News: Quick Takes

CJ politics week in review, Aug. 24-28

CJ file photo
CJ file photo

Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses several interesting, relevant stories you may have missed.

This report was updated to include new information.

Beware of budget gimmicks: The state unexpectedly received $457 million in tax over-collections, but don’t try to spend the money, Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, says in a news release. The state’s fiscal staff expected more people to pay taxes after April 15 because the filing deadline was extended to July 15, but fewer people ended up paying after the original deadline. The $457 million isn’t recurring negative pressure on the fiscal 2020-21 forecast, the state’s fiscal staff said in a report. “If and when Gov. (Roy) Cooper submits his budget proposal, which is about four months late, he may try to use this ‘extra’ money,” said Brown, who is the Senate’s chief budget writer. “That would be outrageously irresponsible, reckless, and negligent.”

Cooper Lawsuit: Gov. Roy Cooper is suing for control over the Rules Review Commission, the executive agency that controls which rules can be adopted by state agencies. The commission is staffed by 10 members appointed by the legislature. Cooper wants to strip the majority of appointments from the General Assembly. He argues the legislature’s control is unconstitutional under separation of powers. He says it “allows the legislature to interfere with and undermine the executive branch’s authority to establish policy through rulemaking.” The commission has blocked a series of Cooper’s policy priorities in recent months. It shot down the elections board’s request for emergency powers, calling it “back-door attempt to rewrite election laws.” And it may have sunk Cooper’s attempt to expand unemployment benefits to workers who have “objective reasons that the employer’s facility is not safe.”

The great debate: Gov. Roy Cooper and Lt. Gov. Dan Forest have agreed to take part in a televised debate Oct. 14. The North Carolina Association of Broadcasters is organizing the event. The NCAB event is the only debate Cooper and Forest have agreed to so far. Only candidates polling above 10% can participate. It’s unclear whether Libertarian candidate Steven DiFiore and Constitution Party candidate Al Pisano will get to take part. Forest previously accepted debate invites from CBS17 and Spectrum news. Cooper hasn’t accepted the invitation from those two media outlets. 

Extend the census, please: North Carolinians need more time to complete the census, Gov. Roy Cooper said in a news release. Cooper joined a bipartisan group of governors calling on the U.S. Census Bureau to extend the deadline through Oct. 31 to complete the count. COVID-19 put the census even further behind schedule. Despite the setbacks, the U.S. Census Bureau decided to end data collection Sept. 31. “It is surprising to hear how optimistic the Census Bureau is about being able to reach 100% in less than 60 days, given the current daily self-response rate and the fact that, as of the writing of this letter, only 63% of the country has responded to the 2020 Census,” the governors wrote. Without an accurate count, North Carolina could miss out on millions of federal dollars and a new congressional seat. 

School choice as civil rights: Clarence Henderson, a civil rights activist, in a speech at the Republican National Convention spoke about the fight for school choice. “Equality today must include equal access to education,” Henderson said. “But for many in our state, they are trapped in a school that doesn’t meet their needs. That’s why I’m 100% in support of school choice and North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship.” Henderson criticized Gov. Roy Cooper for wanting to cut the program, which helps low-income families attend private schools. Cooper released his budget proposal Wednesday, Aug. 26, which included gutting the voucher program. Not only is the governor out of touch, but his proposal to take away school choice from thousands of low-income families is heartless, Mike Long, president of Parents for Education Freedom in North Carolina, said in a news release. “I believe school choice is one of the civil rights issues of our time because it empowers parents with equal access to the school of their choice,” Long said. 

Howdy, Manning: Money can’t buy you quality, Judge Howard “Howdy” Manning told WRAL in an interview covering things such as remote learning and the importance of reading. Manning, who served as the presiding judge in the landmark Leandro case for decades, emphasized the need to teach young students basic math and reading. If students aren’t able to grasp the basics early on, the public school system won’t be able to catch them up later in life, the judge said. But more money isn’t the answer, he added. “You don’t just raise everybody’s salaries by $10,000 per year and expect to have all the grades go up by 20%, because it’s not going to happen,” Manning said. 

Rural broadband: Still waiting to get online at home? Some legislators want to expand rural internet access. On Thursday, Aug. 27, the office of House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, sent a press release supporting a $30 million investment in high-speed broadband. The money would be drawn from the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding doled out by Congress earlier this year. Money would be distributed through the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology Grant program. Legislators put $24 million into the program this year. “This funding reinforces the commitment from both the Senate and the House to connect our students, parents, and teachers to online learning resources no matter what challenges are before us,” Rep. Jason Saine, R-Lincoln, said.

Randolph Health merger: Randolph Health announced a merger Tuesday, Aug. 25, that will provide a lifeline for the struggling health system. Java Medical Group, which announced its deal with Randolph, specializes in rural hospitals, and it will manage Randolph Health’s operation. Republican legislators praised the deal. “Java Medical Group knows and understands the needs of rural health care,” Sen. Dave Craven, R-Randolph, said. “This merger will be transformational for Randolph County. This partnership not only signals a new commitment to improve the health and well-being of our community, but also a significant commitment to our economic vitality. I’m excited to see what the future holds for the new Randolph Health.”

Unemployment assistance: Republican lawmakers want to add $50 per week to every unemployment assistance check. The General Assembly will have the opportunity to vote on the proposal next week when they return to session, Senate Republicans said in a news release. “With a high unemployment rate, it’s not easy for someone who loses a job to go out and quickly find another one,” said Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Henderson, and Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus. “Recognizing that reality, Republicans in the House and Senate support boosting assistance for every unemployment insurance recipients by more than $200 per month.” The proposal would raise North Carolina’s average unemployment benefit to second in the Southeast, the release says. Gov. Roy Cooper has a different plan for increasing unemployment benefits, which he outlined in his budget proposal. Under Cooper’s plan, the maximum unemployment benefit goes up from $350 a week for 12 weeks to $500 a week for 24 weeks.