Carolina Journal News Reports
CJ Series

2013 General Assembly

For the first time since the 19th century, Republicans will control both the executive and legislative branches of state government. Carolina Journal will cover the doings of this initial legislative session under full GOP control here.

(12.22.14) Common Core Commission Secures Short-Term Funding
RALEIGH — Legislative leaders will allow the Academic Standards Review Commission to operate with temporary funding from the Department of Administration. When the General Assembly convenes in January, lawmakers say they’ll give the commission an operating budget so it can hire staff and conduct research.

(12.18.14) Health Care Winners and Losers
Politicians and bureaucrats continue behaving as if they can allocate health care resources better than consumers and providers in the marketplace.

(12.16.14) Court: State Can Prepare For 2nd Year of Vouchers
RALEIGH — The N.C. Supreme Court says the state can commence administrative preparations for the Opportunity Scholarship Program while it considers an appeal from a lower court’s order that ruled the program unconstitutional. However, the court stopped short of allowing the State Education Assistance Authority from actually distributing funds for next year’s scholarships. Distribution had been scheduled to start Aug. 15, 2015.

(12.03.14) Locals Ask NCGA To Regulate ‘Sharing Economy’
RALEIGH — Frustrated by their lack of authority to police upstart businesses in the “sharing economy” — a marketplace relying on direct negotiations between providers and consumers — some North Carolina municipalities are asking the General Assembly for permission to regulate businesses such as Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb.

(11.26.14) Work Under Way For Next N.C. Budget
Gov. McCrory should face fewer surprises as he has full control over the new budget cycle.

(11.19.14) ‘Low-Productivity’ Degree Programs At UNC Hard To End
RALEIGH — North Carolina law states that the UNC Board of Governors “shall review the productivity of academic degree programs every two years” and “withdraw approval” of any program appearing “unproductive, excessively costly or unnecessarily duplicative.” Gaining agreement on what constitutes "unproductive," however, can be difficult.

(11.18.14) Common Core Commission Has No Money
RALEIGH — Legislation passed by the General Assembly empowering a commission to study and replace Common Core State Standards gave the commission no funding to hire consultants or conduct research. If the commission does not replace individual components of the Common Core State Standards with rules and guidelines specific to North Carolina, then the original Common Core standards will take effect in the state.

(11.13.14) Election Turnout Appears To Refute Suppression Claims
RALEIGH — More than 2.9 million North Carolinians went to the polls during the 10 days of early voting and election day on Nov. 4, more than any other midterm election in the state’s history. That’s 44 percent of North Carolinians registered to vote. It’s also 38 percent of North Carolina’s voting age population of nearly 7.7 million — higher than the 37.4 percent in 2010.

(11.13.14) Critics Seek Regs For Ride-Sharing Services
Uber and Lyft are filling a demand taxis have not satisfied, and taxi owners don't like it.

(10.28.14) GOP Incumbent Meredith Faces Comeback Candidate Richardson
RALEIGH — The race in state Senate District 19 matches two-term incumbent Republican Sen. Wesley Meredith against Fayetteville attorney Billy Richardson, who is trying to make a political comeback after being out of the state House since 1996. Meredith swept out incumbent Democrat Margaret Dickson in the GOP wave of 2010; two years later, he defeated George Tatum, a weak challenger who wasn't supported by the state Democratic Party.

(10.16.14) Eugenics Victims Should Not Be Denied Due To Technicality
Victims of the state's horrific eugenics program may be disqualified for compensation if they were sterilized under orders by county, not state, authorities.

(10.13.14) General Assembly May Regulate Uber and Lyft
RALEIGH — A state legislative oversight committee soon will look into whether state regulations need to be updated as passengers increasingly arrange rides using a smart-phone application rather than a phone call to a taxi company. Uber and Lyft are two companies that are meshing technology and transportation to offer ride-sharing services.

(10.10.14) N.C. Supreme Court Takes Over Voucher Appeal
RALEIGH — The N.C. Supreme Court will decide the constitutionality of the state’s fledgling Opportunity Scholarship Program, bypassing the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court on Friday issued an order stating it would take the case on its own initiative. Friday’s action pleased people on both sides of the issue.

(10.09.14) Supreme Court Disallows Same-Day Registration, Out-of-Precinct Voting
RALEIGH — A majority of the justices agreed to halt an Oct. 1 order from the 4th U.S. Circuit of Appeals that would have blocked two aspects of the North Carolina law from taking effect in the current election cycle: a ban on voter registration during the early voting period, and a provision invalidating ballots cast by voters in a precinct where they do not live.

(10.08.14) Durham Shreds Gun Registry Records
DURHAM — Durham County officials ended months of legal uncertainty over ownership of the gun registration materials and threats of legal action had the records been preserved. Hand-feeding the documents into the shredder took about three hours. Second Amendment advocates hailed the move as a victory for gun-owners’ rights.

(10.02.14) Appeals Court OKs Same-Day Registration, Out-of-Precinct Voting
RALEIGH — A mere 22 days before the start of early voting and with 4 million voter guides in the mail to North Carolina residents, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday ruled that the state cannot enforce the parts of its election law eliminating same-day registration during early voting and prohibiting voters from casting ballots outside their precinct.

(9.25.14) CJ Editorial: The State Raised School Spending
Overall K-12 spending will increase by more than $1 billion under Republican leadership in the General Assembly, a 3-percent increase in inflation-adjusted, per-pupil terms, following a two-year drop of 9 percent under Democratic rule.

(9.19.14) Appeals Court Releases Voucher Money For Low-Income Students
RALEIGH — The N.C. Court of Appeals will allow nearly 1,900 students to get vouchers for the current school year while a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the fledgling Opportunity Scholarships is on appeal. The appeals court’s order releases scholarship funding for 1,878 applicants, who will be allowed to receive up to $4,200 each in vouchers from the state to pay toward their tuition at a private school.

(9.09.14) Voucher Parents Send Kids to Schools Anyway
RALEIGH – Parents of nearly 1,900 students who had been awarded Opportunity Scholarships that were ruled unconstitutional last month by Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood are sending their children to private schools anyway. They’re hoping that an appeals court will put Hobgood’s order on ice while the legal wrangling over North Carolina’s fledgling private school voucher program goes through the appeals process.

(9.02.14) NCGA Protest Rulings Could Ripple Downward
RALEIGH — A legal challenge to the General Assembly’s new rules on public use and behavior at the legislative complex could reshape public access and speech rights on public property all the way down to local governments. Plaintiffs say North Carolina’s protections of free speech at the legislative complex are sufficiently expansive to allow the sorts of raucous rallies that have taken place over the past two General Assembly sessions.

(8.28.14) CJ Editorial: Legislators Deserve A Time-Out
Many legislative leaders behaved like petulant children at the end of the short session.

(8.26.14) JLF: Budget Changes Set Better Course
RALEIGH — Legislators have raised teacher pay, set aside money for potential Medicaid cost overruns, and made a major positive change in the state budget process. A new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report points to all three accomplishments in the 2014-15 state spending plan signed into law this month.

(8.22.14) Voucher Supporters Call Ruling ‘Temporary Roadblock’
RALEIGH — The move Thursday by Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood to strike down the state’s fledgling Opportunity Scholarships program is seen as a short-term setback by supporters of the private tuition vouchers. Even so, the ruling comes as parents were preparing to use those scholarships to send their children to private schools for the new school year.

(8.21.14) Legislature Passes Coal Ash Cleanup, Adjourns Quietly
RALEIGH — While Tuesday saw the House defeating an economic incentives plan pushed by House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, Wednesday saw a more subdued House approving a bipartisan coal ash cleanup bill, adopting a scaled down economic incentives bill to help a mountain paper mill plant convert its energy source to natural gas, and agreeing to leave for good — or at least until January 2015. The Senate followed suit.

(8.21.14) UNC System Avoids Budget Chopping Block
While other state departments scrambled for funding, the UNC system saw its overall budget rise.

(8.20.14) House Revolt Crashes Incentives Bill
RALEIGH — Twenty-eight House Republicans bolted party ranks Tuesday, joining 26 Democrats to defeat an economic incentives program that some labeled “corporate welfare.” It was a rebuke to House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and Gov. Pat McCrory, all of whom championed the legislation.

(8.18.14) Analysts: National Issues A Problem For Hagan
RALEIGH — As Republicans continue to portray DemocraticU.S. Sen. Kay Hagan as joined at the hip to an unpopular President Obama, and with congressional approval ratings cratering, the freshman senator’s best campaign strategy is to avoid national issues, political observers say. Some pundits consider Hagan among the most vulnerable Senate Democrats.

(8.14.14) New JLF Report Sticks to Facts on Fracking
RALEIGH — How safe is fracking? Does it contaminate water? Use too much water? Use secret chemicals? As opponents of hydraulic fracturing continue to criticize the process, a new Policy Report turns to evidence to answer these and other common questions.

(8.13.14) Durham Gun Registry Records Remain In Limbo
DURHAM — The Durham gun owner registry may have been repealed during the short session of the General Assembly, but gun advocates remain uneasy about the fate of the personal (and public) records of those who registered firearms. The law repealing the registry did not clarify if the records belong to Durham County or the state — or if they should be destroyed.

(8.12.14) Foes Of Election Reform Ruling Vow To Push Forward
RALEIGH — Supporters of North Carolina’s sweeping election law reforms are hailing a federal judge’s decision not to block the changes from taking effect before this year’s general election. Opponents who challenged the 2013 law say they’re disappointed and are considering an appeal of Judge Thomas Schroder’s order denying the injunction. Opponents also say they’re moving ahead with plans to mobilize voters to turnout at the polls this fall.

(8.05.14) Analysts: Abrupt End To Session Has Election Overtones
RALEIGH — Competing House and Senate plans for Medicaid reform will be addressed after the Nov. 4 general election, but another stab at coal ash legislation could happen before then. Political analysts say Democrats will use that unfinished business to try to fire up their base while Republicans point to a budget that increases teacher and state employee pay without raising taxes.

(8.01.14) Tax Cuts Did Not Cause $200 Million Shortfall
RALEIGH — There is no $200 million shortfall in the state budget caused by North Carolina’s newly lowered income tax rates, contrary to news reports in a number of media outlets. The General Assembly's Fiscal Research Division said a slightly lower than expected growth in wages and salaries drove revenue projections downward. The figure had nothing to do with lower income tax rates.

(7.31.14) Elections Board Looking At Wray Spending
RALEIGH — Responding to a State Board of Elections investigation looking into the possible use of campaign funds for personal benefit, state Rep. Michael Wray, D-Northampton, has submitted a document to the board that is at odds with public statements he has made about his campaign fund spending. Wray paid for these expenses from his campaign account.

(7.31.14) VIDEO: Top NCGA School Choice Advocate Describes Benefits
RALEIGH — Increased school choice will lead to benefits for North Carolina’s public and private education options, according to one of the N.C. General Assembly’s top advocates for choice. Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, speaker pro tem of the N.C. House of Representatives, discussed the history of the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program and other school choice options Thursday during a Friedman Legacy Day lecture at the John Locke Foundation.

(7.30.14) Budget Outline Includes 7-Percent Teacher Pay Raise
RALEIGH — Senate and House leaders on Tuesday rolled out specifics in their $21.3 billion General Fund budget, including an average 7 percent pay increase for teachers that would not eliminate teacher assistant jobs. It also provides $1,000 pay increases, plus benefits, for state employees. Most state employees also will receive five bonus vacation days.

(7.30.14) House Rejects Senate Revamp of Medicaid
RALEIGH — Speculation is rampant that the General Assembly will pass a compromise $21.3 billion budget, then recess for several months while Medicaid discussions continue, though no officials have confirmed it. Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis indicated Tuesday, during a joint press conference called to announce a budget framework agreement, that Medicaid reform remains a major goal.

(7.30.14) Judge: Students Can Use Opportunity Scholarships This Fall
RALEIGH — About 2,400 children taking part in the state’s fledgling Opportunity Scholarships program know they will receive money to help pay tuition, letting them attend private schools this fall. On Wednesday, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood denied an effort by plaintiffs in the case to prohibit distribution of the Opportunity Scholarships before he rules on a motion for summary judgment in the case.

(7.28.14) Counties Using Schools To Justify Sales Tax Hikes
GREENSBORO — Guilford, and possibly Wake and Rockingham, will join Bladen, Mecklenburg, Richmond, and Brunswick counties with “local option sales tax referendums” on the Nov. 4 ballot. Each measure would hike the current tax rate by 0.25 percent. But a bill in the General Assembly could quash Mecklenburg’s referendum and put a dent in Wake’s ability to join a regional transit plan.

(7.21.14) Senate Set To Take Up Managed Care Medicaid Plan
RALEIGH — Today’s Senate calendar includes a measure revamping Medicaid from the current fee-for-service model to one paying providers a set per-member-per month fee, moving Medicaid from the Department of Health and Human Services to a new department, and allowing hospital- and physician-led accountable care organizations to bid against insurance-based managed care organizations for regional contracts. The health plans would pick up expenses exceeding budgets.

(7.17.14) Senate Medicaid Plan Relies on Competition
RALEIGH — The proposed legislation would sever Medicaid and North Carolina Health Choice from the state Department of Health and Human Services. It would create a Department of Medical Benefits to administer those programs. As the General Assembly’s short session nears its close, it’s unclear whether the full Senate will adopt the plan or if so, whether the House would go along.

(7.17.14) AFPNC Asks Lawmakers To Shift Film Subsidy Spending To Vouchers
RALEIGH — A grass-roots group that backs school choice has asked the state Senate to shift $20 million it targeted for film incentives toward vouchers that would help low-income children attend private schools. Donald Bryson, deputy state director of Americans for Prosperity-North Carolina, said the move could resolve a lingering issue dividing the two chambers of the General Assembly.

(7.10.14) Senate Set To Adopt Replacement For Common Core Standards
RALEIGH — While House and Senate leaders remain at odds over the state’s $21.1 billion General Fund budget and teacher pay increases, they have found common ground on another subject — replacing Common Core standards. The bill is on today’s Senate calendar for a vote. The House is likely to take up the measure next week when it returns to Raleigh.

(7.09.14) Omnibus Election Reform Bill Would Enhance Campaign Reporting
RALEIGH — One provision of the bill, which has passed the House and now sits in the Senate Rules Committee, would require most candidates and political committees exceeding a threshold in contributions or expenditures to file their campaign finance reports electronically. Another would specify that local tax or bond elections can be held only on regular state or county election dates.

(7.03.14) Public Budget Negotiations Result in Breakthrough
RALEIGH — House and Senate budget negotiators cleared a major obstacle Wednesday by compromising on the Medicaid component of a $21 billion 2014-15 General Fund spending plan, but still face potentially prickly deliberations on Medicaid reform, teacher pay, and teacher tenure. Senators insisted that a Medicaid agreement would enable further talks.

(7.02.14) Late Budget From NCGA Nothing New
RALEIGH — Senate budget negotiators will meet Wednesday morning in a public “conference committee” to start ironing out differences between three fiscal plans: one proposed by Gov. Pat McCrory and two passed by each legislative chamber. The questions are whether House conferees will take part, and whether the Senate will consider a trimmed-down, adjusted budget the House passed last week.

(6.30.14) McCrory Embraces JLF ‘Reverse Logrolling’ As Cost-Cutting Tool
RALEIGH — As outlined in a June 23 memo from state budget director Art Pope to department heads and fiscal officers, each state department and agency would operate under the lower of the previously approved figures from the House and Senate for individual budget line items. Unlike the status quo, which would allow state government to operate at 2014-15 budget levels agreed to during last year’s budget debate, “reverse logrolling” would impose immediate cuts to agency and department budgets.

(6.26.14) Legislature Repeals Durham’s Jim Crow-Era Gun Registration Law
DURHAM — A local legislative bill created Durham County’s gun roll, the only firearm registration system in North Carolina, in 1935. State Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, introduced a local bill that was passed into law June 18 abolishing the registration requirement. Because it was a local bill, it became law without the governor’s signature after passing both chambers of the General Assembly.

(6.24.14) Senior House Democrat Has Six-Figure Tax Debt
RALEIGH — State Rep. Michael Wray, a Democrat from Gaston who serves as deputy minority leader in the state House of Representatives, owes more than $100,000 in past-due federal, state, and local taxes, according to public records on file in Northampton and Halifax Counties. In February, the IRS filed two liens on Wray’s property, seeking to collect $83,979 in unpaid federal taxes.

(6.23.14) Coal Ash Solution May Rest in Recycling, Not Storage
RALEIGH — John Ward, committee chairman of the American Coal Ash Association said technology exists to transform the old, wet material stored in ash ponds into a finer, dry fly ash material commonly used in making concrete. He said a study conducted several years by a construction trade association concluded using ash to increase the durability of concrete “saves us over $5.2 billion a year by making concrete roads and bridges last longer.”

(6.19.14) JLF Cites Budget Tool That Generates $667 Million for Teacher Raises, Surplus
RALEIGH — North Carolina state budget writers would have more flexibility to fund teacher pay raises, address Medicaid cost overruns, create jobs, and generate a surplus, if they adopt a budget technique identified in a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report. The report identifies savings that would lead to a General Fund budget of $20.6 billion for 2014-15. That would free up $667 million, more than enough money to cover teacher pay raise proposals while leaving the state budget with a surplus.

(6.18.14) Voucher Supporters Urge Lawmakers To Fund Scholarships Fully
RALEIGH — Unless the cap on Opportunity Scholarships is lifted, a lottery will have to be held to determine which children can receive the vouchers for the 2014-15 school year, because more students applied for the scholarships than the number of slots available. More than 5,500 children filed applications, but the General Assembly provided funding for only 2,400.

(6.16.14) House, Senate Start ‘Heavy Lifting’ To Reconcile Budgets
RALEIGH — The Senate budget proposes an 11 percent pay increase for teachers, which exceeds the 5-percent pay hike passed by the House. Under the Senate plan, teachers would have to forgo tenure to qualify for the raise; those choosing to keep tenure would get no raise. The House version does not require veteran teachers to give up tenure. Newly hired teachers, however, would not be eligible for tenure in its budget.

(6.12.14) No Need for New Targeted Tax Incentives
Lower tax rates and a neutral tax code are the best ways to create jobs and generate growth.

(6.11.14) Critics: Separate Medicaid Agency May Be No Bargain
RALEIGH — The state Senate’s proposed budget would carve Medicaid out of the Department of Health and Human Services in hopes of making it a more accountable, standalone agency with budget stability. But in Oklahoma, where that was done years ago, the results “are disastrous,” one critic of the Sooner State reform says. The House budget unveiled Tuesday would not remove Medicaid from DHHS jurisdiction.

(6.11.14) House Would Fund Teacher Raises With Lottery Money
RALEIGH — State House leaders Tuesday unveiled their $21.1 billion General Fund spending plan, including teacher pay increases averaging 5 percent, 25 new positions to enforce coal ash pond cleanup, and a transfer of the State Bureau of Investigation from the Department of Justice to the Department of Public Safety. Most state employees would get a salary increase of $1,000.

(6.09.14) Governor Draws Line on Medicaid Reform
RALEIGH — Wednesday’s news conference was a pushback against the Senate’s call to run Medicaid through Managed Care Organizations — private, competing contractors that would have payments capped and would be required to accept all financial risk for budget overruns, relieving taxpayers of the burden. About three-fourths of the nation’s Medicaid patients are treated under managed care.

(6.06.14) Senate Gives Initial Approval To Leaner Film Incentive Program
RALEIGH — The new fund, called the Film and Entertainment Grant Fund, would replace film tax credits, which are set to expire at the end of the year. To qualify for film grants, a production company must spend at least $10 million for a feature-length film or $1 million per episode for TV series. Companies producing commercials for theatrical or television viewing, would have to spend $500,000.

(6.05.14) The Real Teacher Recruitment Problem in N.C.
For decades, Democratic leaders in Raleigh have clung to the flawed notion that no teacher deserves to make more money than any other.

(6.05.14) The Real Teacher Recruitment Problem in N.C.
For decades, Democratic leaders in Raleigh have clung to the flawed notion that no teacher deserves to make more money than any other.

(6.03.14) Film Industry Trashes Critique of Incentives
RALEIGH — Lobbyists for North Carolina’s motion-picture industry, in an attempt to preserve an expiring taxpayer subsidy for film production in the state, are circulating two “talking points” documents to lawmakers attacking the credibility of those who have questioned the figures the industry uses to tout the value of the film incentives.

(6.03.14) Bill Addressing ‘Pension Spiking’ To Get Hearing
RALEIGH — The anti-spiking law is just one of several efforts to inject more integrity into the $87 billion Teachers and State Employees Retirement Systems. Reps. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, and Stephen Ross, R-Alamance, primary sponsors of that bill, have introduced jointly other legislation for consideration in the short session.

(6.02.14) Statewide Campaigns Not Getting More Expensive
RALEIGH — Accounting for population growth and inflation, the 1984 U.S. Senate campaign between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt remains the most costly in North Carolina history. Including funding from candidates and independent groups, this year’s race between Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis will spend much less per voter, relatively speaking.

(5.30.14) McCrory Signs Tax Bill Covering E-Cigs, Local Business Taxes
RALEIGH — The Senate gave initial approval to House Bill 1050 Wednesday and made its final vote just after noon Thursday. The House concurred with the Senate version an hour later, and Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill at 4:05 p.m. The bill also did away with local privilege license taxes assessed by cities and towns. More than 300 North Carolina municipalities assess some sort of privilege license tax, bringing in $62.2 million annually.

(5.29.14) Berger: Teachers Can Swap Tenure For Big Pay Raise
RALEIGH — If you like your teacher tenure plan, you can keep your teacher tenure plan, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, told educators at a Wednesday press conference. Just don’t expect a pay raise. Berger’s $468 million pay hike proposal amounts to the highest teacher pay increase in state history, and push North Carolina from 47th to 27th nationally in teacher pay rankings, Berger said.

(5.29.14) Unleash a Competitive Health Insurance Market
There are ways to cover "uninsurable" people without imposing new mandates.

(5.27.14) SEANC Asks SEC To Investigate State Pension Fees
RALEIGH — The State Employees Association of North Carolina also recommends legislation to curtail pervasive secrecy surrounding billions of dollars in investments; reviews by the state Attorney General’s Office, North Carolina Secretary of State’s Securities Division, and U.S. Attorney’s Office; tougher auditing of the retirement system; and IRS investigations.

(5.22.14) School Budgets: Time For More Local Funding?
North Carolina state government provides 61 percent of public-school revenue, the highest share in the Southeast and eighth-highest nationally.

(5.21.14) Lawmakers Consider Capping Business Privilege Tax
RALEIGH – The state House pushed ahead Tuesday with House Bill 1050, limiting the amount of money North Carolina cities and towns could charge businesses for privilege licenses to $100 a year and making other tweaks in last year's tax reform package. A final vote on the measure could come today, sending the legislation to the Senate.

(5.20.14) Democrats Push For Medicaid Expansion
RALEIGH — Medicaid expansion is an outgrowth of Obamacare. The federal government offered to pay 100 percent of the costs of newly enrolled Medicaid patients for the first three years in the states that expanded their eligibility, with the reimbursement rate shrinking gradually to 90 percent by 2020. But several analysts note that the Obama administration has altered the law in the past, so it's possible funding promises could be abandoned, too.

(5.19.14) Lawmakers Vow To Reinstate Tenure Reforms
RALEIGH — The leader of the state Senate promised fast action to appeal a Wake County Superior Court judge’s decision halting the General Assembly’s plans to end teacher tenure. Meantime, the head of the state’s largest teacher association, which brought the lawsuit challenging the end of career status, was delighted with the opinion.

(5.16.14) New Legislative Building Rules Address Protests, Public Access
RALEIGH — The Legislative Services Commission on Thursday adopted new rules seeking to clarify the definition of disruptive behavior. It’s in an effort to address an opinion by a Wake County District Court judge who found that the previous rules were unconstitutionally vague. The changes take effect immediately. A Moral Monday protest is scheduled May 19.

(5.15.14) McCrory’s Budget Raises Pay While Keeping Tax Cuts
RALEIGH — Gov Pat McCrory telegraphed his top spending priorities in the weeks leading up to Wednesday's unveiling of a $21 billion General Fund budget. The proposed 2014-15 budget is $359.5 million more than the current 2013-14 budget, representing a 1.7 percent increase. The spending plan includes modest spending increases even though the 2013 session of the General Assembly enacted a sweeping tax reform package including lower marginal tax rates.

(5.15.14) House Boycott Could Open Door To New Health Insurance Mandates
RALEIGH — State Sen. David Curtis, R-Lincoln, expressed surprise and betrayal over the AWOL House members. With so many market fluctuations due to Obamacare, Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance dynamics, Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, R-Cabarrus, said the 18-month moratorium on new mandates was intended to give the North Carolina insurance market a chance to settle.

(5.15.14) Taxation Without Representation in N.C.
Occupancy taxes attempt to force nonresidents to pay for local amenities. But they do not work that way.

(5.14.14) Short Session of General Assembly Has Lengthy Agenda
RALEIGH — Lawmakers return to the capital today for the first time since the historic 2013 session in which they reformed the tax code, cut taxes, enacted broad changes to election laws, fought back against Medicaid expansion and Obamacare, and tightened up the state’s unemployment insurance program. The primary focus will be increasing teacher compensation and dealing with Medicaid cost overruns in a tight fiscal atmosphere.

(5.14.14) Justices Allow Opportunity Scholarships To Proceed
RALEIGH — The ruling means that the N.C. Educational Assistance Authority can move ahead with a lottery to see which children will be awarded Opportunity Scholarships for the academic year beginning this fall. Voucher opponents say the trial court judge's order blocking the scholarships should have remained in effect until the constitutional questions were settled.

(5.13.14) JLF Report Critiques Possible 50 Percent Occupancy Tax Hike for Haywood
RALEIGH — Haywood County would place its local hospitality businesses at a competitive disadvantage with those in surrounding counties, if local and state officials move forward with a proposal to raise the county's occupancy tax rate by 50 percent. That's one key conclusion in a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report. The report also questions Haywood's need for additional tax revenue, along with the process county officials would use to raise the tax rate.

(5.12.14) NCGA May Pile More Mandates on Health Policies
RALEIGH — North Carolina insurance policy holders will pick up $10.5 million in additional premium costs if a bill requiring expanded coverage of chiropractic services recommended April 21 by a legislative study committee is approved in the General Assembly’s short session opening this week. It’s one of 10 bills under consideration that would expand mandated insurance coverage.

(5.08.14) McCrory, Forest Unveil Plans To Raise Teacher Pay
RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory rolled out a five-part education reform initiative Wednesday featuring a multimillion-dollar pay raise plan for veteran teachers in 2014-15, with future hikes linked to performance, market, and experience factors. The proposal would fulfill a pledge the governor and legislative leaders made in February when unveiling a separate plan to raise base pay for early-career educators.

(4.16.14) McCrory Uses Tax Filing Deadline To Tout Historic Tax Reforms
RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory said the package of tax simplification and rate cuts passed last year would provide more stability to business owners and leave more money in consumers’ pockets, encouraging job creation and economic growth. Analysis by the John Locke Foundation and N.C. General Assembly staff showed that most households would pay lower taxes because of the tax reforms.

(4.15.14) Critics Call Medicaid Reform ‘HMOs on Steroids’
RALEIGH — Accountable care organizations that are the cornerstone of the state’s Medicaid reform plan are “HMOs on steroids,” one national expert says, and they face certain opposition in the state Senate. Each ACO would have primary care physicians, multiple providers from various disciplines, its own budget, a patient base assigned by the state, share some risk in budget overruns, and split savings with the state.

(4.14.14) Lawmakers Streamline Absentee Ballot Process
RALEIGH – Tucked inside the 49 pages of broad changes to the state’s election laws approved by the General Assembly last year is a section dealing with absentee voting modifications. Lawmakers last year attempted to standardize and simplify the application process while making absentee voting more secure.

(4.10.14) CJ Editorial: Glitz, Glamour, and Giveaways
The state's tax credit for film production is an egregious form of corporate welfare that drains the state treasury while offering few benefits to North Carolinians.

(4.09.14) Voucher Advocates Let Low-Income Parents Tell Their Stories
RALEIGH — A group advocating for low-income families to benefit from a tuition voucher program that’s tied up in court is using the Internet and social media to tell the stories of parents who want to take advantage of the options offered by the Opportunity Scholarships. Twenty-five parents located across all of the state’s geographic regions will tell their stories on YouTube.

(3.27.14) Not All School Boards Back NCSBA Voucher Lawsuit
RALEIGH — Some members of local school boards are questioning the decision by the state school boards association to join a legal battle over vouchers for students from lower-income families. They also question whether the organization should be using membership dues, which come from local tax dollars, to finance the lawsuit.

(3.26.14) Doctors: Red Tape, Regulations Costing Millions
RALEIGH — Taxpayers and patients unnecessarily pay hundreds of millions of dollars in medical costs because of arcane regulations, turf-protective hospitals, and a state regulatory agency that opposes reforms, say physicians seeking legislative relief to open more doctor-owned same-day surgery and diagnostic clinics.

(3.24.14) Professor: Election Law Changes Have Uncertain Impact On Turnout
RALEIGH — An analysis by a UNC School of Government professor suggests there’s no clear-cut answer over whether changes in laws regulating voter registration and extending the time people are allowed to vote have affected turnout in recent decades. Michael Crowell also hints that the effects of a couple of the changes enacted last year by the North Carolina General Assembly tend to wipe each other out.

(3.20.14) Lawmakers Hear Dire Assessment of Obamacare Impacts
RALEIGH — State lawmakers were presented Tuesday with a litany of potential horror stories related to the federal Affordable Care Act. At its worst, Obamacare would sock North Carolina with thousands of job losses, double-digit insurance premium increases, deep Medicare cuts to help pay for the health reform, and insolvent hospitals and medical facilities.

(3.19.14) Court Of Appeals Next Stop For Voucher Lawsuit
RALEIGH — Parents of students seeking to benefit from the state’s Opportunity Scholarships program must wait for the N.C. Court of Appeals to consider a lawsuit filed on their behalf. Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood denied motions made by defendants to delay his preliminary injunction preventing the scholarships from being issued until an appeal can be heard.

(3.17.14) State Leaders Vow To Ease Testing Burden
RALEIGH — Teachers finding their schedules packed with testing would get relief from education reforms promised by Gov. Pat McCrory and top Republican lawmakers, who say students would benefit from a streamlined list of required state and local exams. Deciding which tests can be eliminated without eroding accountability will be essential.

(3.13.14) The Left Will Lose the School Choice War
Parents want more, not fewer, alternatives to traditional district schools that fail too many students.

(3.12.14) Locals Deciding Whether To Charge Ferry Tolls
RALEIGH — Eastern North Carolina traffic planners are in the process of deciding whether to add tolls to ferries that operate up and down the coast, or to divert money for their eventual replacements from the money allocated in their divisional highway budget. State lawmakers in 2013 gave local officials the option.

(3.10.14) Critics: New Medicaid Plan Fails To Fix Cost Overruns
RALEIGH — Unlike the managed-care model McCrory administration officials rolled out last year, the new proposal maintains the fee-for-service payment method to providers that critics have said drives up Medicaid costs. The new plan does not require providers to compete among one another, nor would the plan force providers to assume financial risk if spending goes over budget.

(3.04.14) Presnell Still Not On Board With Haywood Tax Hike
RALEIGH — Haywood County commissioners and area municipal officials are hoping a proposed 50-percent increase in the region’s occupancy tax will help them build capital projects and spur area tourism. But they face opposition from one of the region’s legislators, and that could scotch the tax hike.

(2.26.14) Barber Goads Media To Find Signs of Racism in NCGA Agenda
DURHAM — The Rev. William Barber, president of the NC NAACP and initiator of the Moral Monday protests, continued his attack Tuesday on what he called “a monster voter suppression bill” and likened efforts to award Opportunity Scholarships to children from low-income families to segregationist actions of the 1950s and 1960s.

(2.24.14) Voucher Advocates Will Continue Fight
RALEIGH — Supporters of North Carolina’s fledgling Opportunity Scholarships program see the motion granted Friday by a Superior Court judge placing the plan on hold as little more than a temporary setback. Advocates of the 2013 measure, which would have provided up to 2,400 low-income public school students tuition subsidies to attend private schools, vow to fight on.

(2.18.14) Judge Lets Lawsuit Challenging Vouchers Proceed
RALEIGH — Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood issued Monday’s ruling after allowing the Institute for Justice, an Arlington, Va.-based libertarian legal defense organization, to intervene on behalf of two North Carolina parents hoping to use the Opportunity Scholarships to send their children to private schools.

(2.14.14) Guilford School Board Challenges Teacher Tenure Law
GREENSBORO — The Guilford County Board of Education will file a motion in Guilford County Superior Court asking the courts to overturn a state law ending career status, or tenure, for K-12 public school teachers. It’s the first board to file its own court action asking for the law to be struck down.

(2.13.14) Institute for Justice Defends Parents Seeking Opportunity Scholarships
RALEIGH — The Arlington, Va.-based Institute for Justice has joined the battle over school choice in North Carolina. The libertarian legal defense group is representing parents of North Carolina children seeking to defend the state’s recently enacted Opportunity Scholarship Program, often referred to as vouchers.

(2.12.14) Medicaid Administrator To Face Performance Review
RALEIGH — As Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Aldona Wos places a top deputy in charge of the state’s beleaguered Medicaid system, state Auditor Beth Wood has launched a cost and performance study of the nonprofit entity overseeing much of Medicaid, the joint federal/state health insurance program for the poor and disabled.

(2.11.14) Governor, NCGA Leaders Unveil Teacher Pay Plan
JAMESTOWN — Early career teachers will get pay raises starting in the fiscal year beginning July 1, and teachers with up to seven years of service will collect double-digit percentage increases, Gov. Pat McCrory announced Monday. The package is expected to cost less than $200 million and will not require a tax increase.

(2.10.14) Teacher Union May Have Precedent In Tenure Challenge
RALEIGH — In laying out its legal case against the state over elimination of teacher tenure, the North Carolina Association of Educators cites some of the same constitutional constructs of contract law that state employees used two decades ago to overturn the General Assembly’s repeal of income tax exemptions for state retirees.

(2.03.14) Experts: Property-Right Basis of Teacher Tenure Shaky Legally
RALEIGH — While the teachers lobby claims conservative North Carolina lawmakers are waging a “full frontal assault” on educators by eliminating career status protections to weed out ineffective teachers, some education and legal experts say the state’s action is aligned with a national trend to ensure children have top-quality instructors.

(1.27.14) AARP Continues Push for Obamacare Medicaid Expansion
RALEIGH — State AARP officials Friday rolled out their 2014 legislative priorities, and among them were safeguarding Medicare from cost-cutting, expanding Medicaid, and helping more seniors not yet eligible for Medicare to enroll in the federal health exchange.

(1.14.14) DMV Already Issuing State IDs To Voters
RALEIGH — The N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles issued photo IDs to 99 voters during the first nine days of the new year, a move that could indicate voters are preparing for the new requirement even though it does not take effect until 2016. Meantime, DMV is implementing several measures to improve customer service.

(1.13.14) Catawbas’ Bid For Off-Reservation Casino Has Precedent
KINGS MOUNTAIN — After a lengthy court battle, the federal government approved a casino project in Kansas City, Kans., for the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma because of the tribe’s historical link to the area. The Seneca Nation of New York opened an in-state but off-reservation casino in a litigation-heavy case that has some similar elements to the Catawba project.

(1.10.14) NAACP Expands Election Law Challenge
RALEIGH — The Rev. William Barber, North Carolina NAACP president, said the organization was making it clear in the lawsuit that the new law would have a disparate impact on Hispanics as well as African Americans. He also said that the state would add the elimination of pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds to the lawsuit.

(1.09.14) Duke Energy: Renewable Power Has Poor Subsidizing Wealthy
RALEIGH — Affluent North Carolina residents who put solar panels on their rooftops are being subsidized by lower-income customers because of the state’s renewable energy subsidies and regulations, the president of Duke Energy North Carolina told a legislative panel Tuesday.

(1.09.14) Quest For The National Average Difficult To Justify
Why single out public educators for special treatment over every other class of employee?

(12.12.13) Lawsuit Challenges Opportunity Scholarship Program
RALEIGH — The state’s largest teachers organization along with the left-of-center N.C. Justice Center have filed a lawsuit challenging the private school voucher program passed by the 2013 General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory. Supporters counter that the new program, awarding low-income parents tax-funded scholarships of up to $4,200 for their children to attend private schools, will pass constitutional muster.

(11.26.13) Are N.C. Teachers Taking Jobs In Other States?
Relatively few North Carolina teachers leave the profession to teach in other states, a trend that has remained consistent no matter who was in charge of our political institutions.

(11.20.13) Democratic Lawmakers Spar With Democratic Auditor Over Medicaid Costs
RALEIGH — Legislative Democrats took a few jabs at state Auditor Beth Wood, a fellow Democrat, at a Tuesday meeting of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services. The lawmakers cited a new legislative report taking issue with a scathing audit issued earlier this year that showed mismanagement and excessive administrative costs in the state’s Medicaid program.

(11.19.13) Cooper Sounds Like Candidate At Speech to Journalists
CHAPEL HILL — Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper has been a vocal critic of Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and the GOP-dominated General Assembly, leading to speculation that he plans to launch a gubernatorial bid in 2016. He chided recently enacted tax cuts, calling them “tax giveaways for the top 1 percent,” and blasted the General Assembly’s decision to turn down an expansion of Medicaid as part of the Obama administration’s health care reforms.

(11.18.13) Reagan, Goldwater, Friedman — and Carolina
The state legislature has enacted Ronald Reagan’s favorite tax reform, Barry Goldwater’s favorite regulatory reform, and Milton Friedman’s favorite education reform.

(11.11.13) Court Throws Out Suit Challenging General Assembly Pre-K Changes
RALEIGH — The N.C. Supreme Court has thrown out a lawsuit challenging changes the General Assembly made to the state’s pre-kindergarten program in 2011, ruling that subsequent changes made that lawsuit “moot.”

(11.07.13) Better Roads, Better Jobs, Better Schools
Despite some negative headlines, the McCrory administration and the Republican-led General Assembly have made some historic accomplishments in their first year of work.

(11.02.13) Top Reason N.C. Teachers Leave Jobs: Positions In Other N.C. Schools
RALEIGH — More teachers are moving to other public schools in the North Carolina system than in the past, and that is the No. 1 reason cited for teacher turnover in 2012-13, according to a state Department of Public Instruction report prepared for the State Board of Education that will be submitted to the General Assembly.

(11.01.13) Website Links NCAE To Monday Teacher ‘Walk-In’
RALEIGH — A website links the Wake County NCAE to what is called a “walk-in” on Nov. 4. Moreover, the website of Guilford County Schools also urges supports of a Nov. 4 walk-in at GCS. The walk-in — urging higher pay for teachers and higher spending on public schools — was to take place before and after the school day Monday, or in some cases, during the school day Monday morning.

(10.31.13) CJ Editorial: A Ticket To Ride
A recent legislative debate over the types of ticketed entertainment that deserve to be exempted from the state's sales tax inadvertently offered a free advertisement for the John Locke Foundation's proposed Unlimited Savings Allowance, or USA, Consumption Tax.

(10.22.13) State Wants Court To Toss Voter ID Suits
RALEIGH — The response by the state to the lawsuits was filed Monday in the U.S. Middle District Court. In addition to asking that the lawsuits be dismissed and that a judgment be entered for the state, the state asked to be awarded attorneys’ fees and further relief that the court may deem just and proper.

(10.17.13) Lawmakers Question State Job-Listing Site
RALEIGH — A new Commerce Department program designed to consolidate information collected by the state on job openings and career development is expected to reduce taxpayer spending by roughly $800,000 a year compared with outlays on existing programs. NCWorks Online is a Web-based program providing the public information about job openings, labor market data, and training resources.

(10.16.13) N.C. One of Many States Struggling To Maintain Welfare Programs
RALEIGH — North Carolina isn’t the only state that plans to idle its Work First poverty program temporarily after October if the federal government shutdown continues. Other states also are moving in the same direction, officials say. North Carolina does not have sufficient contingency funds budgeted to maintain the services, in large part, because it receives less money than many states from the federal government.

(10.10.13) New Student Group Combats ‘Voter Suppression’
RALEIGH — A group of college students and other young adults — some with connections to Moral Monday protests — has formed to monitor polls, provide information to voters about election procedures and laws, and counter what they see as potential voter suppression. The group, organized in the summer, had members at polling places on Tuesday in Wake and Pasquotank counties.

(10.08.13) Plan To End Master’s Degree Bonus For Teachers ‘Kicks the Beehive’
RALEIGH — A number of education school administrators have expressed concern about falling enrollment: The 10-percent pay bump was a powerful incentive for students to pursue master’s degrees. At Appalachian State University, for example, enrollment in the master’s in education program fell by 35 students this fall, and administrators expect a bigger decline next year.

(10.04.13) Justice Filed Political Lawsuit
Republicans in Washington have drawn criticism for picking a federal budget fight they can’t win. On voter ID and election law, however, that’s exactly what the Obama administration and its allies have done.

(10.04.13) Uneven Enforcement Of Voter ID Law Could Be Its Undoing
Despite voter ID’s popularity with the public, an argument can be made that the state’s law is bad public policy.

(10.03.13) Debate Over Common Core Needs Civility
The mainstream media and supporters of Common Core standards have treated legitimate criticism of the proposal dismissively, often insulting the critics.

(10.02.13) McCrory Attorney Says Outside Legal Help Needed To Defend Election Law
RALEIGH — Attorney General Roy Cooper, a Democrat, had urged Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, to veto the far-reaching elections bill that not only will require voters to show a state-approved photo ID at the polls, but also would shorten the early voting period, do away with same-day registration, and disallow provisional ballots cast by voters who live in another precinct.

(10.01.13) McCrory Calls Federal Election Lawsuit ‘In The Fringes’
RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday struck back at the federal government, saying the U.S. Department of Justice was “working in the fringes.” McCrory, a Republican, said the state would defend the lawsuit filed by the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama against the state’s new election laws vigorously.

(9.25.13) N.C. Tax Reform Plan Sets Stage for Long-Term Economic Growth
RALEIGH — North Carolina’s new tax reforms help set the stage for long-term economic growth in the state. That's the assessment of the John Locke Foundation’s top tax expert, who analyzes the reforms and suggests future improvements in a new Spotlight report.

(9.10.13) Reducing Penalties For Minor Offenses Could Save Attorney Expenses
RALEIGH — State officials hope to save $2 million a year in indigent legal services by reclassifying some crimes to either low-level misdemeanors or infractions. By reducing the punishment, defendants would not have the right to a state-paid attorney, such as a public defender, because defendants under those reduced charges would not face the potential of jail time.

(9.05.13) Governor 0-for-2 During Veto Override Session
RALEIGH — Before this week, the only time the General Assembly had overridden the veto of a governor who shared the same political party as the legislative majority occurred in 2008. That override also occurred during a reconvened veto session, which at the time was another first.

(9.05.13) CJ Editorial: UNC Students (and Due Process) Prevail
The newly enacted regulatory reform law offers students at UNC campuses legal assistance if they're charged with crimes while on school grounds.

(8.29.13) Experts See Election Reforms Having Little Effect On Turnout
RALEIGH — Recent modifications to North Carolina’s election laws — including changes affecting voter identification, early voting, same-day voter registration, and absentee ballot applications — would have almost no effect on voter turnout, voting experts say. Even those critical of the new law say it’s difficult to gauge what impact it should have on elections in the state.

(8.23.13) Legislature Gets A- on Growth
hen it comes to addressing North Carolina’s most-pressing challenge, our lackluster economy, the state legislature deserves a grade of A- for its 2013 session.

(8.23.13) Auditor: State Unlikely To Recover Rural Center Interest Earnings
RALEIGH — State legislators racked their brains trying to come up with ways to recoup $20 million in interest the Rural Economic Development Center had earned — primarily on state tax dollars the center deposited in a private bank account. But state Auditor Beth Wood told a legislative committee it's likely out of luck.

(8.20.13) Comparing Apples For Teachers To Apples For Pies
Comparing salaries among different occupations is more than cherry-picking statistics to satisfy a political agenda.

(8.19.13) DOT Official: Getting ID For Voting Should Be “Pretty Simple” For Out-Of-State Students
RALEIGH — While an out-of-state driver’s license or ID card issued by the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles will suffice for people who registered to vote within 90 days of their first North Carolina election, they’ll need to obtain a different photo ID card for subsequent elections. “It should be pretty simple,” said Steve Abbott, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Transportation.

(8.15.13) Parental Choice A Big Winner In NCGA Session
RALEIGH — School choice advocates won several high-profile battles this year over bills to expand and strengthen the charter school movement and to award private school vouchers to students struggling in public schools. Vouchers would be available in Spring 2014 to parents of special-needs students and for the 2014-15 school year to low-income families.

(8.15.13) A Medicaid Expansion That Flew Under the Radar
North Carolina has not rejected Medicaid expansion entirely. In fact, the state has expanded its broken entitlement program.

(8.13.13) Atkinson: Health of Public Schools More Important Than Student Welfare
RALEIGH — State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said her concerns about allowing students to use vouchers to offset the cost of private schooling was more a principled support of public schools’ role in modern society than the effect vouchers could have in meeting individual children’s needs.

(8.12.13) Legislature Extends Little-Used Local Debt Vehicle
HILLSBOROUGH — State Sen. Jeff Tarte, R-Mecklenburg, believes Special Assessment District revenue bonds may be the fairest method of taxation for economic development infrastructure projects even if the financing instrument attracted only one successful applicant in the five years the bonds have been an option for local governments.

(8.12.13) Legislature Gets A- on Growth
The General Assembly deserves high marks for fashioning a new, empirically based strategy for fostering economic growth in North Carolina.

(8.09.13) New Budget Repairs Balance Sheet
The new 2013-14 budget put $150 million into the repair and renovation reserve for state facilities and another $233 million into the state’s rainy-day reserve.

(8.08.13) Budget Gives W-S State Chance to Purchase Stadium, Race Track
WINSTON-SALEM — A surprise 11th-hour deal to restore a funding mechanism for Winston-Salem State University to purchase an iconic stadium sparked heated debate in House budget votes but failed to derail the deal. The debate included concerns about potential state liability for environmental cleanup, because the park sits atop an old landfill that may be a health hazard.

(8.08.13) CJ Editorial: So Long, Rural Center
A scathing state audit and embarrassing media reports led to the sudden demise of a 26-year-old shakedown operation.

(8.07.13) Charter Certification Change Could Have Far-Reaching Effect
RALEIGH — Principals will be free to hire whomever they think will do the best job to fill 50 percent of teaching positions, whether they have a state license or not. Those teachers could be retired chemists, college professors, lawyers, or professional tutors. The change could have an impact well beyond charter schools. It could introduce competition into the training of teachers.

(8.06.13) Bill Gives Treasurer Added Investment Flexibility
RALEIGH — Supporters of a bill giving the state treasurer’s office greater flexibility to invest money from the state’s $81 billion pension plan affecting teachers, local government officials, police, firefighters, and judges cited a recent $1.5 billion loss to make their case. Opponents said the change would lead to gambling with retirees’ money in high-risk investments.

(8.05.13) State Budget Sets McCrory’s Medicaid Reforms in Motion
RALEIGH — The new state budget includes a provision creating an advisory panel to rewrite the way the state delivers Medicaid services. It’s part of the Partnership for a Healthy North Carolina reforms championed by the McCrory administration. The budget adds more than $1 billion to Medicaid spending to cover what legislative leaders called cost overruns.

(8.02.13) N.C. Voter Laws Would Remain More Liberal Than In Many States
RALEIGH — While New York Times editorialists bemoaned what they consider a mean-spirited attitude toward low-income and minority voters from the North Carolina General Assembly, the Empire State’s election laws are more restrictive than ours. Many other states place limits on balloting that are tougher than those spelled out in the recently passed House Bill 589.

(8.01.13) Stam: ‘Standing’ Provision Will Help N.C. Fight Lawsuits
RALEIGH — Rep. Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, the House speaker pro tem, says a provision passed late in the General Assembly’s session — giving lawmakers the right to intervene in lawsuits filed against the state — offers an insurance policy in case the attorney general provides what legislative leaders think is an inadequate effort defending state laws or constitutional amendments from litigation.

(8.01.13) Does Average Pay Drive Teachers Away?
Those who reduce the complexities of the educational job market to the sole factor of average salaries show an unwillingness to get beyond ideological biases.

(7.31.13) Major Regulatory Reform Caps Legislative Session
RALEIGH — Lawmakers wrapped up the 2013 legislative session with a bill embracing broad regulatory reform. The 68-page bill crossed into several functions of state government and reached into the powers of local governments. The bill sought to rein in regulations and requirements that some local governments put on businesses, such as requiring sick leave or preventing billboard owners from cutting trees blocking their signs.

(7.29.13) Public School Reforms Include Higher Spending on K-12
RALEIGH — Although authorized spending on K-12 public education in the newly enacted state budget will increase by nearly 5 percent over the previous school year, opponents of education reform have orchestrated rallies, flooded the media, and vilified the Republican-dominated General Assembly for its sweeping agenda.

(7.26.13) Growth Strategy Backed By Research
The fiscal and regulatory decisions made this year by Gov. Pat McCrory and the state legislature are the right medicine for North Carolina’s economic maladies.

(7.26.13) McCrory Touts Successes, Expresses Concerns at Session’s End
RALEIGH – Gov. Pat McCrory said Friday he planned to sign into law two contentious bills that cleared the General Assembly during the waning hours of the 2013 session — a voter ID/election reform measure, and legislation expanding regulations at abortion clinics. He said several other bills on his desk gave him heartburn, and could lead to vetoes.

(7.25.13) New CLT Airport Authority Lands In Court
RALEIGH — After six months of intense debate, Senate Bill 81 became law July 18 without Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature. That is because S.B. 81 is a local bill that does not require his approval. McCrory maintained for months the airport measure was a local matter and should have been settled amicably. Instead, shortly after the bill’s passage, the city filed suit to block the law from taking effect.

(7.25.13) State Budget Awaits Governor’s Signature
RALEIGH — The $20.6 billion General Fund budget is on its way to Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk. The budget, which included $10 million for eugenics compensation, eliminated teacher tenure, and added $1.5 billion to help meet anticipated Medicaid expenses, brought sharp debate on both chambers on Wednesday.

(7.24.13) Senate Panel Adds Sweeping Provisions To Voter ID Bill
RALEIGH — If approved by the General Assembly and signed into law, House Bill 589 would be a broad new election law curtailing early voting, eliminating same-day registration at early voting sites, ending straight-ticket voting, and repealing the state’s “stand by your ad” law.

(7.23.13) House Rejects Senate’s Sweeping Regulatory Reforms
RALEIGH — The state House Monday refused to concur with the Senate’s latest stab at regulatory reform, sending House Bill 74 to a conference committee in the waning days of the legislative session. At the urging of Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, the House chamber voted 109-0 not to concur, even though the version the Senate approved Friday shares many provisions with one passed earlier this month by the House.

(7.19.13) Apodaca: Voter ID Bill May Include Other Provisions
RALEIGH — Senators will consider their version of House Bill 589 Tuesday, and it will be on a fast track. House and Senate leaders say they plan to adjourn the session no later than Thursday, so if the measure passes and the House does not concur with the Senate, a final version will have to be negotiated and agreed upon quickly.

(7.18.13) Report Projects Likely Cost Savings From Raising N.C. Juvenile Justice Age
RALEIGH — North Carolina is likely to see millions of dollars in net annual benefits over time, if lawmakers join almost every other state in making the juvenile justice system the default destination for 16- and 17-year-olds charged with crimes. That's according to Texas-based criminal justice experts who have just issued a newly updated version of a Spotlight report first prepared in 2012 for the John Locke Foundation.

(7.18.13) Competition Makes Us Better
Competition has the power to broaden educational horizons for children, but you'll have no luck getting North Carolina's education establishment to embrace it.

(7.17.13) N.C. Tax Reform Plan ‘Blew Other States Away,’ Analyst Says
RALEIGH — North Carolina’s tax reform package, cutting the personal income tax rate, is the most significant plan likely to be approved in 2013, an analyst with a national tax reform organization said Tuesday. An economist with another organization said the changes would make the state’s tax code much friendlier for businesses.

(7.17.13) UPDATE: State Audit Slams Rural Center
RALEIGH — State Auditor Beth Wood chided the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center for having unreasonable executive pay for President Billy Ray Hall and its vice presidents, failing to verify job creation and other performance measures for at least five years, and failing to enforce grant reporting requirements diligently.

(7.16.13) McCrory, Legislative Leaders Announce Historic Tax Reform
RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory, House Speaker Thom Tillis, and Senate leaders Phil Berger used the backdrop of the Old House chamber in the historic Capitol Monday to announce the agreement of the tax reform package that has consumed months in the negotiating process and could become law within days. The nonpartisan Tax Foundation said the changes would move North Carolina's business tax climate from 44th in the nation to 17th.

(7.12.13) Major Regulatory Reform Bill Passes House Easily
RALEIGH — The state House Thursday struck a blow for broad regulatory reform. Senate Bill 112 seeks to streamline the rulemaking process, protect grandfathered zoning decisions, prohibit zoning protest petitions, and remove industrial commissioners from state personnel protections.

(7.11.13) Key House Tax Writer Says Tax Reform Remains Possible
RALEIGH — House Finance Committee Chairman David Lewis, R-Harnett, said Wednesday he "feels confident" both the House and Senate are united in the goal of reforming the tax code while raising enough money to keep state operations funded. He did warn, however, if no agreement is reached soon, legislative leaders will focus on passing a budget and adjourning.

(7.11.13) Team Ticket, Paper Ballot Study Bills Pass House
RALEIGH — One bill would have changed the N.C. Constitution to require candidates for governor and lieutenant governor run as a team, the way candidates for U.S. president and vice president do, instead of running separately. The other would have required paper ballots in all North Carolina elections, eschewing direct recording or touch-screen voting machines.

(7.10.13) UPDATE: Unemployment Debt Is A State Responsibility
RALEIGH — Recent media reports have floated the notion that the state’s business community is responsible for retiring $2.5 billion in debt to the federal government for underfunded unemployment benefits. But according to state government's annual financial report, there is no dispute about the identity of the borrower. "In February 2009, because of depleted cash balances,” states the 2012 report, “the State began borrowing from the U.S. Treasury to ensure the uninterrupted payment of State unemployment benefits.”

(7.09.13) Republicans See ‘Utter Vindication’ in Redistricting Decision
RALEIGH — Judicial observers noted that the 171-page opinion was unusual in its level of detail. State Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, also noted that the Obama administration's Justice Department gave pre-clearance to the legislative maps in November 2011 over protests by civil rights groups, individual Democratic Party voters, and election reform advocates who complained that the new voting maps were gerrymandered by race.

(7.08.13) Unemployment Benefits Do Not Stimulate Economy, Critics Say
RALEIGH — A Congressional Budget Office report in 2012 to the U.S. House Committee on Ways and Means said unemployment benefit extensions actually "contributed to the increase in the proportion of unemployed people who have been seeking jobs for more than 26 weeks" during and after the recession.

(7.03.13) Senate Vote Moves Tax Reform Closer To Reality
RALEIGH — Tax reform moved a step closer to the finish line Tuesday as the Republican-led state Senate gave its tentative approval to its modified plan by a 32-15 margin. While it’s not clear whether Republican Gov. Pat McCrory backs the proposal, the GOP leader in the House says his Senate counterparts are moving in the right direction.

(7.02.13) Dispute Over Number of Unemployed Affected By Cuts Continues
RALEIGH — This is the final week 70,000 jobless workers in North Carolina will receive a federal emergency unemployment compensation check. But Dale Folwell, the state official in charge of jobless benefits, says reports claiming that as many as 170,000 unemployed state residents might lose federal benefits by the end of the year are bogus.

(7.02.13) Senate Committee Moves Tax Plan Toward Passage
RALEIGH — The Senate Finance Committee's approval of a tax reform proposal lifted hopes that a compromise with the House could be pieced together before the General Assembly adjourns this summer. The new plan finds common ground with its House counterpart in several areas, including expansion of the sales tax and the treatment of tax deductions.

(6.27.13) McCrory: Commerce Revamp Will Aid Business Recruitment
RALEIGH — Administration officials hope the move would free up efforts to recruit businesses while providing rewards for the individuals who bring jobs to the state, not just tax breaks and cash incentives to the businesses themselves. Senate Bill 127, allowing the Department of Commerce to contract with a nonprofit corporation to conduct economic development functions, passed an initial House vote 76-38.

(6.27.13) CJ Editorial: Get Them Out of Town
Recent actions of the General Assembly have made the arguments for a limit on the length of sessions stronger than ever.

(6.26.13) Constitutional Concerns Sink Charter School Board
RALEIGH — Senate Bill 337 originally called for the charter school board to operate independently from the State Board of Education, and required the state board to garner a three-fourths majority vote before it could reject any actions from the charter school board. Under the revised measure, the State Board of Education can overrule any recommendation from the charter school board.

(6.21.13) Tax Reform Debate May Tie Up TABOR
RALEIGH — House Bill 274, which would limit annual budget hikes through a formula set in the state Constitution, already passed the House Committee on Government, but has stalled as the House and Senate try to reconcile differing tax packages. If H.B. 274 passes both chambers with 60-percent majorities, voters would consider it as a constitutional amendment as early as 2014.

(6.20.13) One More Push for Redistricting In NCGA Session
RALEIGH — The study, done by assistant professor Mark Nance of the School of International and Public Affairs at N.C. State University and Larry King, a retired N.C. State professor, looks at how Democrats benefited from gerrymandering when they were in power in the 1990s, and how Republicans are benefiting from gerrymandering now. Reformers are urging the General Assembly to adopt a nonpartisan redistricting plan.

(6.20.13) Medicaid Monster Munches State Money
Cost overruns in the health care program mean less money is available for other government priorities.

(6.17.13) Charter School Board May Have Constitutional Problems
RALEIGH — Senate Bill 337 would create an independent Public Charter Schools Board to provide technical assistance to charter schools and applicants, establish rules, oversee the application and approval process, monitor existing charter schools, renew charters, and revoke them. But critics say creating that board would violate the North Carolina Constitution.

(6.14.13) Senate Gives Tax Reform Initial Approval
RALEIGH — House Bill 998 passed the Senate Thursday by a 30-17 vote, with two Republicans joining 15 Democrats in opposition. One of the opponents was Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, who sent a letter that morning to Senate leader Phil Berger resigning as co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. Berger refused to accept the resignation.

(6.13.13) Senate Tax Reform Plan Passes Key Committee Hurdle
RALEIGH — The measure was approved without the support of the author of another key tax reform proposal. Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, who co-chairs the Senate Finance Committee, told his colleagues that he would not vote for the Senate’s version of House Bill 998. In Rucho’s place, Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, appeared before the committee to urge support for the bill.

(6.12.13) Senate Tax Compromise Cuts More Than Earlier Proposals
RALEIGH — Senate leader Phil Berger unveiled the latest tax reform plan Tuesday. The plan would reduce the personal income tax, eventually eliminate the corporate income tax, and put a hold on efforts to broaden the sales tax. Berger noted that the bill would not impose sales taxes on services that now are not taxed.

(6.11.13) Bill Allowing Concealed Carry on Campus Reaches Senate Committee
RALEIGH — Grassroots North Carolina is lambasting UNC system President Tom Ross for opposing a bill that would allow students and faculty to “better protect themselves” from “rampant” violent crime by allowing them to keep guns locked in their cars on campus. Ross and police at all 17 UNC system campuses oppose House Bill 937.

(6.11.13) School Choice Takes Center Stage in House Budget
RALEIGH — Money providing opportunity scholarships — aka vouchers — to children from lower income families made it into the House budget proposal approved Monday. The provision also won the endorsement of Bill Cobey, chairman of the State Board of Education.

(6.08.13) State House Passes First Major Tax Reform in Decades
RALEIGH — The bill passed the House by a 72-32 vote, with one Democrat — Rep. William Brisson, D-Bladen — joining 71 Republicans in voting for the bill. Friday's vote signaled the initial approval of a measure that would fulfill a major campaign promise.

(6.07.13) House Tax Package May Reach First Floor Vote Today
RALEIGH – A tax reform package cleared a key committee Thursday and is headed for a House floor vote, possibly as early as today. The bill passed the House Appropriations Committee, the same committee that a day earlier failed to consider the proposal and put its fate in doubt.

(6.06.13) Charlotte Airport Ownership Bill Passes House Committee
RALEIGH — House Republicans presented a newly minted version of a Senate bill to transfer ownership of Charlotte Douglas International Airport from the City of Charlotte to a regional authority, but opponents presented old arguments that have dogged the measure since it was first introduced in the Senate.

(6.06.13) House Reaches Compromise On Tax Reform Plan
RALEIGH — GOP leaders had to regroup after the House Appropriations Committee failed Wednesday morning to approve a procedural vote that would have allowed the committee to proceed with the bill. Rep. Julia Howard, R-Davie, sought to eliminate a cap of $25,000 for certain itemized deductions. That move would have reduced state tax collections by $525 million a year.

(6.06.13) CJ Editorial: Must Eugenics Victims Keep Waiting?
The 2013 General Assembly has an opportunity to offer tangible relief to the living victims of a shameful chapter of North Carolina history.

(6.05.13) House Tax Reform Plan Passed Out of Finance Committee
RALEIGH — A House GOP-sponsored tax reform package got out of that chamber’s Finance Committee on Tuesday, but not before it was tweaked to remove a cap that had been placed on deductions for mortgage interest, local property taxes and charitable contributions.

(6.04.13) Bill Limiting Debt Not Approved By Voters Breezes Through Senate
RALEIGH — Senate Bill 129, sponsored by Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, would limit “special indebtedness” incurred through the State Capital Facilities Finance Act to 25 percent of all General Fund debt. It is currently at 40 percent. Because special indebtedness instruments are not backed by the “full faith and credit” of the state, they carry higher interest rates and higher costs than general obligation bonds.

(6.04.13) Bill Limiting Non-Voter-Approved Debt Goes to Governor
RALEIGH — A bill substantially scaling back the amount of debt the state can assume without voter approval has been sent to Gov. Pat McCrory for signing. On a 115-0 vote the House today approved Senate Bill 129 to limit “special indebtedness” to 25 percent of all General Fund debt.

(6.03.13) State GOP Officials Mum About Joining Obamacare Lawsuits
RALEIGH — One of the state’s largest business organizations is keeping a close eye on two federal lawsuits challenging the authority of the IRS to collect Obamacare taxes in states, including North Carolina, that did not set up state-run health insurance exchanges. Even so, GOP elected officials will not say whether the state should join the litigation.

(5.31.13) Competing Tax Plans Bring Out Differences Among Republicans
RALEIGH — All three proposals — by Senate Republicans, House Republicans, and a bipartisan group of senators — would eliminate the graduated income tax rate in favor of a flat income tax rate. Currently, the rate varies from 6 percent to 7.5 percent, depending on income. Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, said he did not favor expanding the sales tax as broadly as the Senate Republican plan envisioned.

(5.30.13) Tax Reform Is About More Than Modernizing Outdated System
North Carolina has fallen behind our neighbors in competing for new businesses and expanding existing ones, resulting in a sluggish economy.

(5.29.13) School Voucher Bill Survives House Education Committee Vote
RALEIGH — House Bill 944, the Opportunity Scholarship Act, would provide vouchers up to $4,200 to students attending nonpublic schools, with $50 million shifted from the state’s education budget to the program over the next two years. Fifty percent of the grants always would go to students receiving free and reduced lunches.

(5.28.13) Renewable Energy Mandate Untouched For Now
RALEIGH — House Public Utilities and Energy Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, said he was surprised to see how deeply entrenched “green” corporate welfare has become in North Carolina, which also played a role in his failed attempt to usher House Bill 298, the Affordable and Reliable Energy Act, through the committee process.

(5.22.13) Senate Budget Plan Excludes Funding For Eugenics Survivors
RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget, released in March, proposes to spend $10 million to compensate victims of the involuntary sterilization program that the state operated for decades. The Senate's budget plan did not include that compensation.

(5.22.13) House K-12 Voucher Bill Attracts Impassioned Rhetoric But No Vote
RALEIGH — House Bill 944 has engendered bipartisan support from black and white lawmakers from rural and urban districts with markedly different political philosophies. It drew a large audience Tuesday in the House Education Committee, but will not be voted on for another week.

(5.21.13) Senate Budget Would Require EV/Hybrid Drivers To Pay More
RALEIGH — Drivers of some of the most fuel-efficient cars in North Carolina could be hit with extra license registration fees. The proposed Senate budget would add $100 annually for electric vehicle registration and $50 annually for hybrid vehicles.

(5.17.13) House Would Replace Graduated Income Tax With Flat Tax
RALEIGH — The House Republican tax modification plan would lower the sales tax rate slightly and broaden the sales tax to include repair, maintenance, cleaning, and installation services, and service contracts. Unlike a competing tax plan presented by Senate Republicans, it would not expand the sales tax base to cover all services.

(5.17.13) House Passes Tuition Reimbursement for Parents With Special-Needs Children
RALEIGH — House Bill 269 would provide reimbursement of $3,000 per semester or $6,000 a year for tuition and special education services. It would replace a tax credit for such services that was approved by the General Assembly in 2011. Sponsors said they introduced the measure because many low-income families did not earn enough to qualify for the tax credit.

(5.16.13) House Passes Campaign Spending Measure Expanding Disclosure
RALEIGH — A bill that supporters say would require more timely reporting by independent groups engaging in political campaigns in North Carolina passed the House by an overwhelming margin. The bill would require many electioneering expenditures by groups not affiliated with a candidate to report the spending, often within 48 hours.

(5.16.13) Senate ‘Protect Commerce’ Bill Would Silence Whistleblowers, Critics Say
RALEIGH — Lawmakers are considering a bill that critics say would stifle the actions of whistleblowers trying to uncover wrongdoing by North Carolina businesses. It also would require recordings taken or documentation removed in secret to be turned over to law enforcement agencies within 24 hours. Failure to do so would be a crime.

(5.15.13) Certificate of Need Study Bill Passes First House Vote
RALEIGH — House Bill 177 initially would have relaxed state certificate of need regulations to allow private surgeons and physicians to establish low-cost, single-specialty, ambulatory surgery centers. If the current bill passes the Senate, a legislative study committee would draft fresh legislation for next year’s short session.

(5.15.13) House Moving Elections Bills as Crossover Date Looms
RALEIGH — The House, by a 117-0 vote, gave its approval to a proposed amendment that would remove this sentence from the N.C. Constitution: “Every person presenting himself for registration shall be able to read and write any section of the Constitution in the English language.” The language somehow got into the 1971 state constitution even though the 1965 Voting Rights Act outlawed such restrictions.

(5.13.13) Bill Blocks Cities from Regulating Home Appearance
RALEIGH — The proposed law makes strange bedfellows, pitting Republican state lawmakers and liberal groups like the North Carolina Housing Coalition and Habitat for Humanity against liberal mayors who want to ensure that new development does not clash with the appearance of established neighborhoods.

(5.13.13) Election Measures Set For House Votes Today
RALEIGH — This evening’s House session is scheduled to consider a couple of election-related bills that, perhaps surprisingly, have not been subjected to partisan wrangling. Measures expanding ballot access to minor parties and restoring partisan labels to judicial races are not scheduled for floor votes in their current form.

(5.09.13) Physicians Remain Unhappy With Certificate of Need Reforms
RALEIGH — A bill intended to reduce medical-related lawsuits and expenses stemming from the state’s certificate of need process and to make it easier for private physician clinics to compete with hospitals is getting pushback from an organization representing doctors. The North Carolina Medical Society prefers the current law to House Bill 83.

(5.09.13) ‘B’ Corps Bill Would Let For-Profit Companies Pursue Charitable Purposes
RALEIGH — Supporters called it “a new concept” allowing North Carolina corporations to operate as for-profit entities with an environmental and public benefit mission. Critics said it was more insidious, and linked to a socialist agenda. After 25 minutes of debate Wednesday, the House Judiciary Subcommittee B approved House Bill 440.

(5.08.13) Senate Tax Plan Would Broaden Base, Cut Rates
RALEIGH — Senate leaders used a Tuesday press conference to announce their long-awaited tax proposal, a proposal that would lower personal and corporate income tax rates, along with the sales tax rate. It also would expand the sales tax base to cover services not currently taxed in the state.

(5.07.13) Proposed Charter School Board Faces Test in Senate
RALEIGH — Senate Bill 337 would establish an 11-member state Charter Schools Board to oversee the state’s growing number of charter schools and operate independently of the State Board of Education. Supporters of traditional public schools have raised objections to the proposal for a separate board.

(5.06.13) Treasurer Could Make Invest More in ‘Alternatives’ Under Senate Bill
RALEIGH — The bill would allow the treasurer’s office to invest up to 40 percent of the value of the state retirement system in “alternative” investment vehicles such as private equity and hedge funds. Currently, the treasurer can invest up to 36 percent in such portfolios.

(5.06.13) Taxpayers Will Get ‘Standing’ To Sue If Bill Becomes Law
RALEIGH — House Bill 457 sponsor Rep. Hugh Blackwell, R-Burke, said the bill would help taxpayers get cases to court so that they could be decided on the “merits of the argument as to the constitutionality or the appropriateness of the actual law or statute in question.”

(5.06.13) Berger Video Previews Senate Tax Package
RALEIGH — Sabra Faires, a former assistant revenue secretary and currently an attorney with the Raleigh law firm of Baily & Dixon, said tax reform is needed because the current tax structure does not provide sufficient and stable revenue, is not aligned with the state’s economy, does not treat similar taxpayers the same, and is viewed as being uncompetitive with other states.

(5.02.13) Addressing the Keys To Economic Recovery
With an early summer adjournment expected, lawmakers have only a few months to make good on campaign promises to get our economy moving, stimulate long term growth, and create jobs.

(5.02.13) Bill Gutting Renewable Mandate Survives in Senate Committee
RALEIGH — The Senate bill would cap state-mandated utility generation of renewable energy at 3 percent of total use, and eliminate the mandate and its subsidies after 2023. The House alternative would allow the mandate to rise to 12.5 percent and then end in 2021. The support of House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, is uncertain.

(4.30.13) Independent Brewer Wants Out of Wholesaler Controls
WHITSETT — Bill Sherrill chooses to hire people to distribute and deliver the beer he makes at Red Oak Brewery rather than use an outside distributor. But under current state law, he would lose that option if his production exceeds 25,000 barrels a year. Legislation would increase the cap on production, but wholesalers are fighting that proposal.

(4.26.13) Hager Vows Bill Capping Renewable Energy Mandate Remains Alive
RALEIGH — A handful of House Republicans dealt a stunning blow to state Rep. Mike Hager’s bill to phase out slowly North Carolina’s subsidies, tax credits, and purchase mandates propping up renewable energy companies. Six Republicans voted against the Affordable and Reliable Energy Act in Hager’s committee Wednesday, helping to sink it on a 13-18 vote.

(4.25.13) Voter Photo ID Measure Passes House
RALEIGH — Following nearly three years of debate, the state House Wednesday gave its approval to a bill requiring North Carolina voters to provide photo identification when they go to a polling place. The photo ID requirement would be in place for the 2016 primary and elections. And ID would not be required during the 2014 election cycle.

(4.22.13) N.C. Medical Society Offers Medicaid Reforms
RALEIGH — The society is lobbying the state to adopt a system under the supervision of Community Care of North Carolina that would allow physicians to keep the majority of money the state would save through health care delivery reforms, similar to the federally approved Medicare Shared Savings Program.

(4.12.13) Public Charter Schools Board Would Tackle School Governance
RALEIGH — The multi-faceted bill includes provisions addressing such thorny issues as funding formulas, allowable enrollment growth, and the relationship between local school districts and charters. It relaxes teacher licensure requirements and states that only nonprofit corporations can apply to operate charter schools.

(4.12.13) Berger’s Education Reform Package Moves Forward
RALEIGH — Senate leader Phil Berger's education reform proposal got the stamp of approval Wednesday from a key committee as his effort to end teacher tenure, strengthen teacher education and licensing standards, and provide more transparency on school performance gained momentum.

(4.11.13) House Bill Would Free Auto Insurers To Set Rates
RALEIGH — The bill that Rep. Jeff Collins, R-Nash, promoted during Tuesday’s meeting of the House Insurance Committee would allow auto insurance companies to set their own rates. Currently, rates are set by the N.C. Rate Bureau. Insurance companies could continue going through the rate bureau if they chose. But sponsors of the bill suggested that they wouldn’t.

(4.11.13) Lawmakers Hear Pros and Cons of Voter ID Proposal
RALEIGH — N.C. NAACP President William Barber hinted a voter ID law would "rob the poor of their rights." Indiana Elections Division attorney Jerry Bonnet said the Hoosier State's law gave residents more confidence in the integrity of elections.

(4.11.13) Dirty Politics on Dix Hill
If anyone has engaged in dirty dealing linked to the 300 acres of prime Raleigh real estate, it's the crowd that rushed a 75-year lease through state government as Beverly Perdue exited the governor's mansion.

(4.11.13) Dirty Politics on Dix Hill
If anyone has engaged in dirty dealing linked to the 300 acres of prime Raleigh real estate, it's the crowd that rushed a 75-year lease through state government as Beverly Perdue exited the governor's mansion.

(4.10.13) Stam To Unveil Expansive School Voucher Plan
RALEIGH — House Speaker Pro Tem Paul “Skip” Stam proposes to spend $90 million the next two years providing “equal opportunity scholarship grants” to low-income students for private education, an initiative he says will save the state money. New State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey backs the proposal.

(4.08.13) JLF: Current N.C. Auto Insurance System Hurts Safest Drivers
RALEIGH — North Carolina's auto insurance system imposes a special tax on all drivers that helps subsidize rates for high-risk drivers. That tax is part of a system designed to guarantee profits for insurers. Those are just two of the key facts highlighted in a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report. It arrives as the General Assembly considers potential reforms.

(4.05.13) Voter ID Legislation Introduced in House
RALEIGH — While the current version has some resemblance to the one vetoed in the previous legislative session by former Gov. Bev Pedue, it also has a significant number of differences. It would expand the allowable forms of identification and allow those older than 70 to use the ID cards that were valid on their 70th birthdays.

(4.03.13) Sweeping Reforms in Hospital Regulations Set Aside For Now
RALEIGH — Some House Republicans believe that increasing competition by allowing more procedures to be done at ambulatory surgery centers would lower health care costs to individuals, and save state taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in both the State Health Plan for state employees and Medicaid payments.

(4.03.13) UPDATED: Bill Freezing Renewable Mandate Squeaks Through First Vote
RALEIGH — After two hours of discussion and comment earlier this afternoon, House Bill 298, a measure freezing the state’s renewable energy portfolio standard, squeaked through a House Commerce subcommittee 11-10. Republicans Tom Murray of Wake County and Ruth Samuelson of Mecklenburg County joining eight Democrats opposing the bill.

(4.03.13) Good Samaritan Bill Headed to Governor
RALEIGH — The state Senate Wednesday went along with changes that the House made to the bill, which would provide limited immunity from prosecution for people who call 911 or otherwise summon medical help for a person who has overdosed on drugs.

(4.02.13) Cut Your Electric Bill: Repeal the Mandate!
A bill moving through the General Assembly would block higher electricity costs that are being imposed on North Carolinians for no good reason.

(4.02.13) Bill Ending Election Matching Funds Program On To Senate
RALEIGH — Without dissent, the state House Thursday passed House Bill 297, which repeals all matching funds provisions in state judicial and Council of State public financing programs. After the 110-0 vote on the House floor, it was moved to the Senate, which assigned the bill Monday to that chamber’s Rules Committee.

(4.01.13) ‘Dream Team’ Immigrants Looking To GOP?
RALEIGH — The McCrory administration’s decision to offer temporary driver’s licenses to some young-adult illegal immigrants has led several of the more outspoken activists to reconsider their exclusive allegiance to self-described progressive groups in North Carolina that have been tied closely to the state’s Democratic Party.

(3.28.13) Cut Your Electric Bill: Repeal the Mandate!
A bill moving through the General Assembly would block higher electricity costs that are being imposed on North Carolinians for no good reason.

(3.28.13) Bill Unifying Election Dates Headed to House Floor For Vote
RALEIGH — A bill passed Wednesday by the House Elections Committee would require local government special elections to be conducted during regularly scheduled general elections and primary elections in even-numbered years. Skimpy voter turnout is a driving force behind requiring counties, municipalities, and special districts to schedule special elections on a day voters are expecting to head to the polls.

(3.28.13) JLF Report Urges Repeal of Costly, Ineffective Renewable Energy Mandate
RALEIGH — North Carolina should repeal its six-year-old renewable-energy mandate. It has raised electricity prices for consumers while failing to meet its original goals. That's the key conclusion in a new John Locke Foundation Spotlight report, which also questions new job-related justifications for the mandate. At the very least, state legislators should cap the mandate at its current level, according to the report. House Bill 298 would address that goal.

(3.28.13) Good Samaritan Bill Passes House, Returns to Senate
RALEIGH – The state House Thursday gave its final approval to a Good Samaritan law, a change in state law that would provide limited immunity from prosecution for people who summon medical help for a person who overdoses on drugs. The bill also provides criminal and civil liability immunity for medical practitioners prescribing an antidote for opiate-related overdoses.

(3.27.13) Legislators To Deal With Dueling Taxpayer Bill of Rights Measures
RALEIGH — North Carolina taxpayers would receive a tax relief refund when state revenues exceed 5 percent of budgeted amounts under a state constitutional amendment proposed by Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford. House Speaker Pro Tem Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, is offering a statutory alternative to Blust’s amendment.

(3.26.13) Obamacare’s Impact on Low-Income Workers Debated
RALEIGH — Tax subsidies in Obamacare could push at least half of privately insured, lower-income North Carolinians into the federal health exchange and off of private coverage, critics of the federal health reform law say. Backers of the law say such “crowd-out” will be much smaller, perhaps less than 10 percent.

(3.21.13) McCrory’s Initial Budget Shores Up Existing Programs
RALEIGH — Gov. Pat McCrory unveiled his first budget Wednesday that would spend $20.6 billion in the next fiscal year, an increase of about 2.2 percent over the current fiscal year’s General Fund budget. The total state budget, including federal funds, fee collections, and other revenues, is $49.6 billion.

(3.21.13) Renewable Energy Study Using ‘Job-Years’ Likely Overstates Employment Gains
RALEIGH — A study produced by the renewable energy industry claiming significant employment gains from the adoption of green technologies has come under fire because, in part, it uses the misleading "job-years" statistic to exaggerate the positive impact of a legislative mandate forcing utilities to purchase renewable power.

(3.21.13) Fix What Is Broken First
Before considering new or expanded government programs, let's make sure what we're doing now works.

(3.20.13) Senate Leader Introduces Second Round of Education Reforms
RALEIGH — N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger Tuesday unveiled the second phase of his education reform agenda, calling for an end to teacher tenure, placing a greater emphasis on literacy, pushing for accountability in the classroom, and allowing state employees to volunteer in a public school literacy program for up to five hours per month.

(3.18.13) Renewable Energy Standard, Subsidies Targeted In Bill
RALEIGH — State Rep. Mike Hager says support is building for his effort to end costly state tax subsidies for renewable energy. But Hager’s bill has been referred to four committees, normally a signal that a chamber’s leadership does not back the measure. Gov. Pat McCrory also has not offered vocal support for the bill.

(3.14.13) N.C. Lawmakers Moving Ahead With Fracking
RALEIGH — North Carolina lawmakers are ready to capitalize on what some are calling the “natural gas boom.” A bill lifting the state’s moratorium on fracking — a method for releasing natural gas that environmentalists feel is controversial — passed the state Senate by a landslide recently and is making its way through the House.

(3.13.13) Bill Criminalizing Violations of Open Government Laws Faces Pushback
RALEIGH — A Sunshine Week meeting to discuss a proposed new law making a violation of the state’s open government laws found some senators not too keen on the idea. Several members of the Senate Judiciary Committee expressed reservations with the bill’s provision that would make violating the law a misdemeanor.

(3.13.13) Fireworks Continue As CLT Regional Authority Bill Moves Forward
RALEIGH — Calling it a “hostile takeover” that sets a dangerous precedent of allowing the state to seize municipal assets, Senate Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to block a bill transferring ownership and operation of Charlotte Douglas International Airport from the city of Charlotte to a regional authority.

(3.01.13) ‘Good Samaritan’ Bill Heading To Senate For Vote
RALEIGH — The bill would provide immunity from prosecution for people seeking medical assistance for themselves or others experiencing a drug-related overdose. The immunity would be from prosecution for misdemeanor possession of drugs, misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia, felony possession of less than one gram of cocaine, and felony possession of less than one gram of heroin.

(2.28.13) Bills Would Restore Party Labels To Judicial Races
RALEIGH — Supporters of the change say party affiliation provides information to voters who tend to have little knowledge of the philosophical leanings of judicial candidates. Backers of the current system say survivors of partisan primaries are likely to represent the ideological extremes of each party and may not be inclined to judge legal issues fairly.

(2.28.13) Controversial CLT Airport Authority Measure Moves to Senate Floor
RALEIGH — Charlotte officials believe Senate Republicans have an ulterior motive in sponsoring legislation to create a regional authority to own and operate Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. Frustrated Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee grilled bill sponsor Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg, Wednesday about transferring the city-owned airport to a multicounty board.

(2.28.13) CJ Editorial: Educational Opportunities
Legislative leaders seem poised to build on the positive K-12 reforms they initiated in the last session.

(2.27.13) Amendment Limiting Union Organizing Could Go To Voters
RALEIGH — House Bill 6, which was co-sponsored by Reps. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, and Tom Murry, R-Wake, would allow citizens to vote on constitutional amendments that not only would cement North Carolina’s status as a right-to-work state and guarantee the right of union members to elect their leaders by secret ballot, but also prohibit collective bargaining among public sector employees at all levels of government.

(2.26.13) Tillis Launches Education Week At Legislature
RALEIGH — A merit pay system for teachers, changes to teacher tenure, tax credits for private school tuition, and new charter school initiatives are among education reform measures that could be passed in the state House of Representatives in the next few weeks, House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said Monday.

(2.25.13) Certificate of Need Law Under Microscope
RALEIGH — Private surgeons and physicians want to reform the state’s certificate of need law — the legal process to obtain state approval for a variety of equipment, facilities, and procedures to ensure they are not duplicative of existing situations. Hospitals say specialty surgery centers will cherry-pick the insured patients hospitals need to cover the costs of treating the indigent and uninsured.

(2.25.13) Two Recommendations for GOP Leaders Regarding Higher Ed
The governor and Republican leaders are right to insist on reforms in higher ed, but they may be pushing students to seek skills valued in the 20th century.

(2.22.13) Rules Commission OKs Religious Activities at NC Pre-K Schools
RALEIGH — The Rules Review Commission voted 9-1 to reject the Child Care Commission’s proposal, which would have prohibited religious activity during the Pre-K class day. Rules commission members cited a state law forbidding the Child Care Commission from interfering with religious activities at such centers, and said that the Child Care Commission should take it up with the General Assembly if they wanted a change.

(2.21.13) Fireworks Erupt As CLT Bill Passes Committee
RALEIGH — Who gets to run Charlotte Douglas International Airport has become a prickly, billion-dollar turf battle. City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County officials want to ground what they see as an unnecessary power grab orchestrated by Republican lawmakers to end longstanding city control in favor of a new regional authority.

(2.20.13) McCrory Signs Unemployment Insurance Reforms
RALEIGH — House Bill 4 increases taxes for some employers, shortens the number of weeks an unemployed worker is eligible for benefits, and reduces the maximum benefits such a person can receive. The federal government has slapped a surcharge on businesses as a means of repaying a $2.5 billion debt accumulated during the Great Recession.

(2.18.13) Renewable Energy Mandates Face Scrutiny From GOP Lawmakers
RALEIGH — Interest is coalescing around legislation that would repeal a law forcing energy companies to buy increasingly larger volumes of costly, tax-subsidized, renewable energy. Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford, is drafting language for a bill as Gov. Pat McCrory pushes for offshore wind farms — a form of renewable energy — and endorsing an “all-of-the-above” approach to energy.

(2.15.13) Feds: Exchange Cost To N.C. = Zero
RALEIGH — Published reports that North Carolina must pay $181 million to the federal government annually as a consequence of failing to set up a state-run health exchange under Obamacare are false. The money would come from fees assessed on health insurance providers, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the N.C. Department of Insurance.

(2.14.13) DHHS Secretary Tells Lawmakers Of Agency Disarray
RALEIGH — Secretary Aldona Wos said the Department of Health and Human Services, the state’s second-largest bureaucracy with an $18 billion budget, is entangled in legal woes, lacks supervisory accountability, rushes multimillion-dollar payments through chaotic processes, and routinely fails to complete timely financial and operational reports vital to legislative oversight and department effectiveness.

(2.14.13) Senators Consider Local Impact Fees As Part of Fracking Permit Process
RALEIGH — The Senate Finance Committee Wednesday gave its blessing to a bill allowing companies to receive fracking permits as early as March 2015. The committee’s role was to consider the tax portions of the bill, not to discuss the merits of fracking. The measure now goes to the Senate Commerce Committee.

(2.13.13) Bill Rejecting Key Obamacare Provisions Headed to House Floor
RALEIGH — Buoyed by Gov. Pat McCrory’s announcement that he does not support expanding Medicaid rolls or creating a state-run health insurance exchange, a state House committee voted Tuesday over Democrats’ objections in favor of Senate Bill 4, legislation rejecting the same provisions of Obamacare.

(2.13.13) Unemployment Insurance Reform Could Go To McCrory Within Days
RALEIGH — The unemployment insurance bill is the GOP-led effort to repay a $2.5 billion debt that was borrowed from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits during the Great Recession. Supporters say that if nothing is done, the state’s businesses will see federal surcharges mount on their tax bill until the debt is repaid, likely in 2019.

(2.12.13) House Set To Take Up Senate Medicaid Reforms
RALEIGH — House leaders said they would conduct a full review of Gov. Pat McCrory’s misgivings that a $40 million federal grant associated with accepting the terms of the Affordable Health Care law could be lost if Senate Bill 4 is approved. Even so, passage of the bill is expected as early as this week.

(2.11.13) Child Care Commission Maintains Pressure on Religious Pre-Ks
RALEIGH — The Child Care Commission made another attempt Feb. 4 to get a procedural committee that sifts through administrative rules to approve a controversial rule prohibiting religious instruction at NC Pre-K centers. The commission implements regulations at private and public centers statewide.

(2.07.13) Voter ID Under Microscope At Raleigh Forum
RALEIGH — At a Wednesday forum, proponents of voter ID laws said the requirements protect the integrity of the ballot and pose no undue burdens on the right to vote. Opponents questioned the need for the law and argued that it would make voting less accessible.

(2.07.13) CJ Editoral: License To Stifle
Many licensing rules are little more than a protection racket, allowing existing practitioners to block would-be competitors from offering their services. Time to clean house.

(2.06.13) Second Amendment Freedom Rally Attracts Attention of General Assembly
RALEIGH — Flag-waving, placard-toting gun rights advocates from around the state and Virginia rallied in front of the North Carolina legislative building on Tuesday to deliver a stirring message to lawmakers: “We will not compromise.” One speaker after another at the Second Amendment Freedom Rally proclaimed fealty to the Second Amendment.

(2.05.13) Court Ban Has Not Ended Sweepstakes Operations
ROANOKE RAPIDS — Players continue to plunk cash down to play online sweepstakes games at the former Randy Parton Theatre in Roanoke Rapids despite a state Supreme Court ruling banning the electronic diversions. Several hundred Internet cafés remain open across North Carolina as their operators reconfigure their games in a manner they say complies with the law.

(2.05.13) N.C. House Poised To Pass Reform In Unemployment Insurance
RALEIGH — The bill aims to accelerate repayment of the debt by increasing unemployment taxes on some businesses while reducing the maximum benefits that some laid-off workers receive and the number of weeks of eligibility. Without a change, the debt likely would be paid back no sooner than 2019.

(2.04.13) Medicaid Audit Underscores Questions About State’s Service Model
RALEIGH — A state audit finding potentially “hundreds of millions of dollars” of Medicaid mismanagement also called for “a scientifically valid study” of North Carolina’s showcase Medicaid program due to suspect savings claims and questionable methodologies used to evaluate it.

(2.01.13) Audit: N.C. Medicaid in Major Disarray, Wastes Millions
RALEIGH — The Medicaid program deliberately violates General Assembly directives and potentially state statutes, the audit said. The program has a talent deficit in personnel capable of preparing accurate budgets or understanding the data with which they must work to administer $36 million in services daily to 1.5 million participants, according to the audit.

(2.01.13) Unemployment Insurance Reform One Step Closer After Committee Vote
RALEIGH — The bill, which would reduce the maximum weekly benefit from $535 to $350 and reduce the maximum benefit duration from 26 weeks to 20 weeks is scheduled for its first of two floor votes on Monday night. If the legislation becomes law, supporters believe the $2.5 billion debt to the federal government can be repaid by 2015 or early 2016.

(1.31.13) Thousands Receive N.C. Revenue Notices That Look Like Bills
RALEIGH — A Department of Revenue spokeswoman says that 147,800 “Notices of Intent to Assess” have been mailed since the department began sending out such notices in 2010. The notice does not declare that it is not a bill. Nor were the letters reviewed by Revenue Department employees before they were sent.

(1.31.13) Tax Reform The Key To Economic Vitality
The top priority of the governor and legislative leaders is boosting job creation and economic growth. A simpler, fairer tax system would give that agenda a major assist.

(1.31.13) Freshman Lawmaker Proposes Letting School Districts Go All-Charter
RALEIGH— Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, who was chairman of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Board of Education for 18 years, said that school officials often discussed charter schools and their flexibility. He says legislation is needed to make sure capital spending and other non-classroom services were provided.

(1.30.13) Long Session of General Assembly Gets Rolling
RALEIGH — Gavels in both the House and the Senate are set to fall at noon as the General Assembly begins its 2013 session in earnest. Legislators are prepared to tackle a $20 billion general fund budget, reform the tax code, and push through new election laws that are almost certain to include a photo identification requirement to cast a ballot.

(1.30.13) New JLF Book Outlines Policies to Help Make N.C. ‘First In Freedom’
RALEIGH — North Carolina's elected leaders would adopt a new pro-growth tax system, promote parental choice in education, say no to Obamacare's health insurance exchanges and Medicaid expansion, and redesign state government's "operating system," if they follow key recommendations from the John Locke Foundation's new book. JLF released First In Freedom: Transforming Ideas into Consequences for North Carolina Wednesday.

(1.30.13) New Study Skews Data on N.C. Tax Burdens
RALEIGH -- There's no reason to believe a new report's claim that North Carolina's tax system takes a "much larger share" from middle- and low-income families than from families with higher incomes. The John Locke Foundation documents how the misuse of selected federal tax data leads left-leaning analysts to the wrong conclusions.

(1.28.13) Legislative Review Pending For State Medicaid Administrator
RALEIGH — Free-market advocates contend Community Care of North Carolina, a nonprofit organization that runs the state’s Medicaid program, has contributed to the $1.17 billion deficits in Medicaid that have occurred over the past three years. They say CCNC is not held accountable for cost overruns.

(1.24.13) Competing Tax Plans Seek To Stimulate Investment and Growth
RALEIGH — Efforts are under way to make North Carolina the first state since Alaska in 1980 to eliminate taxes on total personal income. Competing proposals also would launch a pro-growth tax reform renaissance that would scrap corporate income taxes that discourage capital investment and savings.

(1.23.13) JLF Tax Reform Proposal Could Generate 80,500 Jobs in First Year
RALEIGH — Replacing North Carolina's existing income, corporate, sales, and estate taxes with a new consumed-income tax dubbed the USA Tax could generate 80,500 new jobs in the first year, while boosting the state's economy by $11.76 billion. Those numbers are based on an outside analysis of tax reform proposals included in the John Locke Foundation's new book, First in Freedom: Transforming Ideas Into Consequences for North Carolina. JLF is releasing the book as new North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and a Republican-led General Assembly turn their attention to potential tax reforms.

(1.22.13) GOP Lawmakers To Give Voter ID Bill Another Try
RALEIGH — North Carolinians should expect the General Assembly to pass a strict voter ID bill in 2013, and it will be one that will pass federal and judicial scrutiny, a chairman of the House Elections Committee said. Opponents continue contenting that a photo ID requirement would disenfranchise some voters.

(1.16.13) Rally Urges Republican Officials To Nullify Obamacare
RALEIGH — Speakers at the Jan. 9 rally called on Republican Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican members of the General Assembly to return $73.5 million in what they called federal “bribe” money Democratic former Gov. Bev Perdue accepted to set up a state health insurance exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act.

(1.14.13) Prospective Charter Schools Applications Surge Into Raleigh
RALEIGH — Potential charter school operators, including two that would operate online, flooded the state with 154 letters of intent to open in fall 2014, punctuating a growing appetite for alternatives to traditional public education.

(1.10.13) New DHHS Proposals Include Fourth State Mental Hospital
RALEIGH — Most of the topics discussed Tuesday at a meeting of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Health and Human Services revolved around finding solutions to “critical shortages” in areas such as psychiatric inpatient beds, the number of practicing psychiatrists and psychologists, and treatment options for veterans.

(1.09.13) Unemployment Insurance Reform Moves Closer To Adoption
RALEIGH — The proposal is an attempt to repay the federal government $2.5 billion the state borrowed to pay for benefits during the Great Recession. Under the current repayment plan, the state would repay the debt by 2018. If the new proposal is adopted, the debt could be repaid by 2015.

(1.09.13) General Assembly Opens Under Full Republican Control
RALEIGH — The day was absent of surprises as the leaders of both legislative chambers were re-elected to their posts without opposition. Most of the day was filled with pomp and circumstance as lawmakers met for an organizational session. After adjournment, lawmakers promptly left town to return in three weeks, when they’re expected to get down to business in earnest.

(1.03.13) McCrory Does Not Rule Out State Funding for Triangle Rail
RALEIGH — Although he’s warned repeatedly that there is no new money in state government, Gov.-elect Pat McCrory said Thursday he could envision putting up a 25 percent state share of funding for a multibillion-dollar rail transit plan in the Triangle. He also said the plan would have to satisfy certain criteria to win consideration.

(12.27.12) Dramatic Reforms Are Possible in the New Year
Never have opportunities in North Carolina for free markets, personal responsibility, and limited government looked so promising.

(12.26.12) GOP Leaders May Expand Virtual Charter Schools
RALEIGH — Virtual charter schools and other distance-learning options would be unshackled from the legal-political bind in which they remain idled if Lt. Gov.-elect Dan Forest has his way. He will sit on the State Board of Education, which sets policy for K-12 education throughout the state, and chair the 30-member eLearning Commission, which explores ways to connect students to online learning opportunities.

(12.11.12) Medicaid Savings Illusory Under Obamacare Expansion, Critics Say
RALEIGH — A recent study suggests that taxpayer costs could go down if the states expanded Medicaid enrollment under President Obama’s signature Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. But critics say expanding Medicaid actually would cost North Carolinians directly an extra $3.1 billion more over a 10-year period — and costs to federal taxpayers, including North Carolinians, would be even greater.

(12.10.12) McCrory Mum On Obamacare Exchanges
RALEIGH — The intent of the health care reform was for states to set up the exchanges, which are clearinghouses through which tax-subsidized health care plans would be offered to uninsured individuals and small businesses. If states don’t create their own health care exchanges, the federal government would offer its own.