News

The $500 Million Lie

WLOSIt’s election time — and you know what that means. Political candidates are talkin’ trash.

Probably the biggest lie on the airwaves this cycle — repeated over and over again — is that the General Assembly “cut” $500 million from the education budget this year.

They didn’t. According to the non-partisan Fiscal Research staff, the state actually increased spending on public education this year by $302,966,430 — and over the last four years, education spending has increased by $967,610,737 — that’s nearly a billion dollars. And for what it’s worth, the last two years the other party was in charge, they cut $610,926,774 from public education. (See chart.)

Although the $500 million lie has already been throughly debunked by several sources, including Factcheck.org, PolitiFact.com, and the Washington Post (which gave it two “Pinocchios”) — and although they certainly must know better by now — for some reason, these candidates continue to repeat the big lie in ad after ad. Maybe, like George Costanza, they don’t think it’s a lie — as long as they believe it. Or maybe it’s because, as someone once said, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”

But it certainly makes you wonder what else these shifty candidates and their partisan propaganda meisters will say just to win an election.

Anyway, even WLOS-TV in Asheville seemed to have finally had enough. On Friday, the ABC affiliate broadcast a story that hammered the point home. “For viewers and voters, the deception is disturbing,” says anchor Frank Fraboni, who interviewed people about the lie. “It bothers me when something is presented in a short ad like that as fact, and a lot of folks are going to take it as fact without doing their homework,” says Asheville resident Katie Craig. Click on the screenshot above or here to watch the entire report.

Thus Spoke Gerry Cohen

Gerry Cohen, former Special Counsel to the North Carolina General Assembly in his office (2014). Photo from WUNC.org

The following is a Facebook post by Gerry Cohen, former Special Counsel to the North Carolina General Assembly. Mr. Cohen was head of the legislature’s bill drafting department until his retirement earlier this year. His reputation for fairness and excellence has garnered him universal praise from Republicans and Democrats alike, and he is one of the most respected and beloved figures to ever work at the General Assembly.

One of the points of election law litigation currently going on was that the reduction of early voting days from 17 to 10 would disenfranchise voters. A floor amendment on the bill required (except with unanimous bipartisan approval by the State Board of Elections) that early voting be conducted with the same number of site hours in 2014 as in 2010. The State Board approved reductions in 30 smaller counties, but the final statewide total for 2014 will show 96.8% of the hours as were operated in 2010 (a drop from 26,579.5 to 25,736) Much more importantly, the 2014 hours are MUCH more convenient for voters. 98 counties have had their plans approved, Brunswick and Mecklenburg are still working out details. The issue for Brunswick is whether or not there will be Sunday voting, so I note that with an asterisk, for Mecklenburg all is agreed on except the location of one of the 21 sites. All data below is for ALL 100 counties.

TOTAL SITES: 2014 – 366, 2010 – 296, a 24% increase over 2010.

SUNDAYS: Much has been said about Sunday voting. In 2010, there was Sunday voting in Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Pitt, Vance, Wake and Mecklenburg (7 counties). For 2014, it will be at least 10* counties – Ashe, Catawba, Durham, Forsyth, Hertford, Mecklenburg, Sampson, Vance, Wake, and Wayne. *The State Board of Elections has yet to decide on Sunday voting in Brunswick.

SATURDAYS: There has been a huge increase in Saturday hours. In 2010, 66 counties had just one Saturday, 20 had two, and 14 had three, while 2014 shows 20 with one Saturday and 80 with two.

WEEKDAY EVENINGS: In 2010, 46 counties had NO weekday hours after 5 pm (a real joke for most voters). In 2014, it’s just 3 counties that close at 5. In 2010, voting ran until 7 or 8 pm in 27 counties, in 2014 that’s ramped up to 71 counties.

I have personal issues with the lack of sites on or near college campuses, and squabbling in Forsyth, Guilford and Lincoln Counties resulted in less than desirable plans. But that’s not a legal issue.

All in all, however, I think plaintiffs are barking up the wrong tree in litigating early voting hours and days. The current State Board of Elections has adopted plans that are MUCH more useful to voters than under the old law. If you like almost half the counties closing up early voting at 5 pm, I guess the 2010 plan is the one to advocate for.


Gerry Cohen was Special Counsel to the North Carolina General Assembly for 37 years until his retirement this summer. Mr. Cohen remains in the thick of things, however, and has an active and informative social media presence. Be sure to follow Mr. Cohen on Twitter and Facebook — and to learn more about this fascinating man, have a listen to this great interview from WUNC Public Radio: Meet the ‘Encyclopedia to the Legislature’ Gerry Cohen.

Clarifying "Read to Achieve"

(Photo: Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com)

(Photo: Suzanne Tucker/Shutterstock.com)

The “Read to Achieve” program was implemented in the 2011-12 budget to ensure that North Carolina’s third grade students are reading at grade level before being promoted to fourth grade. Studies show that reading levels of third graders can be an indicator of future educational success; for example, one in six children who are not reading proficiently in third grade fail to graduate from high school on time, four times the rate for children reading proficiently in third grade. Last year, only 45 percent of North Carolina’s third graders passed grade-level reading standards.

The Read to Achieve program provides that if a student is not proficient and does not qualify for a “good cause exemption” (limited English proficient students, students with learning disabilities, etc.) the student may enroll in a state-funded Summer Reading Camp/Workshop. Once the camp has been completed, the student may be re-evaluated for promotion to the fourth grade. Superintendents can make final decisions on whether or not a child qualifies for a good cause exemption. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction allows an LEA to measure proficiency in the following ways:

  • Pass the Beginning of Grade Test
  • Pass the End of Grade (EOG) Test
  • Pass the state developed alternative assessment
  • Pass at a 70 percent rate the 36 passages in the student portfolio. (It is not recommended that all students be required to complete the portfolio as defined by the General Assembly. Based on judgment, teachers should 
determine which students will need the portfolio passages.)
  • Pass a State Board of Education approved assessment, developed at the local level

House Bill 230 makes clarifying changes to the Read to Achieve program, including providing flexibility for school districts when implementing reading camps, alternative assessments, and student reading portfolios. Additionally, it clarifies that students with individualized education programs (IEPs) would be exempt from mandatory retention and allows flexibility in implementing summer reading camps, a key request of many school districts. The new law also provides that the State Board of Education implement literacy and mathematics screening throughout North Carolina schools by the 2015-2016 school year.

Family Health Care Structures

medcottage

The General Assembly passed legislation this year that allows families to install accessory housing on their property to care for older and ailing family members. The legislation, House Bill 625, received unanimous votes in both the House and Senate and was signed into law by Governor McCrory in August.

These housing units, called “Temporary Family Health Care Structures,” are self-contained tiny homes that provide elderly parents privacy, independence, comfort, and health security while allowing family members to provide on-site care-giving. They have a standard bedroom, kitchen, and bathroom — all the features of both a small apartment and a well-equipped hospital room. The prefab cottages are designed to be placed temporarily on a relative’s property and can be connected to the utilities and plumbing of the primary residence, much like a recreational vehicle.

“Older adults have their own living space and privacy, which has the potential to reduce much of the stress associated with caring for aging parents,” said Bernard A. Steinman, senior research associate at the Institute for Community Inclusion at the University of Massachusetts.1

According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), 23 million families care for their elderly parents in America, and many of them have to choose between moving them into a nursing home or letting aging parents live alone. “One of the greatest fears we have when we age is being isolated from our families,” said Rev. Kenneth J. Dupin, founder and CEO of N2Care, a company that manufactures prefab cottages.

Temporary family health care structures are defined in the law as a residence that can be placed only on the properties of single-family homes and occupied only by a relative who is physically or mentally impaired, as certified by a physician.

“This bipartisan legislation will provide an alternative for families to care for loved ones on their own property, instead of placing them in hospitals or other state facilities,” said Governor McCrory. “I’m proud to sign this bill that will make it easier for people with disabilities to live or reside with their families while receiving the care they need.”

HB625 requires that a city or county issue a permit for temporary family health care structures in districts zoned for single-family housing as long as the dwelling meets state structural standards and certain other zoning regulations. Subject to existing deed restrictions or neighborhood covenants, the structures must also be less than 300 square feet and conform to local regulations governing setbacks. Only one structure is allowed per lot, no signage is allowed, and the structure must be removed within 60 days after the occupant passes away, moves, or no longer requires care.

Localities may charge up to $100 for the permit and up to $50 to renew annually and may make periodic inspections at the caregiver’s convenience to ensure ongoing compliance. The structure is exempted from the strict health and sanitation regulations regarding establishments which provide food and lodging, nor are they required to comply with the social service licensing and regulatory provisions related to adult care homes.2 The structure will be treated as real property for zoning and building code purposes, but it is treated as personal property for tax purposes.3

For more information, be sure to read this excellent article by David Owens of the UNC School of Government and watch this informative report from CBS News.

The new law takes effect on October 1, 2014.


Endnotes

  1. The New York Times: “In the Backyard, Grandma’s New Apartment
  2. UNC School of Government, “Meet the Granny Pod: New Zoning Protection for Temporary Family Health Care Structures
  3. UNC School of Government, “Meet the Granny Pod: New Zoning Protection for Temporary Family Health Care Structures

The Facts on Education Spending

sarah-curry

The following is a guest post by Sarah Curry of the John Locke Foundation:

It is an election year, and that means our televisions and radio are littered with campaign ads. Advertisements try to persuade you to vote for candidates based upon their morals, past experience, community involvement, and ability to influence or pass legislation. Or they attack with a sensational fact designed to make you think poorly of an opponent as a candidate. I am not here to tell you who to vote for, but I do want to shed some light on an ad that I’ve seen that doesn’t get the facts right regarding the North Carolina budget.

Incumbent Senator Kay Hagan is running against Speaker of the House Thom Tillis for US Senate, and the race has garnered national attention. Television commercials from Women Vote, an arm of EMILY’s List, and the National Education Association Advocacy Fund claim Tillis cut education spending by $500 million.

If you watch the commercials, they are both focused around elementary school teachers and students, so naturally you think the budget figure they are referring to is a cut in K-12 education. That is incorrect; they are talking about ALL education spending in the state, which includes K-12 education as well as the University System and the Community College System.

Another thing to remember, they are only looking at the state’s General Fund, so that does not include any spending on education from the federal government, local governments, lottery dollars, grants, or any of the other multiple revenue sources that fund education in North Carolina.

So where does the $500 million figure come from? Each year the state budget writers create a continuation budget, but it is not a real spending figure. Rather, it is simply a calculated amount based upon prior year actual spending, requested increases from state agencies, adjustments for inflation, mandatory rate increases, and expected operation costs of new facilities. The $500 million figure is the continuation budget minus the enacted budget voted on in the legislature.

The problem with this calculation is that these two budget figures do not measure the same thing. The State’s budget law mandates a transfer of funds to occur after the budget is signed into law, and this transferred money pays for salary increases, retirement benefits, and health care benefits for state employees. The enacted budget at the agency level does not include the whole amount spent, because it doesn’t include those elements. Since the continuation budget includes the previous year’s actual spending amount, it does include all of those pieces. This causes the continuation budget figure to be inflated by the reserve transfer amount when compared to the enacted budget. A historical evaluation shows that the continuation budget has been higher than actual spending for all three areas of education (K-12, UNC System, and Community Colleges) during the last four years.

The simple explanation is that the $500 million figure is essentially an apples-to-oranges comparison. I have collected the enacted budget figures from the last seven years. I chose this timeframe to include data from the last recession. The state budget had to be cut during this time to reflect a decrease in tax revenue to the state, so I thought this would give a truer picture of what has happened with education spending in North Carolina. The commercials say, “Speaker Thom Tillis cut almost $500 million from education.” Thom Tillis has been speaker since the 2011-2012 fiscal year, when the first budget was passed under his leadership, until the most recent budget that was passed in the 2014-2015 fiscal year. If we look at all the budgets under his leadership, total education spending increased by nearly $1 billion, if we look at the most recent budget cycle, it increased by a little over $700 million.

Ed-Spending
The enacted budgets show a clear cut during the recession, which occurred across the country for many states in response to considerable unemployment and lack of state revenue. Since the Republicans took control of the legislature, overall spending in education has increased every year.

There are many arguments one might make about this finding, such as that spending had to increase due to the cuts that took place during the recession or that the spending increases that did take place were not used in the most effective way. Those arguments may be valid, but I am not trying to open new arguments, only to present the facts. When you use the same type of budget data year-after-year and compare spending levels, it is clear that there were no cuts to education spending in North Carolina.

So, did Thom Tillis cut education spending by $500 million? No, that is false. These advertisements are misleading voters, and in the information age we live in today, it is unacceptable to be promoting a fact about a candidate that is false when the data is so easily accessible.


The preceding article, written by Sarah Curry, and was first published by the John Locke Foundation on September 18, 2014 and reappears here with permission. Ms. Curry is Director of Fiscal Policy Studies at the John Locke Foundation.

Hope for Haley

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House Bill 1220 is named in honor of 6 year-old Haley Ward from Carteret County, who suffers from CDLK-5, a disorder which causes dozens of intractable daily seizures. After being prescribed over ten medications with little progress, the Ward family began seeking alternative treatments that might allow Haley to improve her cognitive and physical development. The most promising alternative treatment discovered to-date is known as CBD oil, a substance extracted from cannabis that has minimal levels of THC and causes no psychotropic effects. This substance is engineered to maximize therapeutic qualities and negate the psychotropic qualities associated with recreational drug use. Extremely promising results have been reported in other states and Haley’s parents have seen dramatic improvements through the use of CBD oil.

Prior to the passage of this law, the use of CBD oil to treat seizure disorders was illegal in North Carolina. This legislation, through cutting edge research and careful use by approved medical facilities, allows families to pursue treatment through CBD oil. This legislation allows for the innovative research and use of CBD oil in children suffering from uncontrollable seizures. Through cutting-edge research and development, this law allows desperately needed relief for children with these disorders so that they don’t have to travel to other states for treatment.

  • CBD oil is hemp extract engineered for maximum therapeutic qualities and minimal levels of THC, which causes no psychotropic effects. It is scientifically not possible for patients to get “high” from consuming CBD oil.
  • The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently granted orphan drug designation to GW Pharmaceutical’s cannabis-based drug, Epidiolex. While this is not FDA approval, orphan drug status is granted to drugs that are intended to treat rare disorders.
  • House Bill 1220 encourages the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, East Carolina University, Duke University, and Wake Forest University to conduct research on the hemp extract development, production, and use for the treatment of seizure disorders.
  • This law directs DHHS, in conjunction with Department of Public Safety, to develop an Intractable Epilepsy Alternative Treatment Pilot Study database registry to document pilot studies, neurologist, caregivers and patient programs using hemp extract to treat these disorders.
  • Participation in the registry would exempt neurologists, caregivers, and patients from State criminal liability for the possession, use, and administration of hemp extract for the limited purpose of treating intractable epilepsy.

This Law’s For You

ben-franklin-beerThe recently passed Regulatory Reform Act of 2014 (SB734) will give community college students an opportunity to get a more complete education in the art, science and business of brewing beer — including sell their product on campus.

Beer brewing programs have been started at several of North Carolina’s community colleges to “meet a demand as the craft beer industry has grown to almost 100 craft brewers in this state,” said Keith Elliott, Department Chair of the Rockingham Community College Center for Brewing Sciences in the town of Wentworth, North Carolina. “These companies were needing the technicians trained in brewing technology and so this program was designed to meet that demand.”

These courses teach the chemical, biological and production process of brewing malted beverages, including the science of how to combine hops, malt and yeast to produce styles and flavors of beer. Rockingham was the first community college to offer this type of program in the entire nation, and other colleges in North Carolina have since followed suit with brewing courses being offered at Appalachian State University in Boone, Blue Ridge Community College in Flat Rock, Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College in Asheville, Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh, and Nash County Community College in Rocky Mount.

The change in the law was driven by a dilemma at App State — students there were churning out hundreds of gallons of fine brew in their brewing and fermentation programs, but until this new law was passed, our state’s alcohol laws forbade its sale. Brewing the beer on campus was legal as long as it was used for research and educational purposes by a university. But selling that beer was a different matter.1

SB734 now allows our colleges to obtain a license to sell their delicious malt beverages (at retail and wholesale), with the proceeds going to support the school’s brewing, distillation, and fermentation programs. The bill also lets students offer on-campus tastings and hold up to six special events featuring their beer. They can also market their products to the public by selling it at local festivals as well as to one retailer in their county.2

Trent Mohrbutter, Nash County Community College chief academic officer says, “If a group of students produce a brew and have people sample or even a group of individuals could purchase what they’ve produced, I don’t know that we can put a dollar figure on that, in terms of what that means to students, their success, their ability to move forward with their dreams and their passions.”3

North Carolina has unofficially become the craft beer capital of the South and is home to more than 50 craft breweries — more than any other Southern state. For four years in a row (2009-2012), the city of Asheville was voted “Beer City USA” by the website examiner.com and is considered one of the top craft-beer cities in the nation, with some 50 local varieties of brews offered by nine craft breweries.

According to the Brewers Association, a national craft brew advocacy group, the number of U.S. craft breweries grew by more than 15 percent from 2012 and 2013—with the current total at 2,768.


Endnotes

  1. Fosters.com, “Appalachian State University hopes to sell its craft beer
  2. WFAE 90.7
  3. WFAE 90.7

Saving More than NC 1,000 Jobs

Evergreen PackagingQuick action on the part of the General Assembly at the end of the “short session” has resulted in the saving of over 1,000 jobs at Evergreen Packaging paper mill, a centuries-old manufacturing plant. The Canton, North Carolina facility — the largest manufacturer west of Charlotte — was facing closure due to costly new federal environmental regulations.

In a single day, the legislature resurrected and passed a piece of a defeated bill that would make available $12 million for Evergreen Packaging to help the troubled plant replace its coal-fired boilers. The money came just in time to meet a looming deadline set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for compliance with stricter pollution control standards. The EPA had demanded that Evergreen convert its old boilers as part of a 2012 set of rules placing the tougher limits on toxic pollutant emissions. The plant was at risk of permanently closing due to the mandated conformance with stricter environmental standards, which must be completed by next year. Closing a critical operation of this type can prove devastating to a small town.

Making Sausage

After the defeat of a bill (House Bill 1224) which contained other provisions — including the money for Evergreen — legislators maneuvered to get a different bill passed that would have the same effect of saving the plant. And it was too late, in the closing days of the session, to begin crafting a new bill for full consideration by both chambers.

Legislators pressed on, and resurrected an older “bill number” (Senate Bill 3) which had already passed in the Senate, but in a completely different form. When SB3 came to the House, it was re-written to insert the language needed help the embattled paper mill. The House passed the re-written version and handed it right back to the Senate — where it was abruptly killed.

But legislative rules allow for a bill number that’s been passed in the Senate to be resurrected by the House in another form and then be voted on to complete the bicameral process — if the move is approved by a majority vote. A motion was made to reconsider the stalled “bill number” (SB3) that had actually been passed earlier in the Senate, and on a proper vote to reconsider the re-written bill number, her colleagues allowed it.

Punching through, legislators took the Evergreen-friendly bill on a last-minute whirlwind tour through the Rules Committee, where it initially stumbled but was eventually given the green light. The measure was brought back to the House floor for a vote, where it passed with near-unanimous support in the final hours of the final day of the short session.

The day would be saved. The paper mill would get its funding and the short session would end on a happy note.

Grant application

The Evergreen plant had submitted an application for an economic development grant to help with the $50 million needed to convert the plant’s aging coal-fired boilers to newer and cleaner natural gas-fired boilers, including the installation of needed supply lines. Add to that the $330 million that the company has already spent on environmental improvements since 1990 and the price tag for continually upgrading to meet modern environmental standards becomes formidable.

The language of SB3 modifies the criteria for participating in the Job Maintenance and Capital Development (JMAC) program, making the company eligible for receiving special grant money. JMAC is designed to encourage retention of significant numbers of high-paying, high-quality jobs and large-scale capital investment in modernizing equipment intended to assist companies in transitioning to new markets.1

SB3 makes JMAC funding available for Evergreen in the amount of $12 million over 6 years. The $12 million grant would come on top of a $2.8 million grant already pledged to help Evergreen — with $2.1 million coming from the North Carolina Department Commerce and a $700,000 match from by Haywood County.2

The manufacturing plant employs over 1,000 people who make an average $78,300 in salary and benefits.3

“I think there’s a lot of regulation there, and I’d like to back off on that,” said Representative Michele Presnell, who represents Haywood County. “This is a lot of jobs, and they are good, high-paying jobs. That’s my number one. That’s what we’ve got to keep.”4

SB3 passed its final vote in the House with overwhelming bipartisan support, 88-9, and now awaits the governor’s signature.


Endnotes

1. ThriveNC: “Job Maintenance and Capital Development Fund (JMAC) Grants

2. Smoky Mountain News: “Canton paper mill seeks state aid in costly air pollution upgrades

3. Pulp & Paper Technology: ”Canton paper mill takes on $50 million air emission

4. Smoky Mountain News: “Canton paper mill seeks state aid in costly air pollution upgrades

More than 1,000 Jobs Saved
Economic Development, Jobs, Environment, Federal Government

A Word from the Editor

Dear Reader,

It has recently come to our attention that in a handful of stories which have appeared on this website, we were not thorough enough in providing proper attribution to original sources of information.

Our very small staff, including some volunteer writers, works hard to provide informative, balanced, and timely content on a wide variety of subjects. These topics, which are written for wide appeal to a general audience, typically concern complex legislative policy and involve many sources of information.

In the hundreds of articles we have produced, we have tried our very best to be thorough and provide proper attribution to original sources wherever appropriate. But in a handful of cases, we were not thorough enough in providing proper citations to primary sources, including Wikipedia and the General Assembly’s own website. We have corrected those omissions by way of footnotes on the articles in question and we very much regret the oversight.

While we regret the situation, we sincerely appreciate the constructive criticism. In the end, it will improve our product and better protect the integrity of our work.

We value your readership and look forward to continuing to serve you.

Thank you.

What’s that about a Referendum?

uncLogoProfessor Jeff Welty put up a nice blog piece the other day that’s certainly worth a read. In it, he talks about a proposed constitutional amendment that’s up for a vote this November — and which you probably haven’t heard much about. He and his colleague, law clerk Komal K. Patel, have also prepared a very comprehensive and balanced report that not only explains the proposed amendment (and gives the arguments both for and against it), but provides a fascinating history of the constitutional amendment process itself in North Carolina. Read their entire informative report here.

Stealth Constitutional Amendment Could Bring Big Changes

This fall, North Carolina voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution. The proposed amendment would allow, for the first time, bench trials for felonies in superior court. Neither the media nor advocacy groups have paid much attention to the amendment, so almost no one seems to know that it is on the table. For that reason, I think of it as the stealth constitutional amendment. Despite the amendment’s low profile, allowing felony bench trials would be a major change.

The change could be for the better. For example, bench trials might save money, and some defendants — those with technical defenses, or those who are unpopular in the community — might prefer a judge to a jury. The 49 other states allow bench trials, so the amendment would bring us in line with the national norm.

But the change could also be for the worse. Once waiver is possible, defendants might be pressured to waive their right to a jury trial. Defendants with prominent and well-connected lawyers might get unfairly favorable treatment. Also, contrary to the majority rule in other states, the amendment doesn’t give the prosecution the right to insist on a jury trial if it believes that a bench trial would be inappropriate.

In an effort to draw some attention to the amendment and to provide some information about its possible benefits and costs, I worked with School of Government law clerk Komal Patel to prepare a report about it. The report is available here as a free PDF. In typical School of Government fashion, it doesn’t take a position on the amendment but it contains quite a bit of information about its potential impact and the practice in other jurisdictions. It’s written to be accessible to voters who aren’t very familiar with the criminal justice system, so please pass the link along to anyone who may be interested. As always, feedback and comments of all kinds are welcome.


Jeff Welty joined the faculty of University of North Carolina’s School of Government in 2008 as an Albert and Gladys Hall Coates Associate Professor of Public Law and Government. Prior to that, Professor Welty completed a federal judicial clerkship, spent eight years in private practice, and served as a Lecturing Fellow at Duke Law School. Professor Welty holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley and a master’s degree in economics and a JD, with highest honors, from Duke University, where he was executive editor of the Duke Law Journal.