polk (1758-1834). Born in Mecklenburg County, Polk attended the Mecklenburg Convention proceedings on May 20, 1775. At the age of 18, he was a major in a North Carolina regiment of the Continental Line, serving under General George Washington at Brandywine, Germantown and Valley Forge. Ordered South, Polk was with Gates at the Battle of Camden and with Green at Guilford Courthouse. At the hard-fought battle of Eutaw Springs, his horse was killed under him, and he was severely wounded.

A man of many facets, Polk was a legislator, president of the State Bank, trustee of the University of North Carolina, a mason (Grandmaster of the Grand Lodge of N.C.) and a large landowner. He was friend of President Andrew Jackson, cousin of President James K. Polk and father of General Leonidas Polk, the Bishop-General. At his death, he was the last surviving field officer of the North Carolina Continental Line.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

In Yadkin fight, Alcoa loses again: Federal appeals court upholds FERC denial

Posted by on Tue, May 3, 2011 at 2:20 PM

AlcoaDam.jpg

Another setback for Alcoa in its bid to control most of the Yadkin River — and continue to cash the checks from its four hydropower dams — for another 50 years: The DC Circuit Court of Appeals today denied Alcoa's bid to cut North Carolina out of the process and allow the company to deal only with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

You'll recall that in December North Carolina revoked a critical permit that Alcoa needs in order to ask the FERC for 50 more years after determining that Alcoa withheld important information when it applied for — and was granted — the permit.

Thereafter, Alcoa asked FERC to bypass North Carolina entirely, but FERC said no. Then Alcoa challenged FERC's decision in the federal courts. Today's ruling by the DC Circuit Court would appear to put an end to that workaround, leaving Alcoa back where it started — with no state permit and no access to FERC until it gets one.

Bruce Thompson, a Raleigh attorney and one of Stanly County's lawyers in its case against Alcoa, sent us the DC court's opinion, which is here:

Alcoa_v._FERCpdf.pdf

Thompson's summary:

When the NC administrative law judge stayed the 401 water certification issued by NC DENR, Alcoa petitioned FERC for a declaratory order that the NC DENR had waived its authority by not issuing a certification that was effective and complete within one year. Additionally, Alcoa asked FERC to proceed with the issuance of a 50-year license for the Yadkin Project.

FERC denied Alcoa’s petition, ruling there was no waiver because the State had “act[ed] on” Alcoa Power’s application within one year of its filing

The DC Circuit ruled for FERC, finding that it "agree[s]with the Commission's interpretation of Section 401 in ruling that there was no waiver by the State." Therefore, the court agreed with FERC that it cannot decide whether to issue Alcoa a 50-year license until the litigation regarding Alcoa’s 401 certification is completed.

Interestingly, it is now Alcoa that is pursuing litigation on the state level as NC DENR withdrew the 401 certification last December. NC DENR informed Alcoa that it was revoking Alcoa’s 401 Water Quality Certificate because the company “intentionally withheld information material to determining the project’s ability to meet the State’s water quality standards for dissolved oxygen.”

In the letter, NC DENR tells Alcoa that its “intentional omission is documents, in part, in company e-mails that were entered into evidence at trial over the past few days.” The e-mails are part of the record in an administrative proceeding brought by Stanly County to challenge the 401 Water Quality Certification NC DENR previously granted to Alcoa.

The e-mails contain statements such as:

• “I’m certain that NCDWQ would have a problem if they knew”

• “If we even begin to suggest to DWQ that the enhancements proposed by [Alcoa] for Narrows and High Rock may not allow those tailwaters to meet state standards, DWQ can’t issue us a 401.”

After viewing these e-mails for the first time in court, NC DENR officials moved swiftly to revoke Alcoa’s certification. Alcoa cannot receive a new federal license for the hydro project if it does not have a 401 certification. It is hard to imagine Alcoa claiming it did not mislead NC DENR when the words in those emails speak for themselves.

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