At August’s Council of State meeting, North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall said her department faced “a crisis” over inadequate funding for agency staff.
Addressing elected members of N.C.’s Executive Branch, Marshall, a Democrat who has served since 1997, said her department’s 185 employees have been required “to do more and more and more with little investment back in the agency’s capacity to operate.”
The Department of the Secretary of State oversees business registration in N.C., which Marshall notes has undergone a “70% increase” since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020.
Marshall expressed her displeasure with the General Assembly’s response to her pleas for expanded staff positions and staff salary enchantments, calling on the legislature to “adopt no more…legislation that adds significant responsibilities to the Department without providing the additional employees to perform the additional work.”
As of this week, the Republican-led House and Senate chambers of the General Assembly are in ongoing budget negotiations that will outline state spending for the next two years. While it is unclear whether Marshall’s requests for further agency staff funding will be a part of the proposed final budget, legislative leaders have indicated that they will include raises for state employees.
Yet, Marshall said her office has not been able to have any “meaningful conversations” with the legislature due to the General Assembly’s recent summer break.
Previous budget proposals by the House and Senate have established three new positions for the department, while Gov. Roy Cooper has proposed the creation of 13 new posts.
The Secretary of State’s website has a banner warning of long processing times for new businesses looking to register, stating, “due to staffing shortages, the Agency continues to work through its business registration mail backlog.”
Addressing student mental health
Also during the August meeting, Republican superintendent of public instruction Catherine Truitt addressed school safety issues, stating that it is the “No. 1 concern” among NC parents.
Truitt stressed the importance of considering student mental health in tandem with physical safety concerns at NC schools. Truitt mentioned the federal government had given the state nearly $46 million to create a “pipeline” to facilitate the hiring of mental health professionals for the state’s public school system.
According to Truitt, mental health workers are essential for schools as “the leading cause of death for 10 to 14-year-olds in our state right now is suicide.”
To combat this, Truitt said NC public schools are instituting new mental health-centered training for school workers and are enacting “threat assessment teams” in NC schools to identify potential threats to students’ physical well-being.
House Bill 605 created the “threat assessment teams” program and was signed into law by Cooper in July. HB 605’s provisions will be enacted starting during the 2024-25 school year.
Meeting business for gubernatorial candidates
Of NC’s 10 Council of State positions, three are running for governor in 2024: Democrat Josh Stein, and Republicans Mark Robinson and Dale Folwell.
Attorney General Josh Stein, the Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner, teed up a recent trip to the White House, where he discussed the ongoing fentanyl crisis with Vice President Kamala Harris and other state attorneys general.
“Fentanyl is now the leading cause of death [among] young Americans,” said Stein, who also spoke on the need to decrease supply and demand for the narcotic in the state.
GOP gubernatorial frontrunner and current Lt. Gov Mark Robinson used his remarks to praise emergency workers who responded to the aftermath of a tornado in Rocky Mount nearly two weeks ago.
State Treasurer Dale Folwell, who is behind both Robinson and former U.S. Congressman Mark Walker in GOP gubernatorial polling, continued to criticize healthcare companies for failing “to come to the table” to negotiate the state employee’s health plan. Folwell said the state is “limited” on cutting costs for the state health plan until talks with healthcare providers occur.
Robinson and Folwell praised a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing continued constitution of the West Virginia-based Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP). The decision throws out a Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision that temporarily halted the natural gas pipeline’s construction. A proposed extension on the pipeline, MVP Southgate, would bring it into northern NC.
Concluding the meeting, Cooper celebrated the “well-trained, educated, diverse workforce” he claimed was responsible for CNBC ranking NC as “America’s Top State for Business” for the second consecutive year.
Cooper also took shots at Republican legislative leaders for their continued state budget negotiations. However, Cooper said he is waiting to “see what [General Assembly leaders] come up with” in their proposed budget.
The next NC Council of State meeting is scheduled for Sept. 12, 2023. All council positions will be up for statewide election in November 2024.