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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Primer: The NCGA Has a Budget and Other Things You Need to Know Today

Posted by on Tue, Jun 20, 2017 at 8:20 AM

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Greetings and salutations, readers. There’s a lot in the news today, but before we get started, a quick reminder, if you have any thoughts/questions/suggestions/tips as to how we can make Primer better—or if you’d like to get this blog delivered straight to your inbox every morning—email them to indyprimer@indyweek.com. Also, please support our sponsors. (This week’s Primer sponsor is the Raleigh Flyers, the Triangle’s professional Ultimate Disc team.) They keep the lights on. —Jeffrey C. Billman

1. WE HAVE A BUDGET.

THE GIST: Yesterday, the General Assembly unveiled its $23 billion compromise budget, which would boost teacher pay by 3.3 percent and give other employees a $1,000 raise. State retirees would get a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment, and while there are tax cuts—the personal income tax would drop from 5.499 percent to 5.25 percent, the corporate tax cut would drop from 3 percent to 2.5 percent, and the standard deduction for married couples would increase from $17,500 to $20,000—they won’t take effect until 2019. Other things worth noting:
  • The Governor’s School will live on, as the Senate’s plan to deep-six its funding didn’t make it into the final budget.
  • The Senate’s proposal to cut funding for the Wright School in Durham was likewise nixed from the budget.
  • The Senate’s proposed $4 million cut to the UNC School of Law has become a more manageable $500,000 cut.
  • The budget includes $10 million for opioid and substance abuse treatment centers.
  • Republicans claim they will cut the wait list for subsidized pre-K by 75 percent.
  • The budget allocates $2.6 million between 2017 and 2019 for the nonprofit Carolina Pregnancy Care Fellowship, a network of crisis pregnancy centers that exist primarily to persuade women not to get abortions.
REACTION: A spokesman for Governor Cooper, who sought a 5 percent raise for teachers, said the budget “continues to shortchange education, economic development, and middle-class families in favor of more tax giveaways that help the wealthy and large corporations.” His spokesman did not, however, say the governor would veto the budget.
  • N.C. Democratic Party chairman Wayne Goodwin: “At first glance, it's clear the General Assembly has chosen yet again to help those who need it least at the expense of our public services.”
  • Alexandra Sirota, the director of the N.C. Justice Center’s Budget & Tax Center, laments that the budget “missed opportunities for North Carolina. By pursuing more tax cuts, even as states like Kansas have reversed course and abandoned their own failed tax-cut experiment, leaders of the N.C. General Assembly have chosen to stay the course and continue to do less for more North Carolinians.”
  • House Speaker Tim Moore: “Gov. Cooper will sign this budget if he cares about increasing the zero-tax bracket for low-income North Carolinians, keeping a long-term commitment to increasing teacher pay, providing disaster relief to hurricane-hit regions and protecting the state from future emergencies through smart savings and responsible spending.”
  • Senate leader Phil Berger: “I commend my Senate and House colleagues for their commitment to delivering substantial tax relief to the middle class, continuing our multiple-year effort to dramatically increase teacher pay and improve education outcomes, and helping rebuild communities devastated by Hurricane Matthew—while saving for a rainy day. Gov. Roy Cooper should support this plan that achieves what he has said are important priorities for our state.”
WHAT IT MEANS: The budget includes $530 million in tax cuts, and gives the Republicans a chance to crow that 99 percent of taxpayers are paying less or no taxes under their leadership. They’ve also benefited from a budget surplus that has enabled them to simultaneously fund these other priorities—to one extent or another. Again, if you ask them, this is a testament not to the country’s broader economic recovery from the Great Recession but to the wisdom of their economic policies. So there’s no reason to change course. The criticism is that those tax cuts take away money that could be used to invest in the state’s future: infrastructure, rebuilding after a hurricane, improving schools, etc. These are all things the Republican budget does—and Republican leaders will brag about doing—to some degree. Just not anywhere close to what critics say is necessary.

THIS IS BIG: Starting in December 2019, North Carolina will no longer be the only state to automatically prosecute sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds as adults. The budget includes a “raise the age” provision that would divert most cases—except those involving serious felonies—to the juvenile system.

WHAT’S NEXT: The legislature will vote on the budget later this week.

Related: The legislature will block Orange County from levying a charge on new development to fund new schools.

Somewhat related: Pat McCrory whines about not being invited to teach Harvard or Duke, says he’s considering another run for governor.
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2. WAKE COUNTY PASSES A BUDGET.

THE GIST: The school system asked for $45 million in new funding. It got less than half of that—$21 million—when the Wake County Board of Commissioners passed its budget yesterday. The $1.26 billion budget, which includes a 1.45-cent property tax hike, passed on a 5–2 vote, with Commissioners Greg Ford and Jessica Holmes saying it doesn’t do enough for schools.
  • Money quote: “The big picture is that it’s a status quo budget. It just meets growth and inflation. It’s a subsistence budget.” —School board member Jim Martin.
WHAT IT MEANS: Commissioner John Burns pointed out that this was the fourth straight year in which the county raised taxes. And while he, Sig Hutchinson, Matt Calabria, Erv Portman, and James West all pledged their support to schools—the final budget does afford the school system $5 million more than the county manager initially recommended—they also worried about raising taxes further.

Related: The city of Durham’s $429 million budget raises taxes to fund affordable housing and hire new firefighters.
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3. GERRYMANDERING CASE COULD CHANGE N.C. ELECTIONS

THE GIST: Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case about whether the practice of partisan gerrymandering—that is, drawing legislative and congressional districts to boost the fortunes of the party in power—is constitutional. The case is out of Wisconsin, where a federal court rejected a legislative map on those grounds. In Wisconsin in 2012, the Republicans won 48.6 percent of the statewide vote for Assembly candidates but secured about 60 percent of Assembly seats.

WHAT IT MEANS: The Supreme Court has held that racial gerrymandering is unconstitutional, but it hasn’t said the same about partisan gerrymandering. That’s important in North Carolina, where both the state’s legislative and congressional districts have been rejected as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. Last year, following a court order, the legislature redrew congressional districts, maintaining a 10–3 Republican advantage in what is essentially a reddish-purple state. (It will likely have to redraw legislative districts ahead of next year’s election—or ahead of a special election before that.) If the Supreme Court were to rule partisan gerrymanders unconstitutional as well, the entire dynamic would change.

WHAT'S NEXT: The Supreme Court will hear the case in its next term and likely render a decision next year. One thing to note: the court voted 5–4 to stay the federal court’s ruling finding the Wisconsin map unconstitutional, with Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the conservative bloc. That’s an early indication that, though the court has agreed to take up the case, it might not rule the way gerrymandering critics want.

Related: The Supreme Court rules North Carolina can’t prohibit sex offenders from accessing social media sites.

Related: There’s a big special election in Georgia today—the most expensive congressional election ever, where out-of-state interests have spent $26 million.
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4. SENATE DEMS PLAN DELAY TACTICS TO SAVE OBAMACARE.

THE GIST:
Even though no one has actually seen the bill they’ll be voting on—the bill text will perhaps come at the end of the week—Senate Republicans are aiming to pass an Obamacare repeal next week. Senator Richard Burr told Politico Republicans would allow twenty hours of debate. Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to slam the brakes, considering the use of parliamentary tactics to gum up the works and delay the vote until after the recess, hoping that pressure back home will cause some fence-sitters to waver.
  • Coming soon to an ad near you: A coalition of groups representing patients said they had been rebuffed when they requested a meeting in Washington with [Senate Majority Leader Mitch] McConnell. Sue Nelson, a vice president of the American Heart Association, said on Monday that her organization had requested the meeting on behalf of more than a dozen patient advocacy groups. They were told that the majority leader was too busy, she said.”
  • Money quote: “You have a process by which right now perhaps a dozen Republicans are the only people in America who know what is being talked about, what the new bill might look like. Most Republicans don’t even know it, let alone anybody in the Democratic Caucus.” —Senator Bernie Sanders.
  • A comparison worth noting, from pollster Matt McDermott:
click to enlarge ffb79865-cd2c-46fb-9a04-e46a1e9290f7.png

WHAT'S NEXT: Republicans can spare two votes to muscle the thing through. There are three or four people on the fence, either moderates concerned about cuts to health care for low-income people or hard-core conservatives who don’t like that the bill has any subsidies at all. And if the bill becomes too “moderate,” there’s a risk that it loses conservative support in the House, where the American Health Care Act barely passed. And once the Congressional Budget Office scores whatever the Senate conjures up—you’re likely to see tens of millions of people losing health care, if fewer people than with the House version—that pressure is only going to ratchet up. In other words, this thing is a long way from home. But if you’re an Obamacare advocate, it’s much closer to home than you’d like.
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5. FOUR LOCAL HEADLINES.
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6. ODDS & ENDS.
Primer this week is sponsored by the Raleigh Flyers, the Triangle’s professional Ultimate Disc team. On Saturday night, they’ll be taking on the Jacksonville Cannons in their final home game of the regular season. Click the image below to purchase your tickets today.

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