THE RALEIGH REPORT
May 19, 2017
Last week, on a vote of 104 to 8, the NC House sent a "raise the age" bill over to the Senate. That's the bill that would move youthful offenders aged 16 and 17 from adult court to juvenile court if they are charged with misdemeanor and non-violent felony offences. Based on limited circumstances, a judge could order the offender to the adult system. Those charged with violent felony offences would remain in adult court.
Just to give credit where credit is due, former Rep. Alice Bordsen (D, Alamance) started work on this issue more than 10 years ago and championed it until she retired. Republicans picked it up and passed a similar bill last session but it was never considered in the Senate. This year, two prominent Republicans are helping: Mark Martin, the Chief Justice of the NC Supreme Court and David Guise, the Deputy Secretary of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice that Governor Roy Cooper retained based on his excellent work. As a result, the Senate is expected to pass a bill, but their version deals only with misdemeanor crimes. If the Senate passes their bill, the final details will be worked out in a conference committee. If it doesn’t pass, North Carolina will be the only state in the nation that still sends 16 and 17 year-old offenders into the adult court.
The State Budget
Meanwhile, the news about the Senate budget is not so good. One of the worst things about the Senate GOP budget was their secretive and rushed process. We are still finding critical details days after it was passed on to the House. One thing is clear: the Senate budget has the wrong priorities for our state, offering more tax cuts for the wealthy while taking away food assistance from children, denying our veteran teachers pay raises, and preventing increased access to high-speed internet for people in the rural parts of our state.
For example, NC Senate Republicans quietly inserted a provision in their budget to cut SNAP food assistance benefits for 133,000 North Carolinians last week, including 51,000 children. This is a cut that does not save a dime of state taxpayer money: SNAP benefits are 100% federally funded. Instead, it just makes our people ineligible to receive federal food assistance. The cuts to SNAP benefits are also expected to cause many low-income students to lose free and reduced-lunch eligibility. These cuts will eliminate food assistance for 1207 people and 482 children in Orange County. So, under the Senate Republicans' budget, we continue to send the same amount of federal tax dollars to Washington, but 133,000 North Carolina citizens, 1200 of them in our own county, stop receiving food assistance funds. It hurts our most vulnerable people for no good reason.
The Senate budget falls short on education again this year. Spending on teacher pay raises is less than half of what it is in Governor Cooper’s budget and there would be no pay raises at all for either beginning teachers or those with 25 or more years of experience.
This situation is disappointing and unnecessary. Republicans started the budget process with excess revenue of $600 million and $300 million in reserves, almost $1 billion. With that news, we could and should have a Senate budget that lifts our citizens and reverses some of the cuts made during the downturn. Consider Governor Roy Cooper's budget as an example of what could have been.
First, Governor Cooper did not raise any taxes and he included some tax cuts. He also put $300 million into the rainy day fund to bring it to the highest level ever as a percent of the total budget. Governor Cooper's main budget priority was to increase pay across the board for classroom teachers. He included funding to pay for classroom supplies and hire school nurses. His budget funds a new program called NC GROW that provides for recent high school graduates in good academic standing to attend community college for free.
Another stark difference in the two budgets is in job creation.
Governor Cooper's budget pledges $20 million to increase access to broadband internet in rural parts of our state, something that is necessary to attract companies and develop our workforce. The Senate budget is only offering $250,000.
Governor Cooper's budget gives support to the middle class whereas the Senate budget supports the wealthiest people in our state. Under the Governor's proposal, middle-class families would see an average tax cut of just $60. Millionaires in our state, though, would see an average tax cut of $3,600. Republicans have been cutting taxes on the wealthy for years: by about $42,000 since 2012, which is more than 200 times the size of middle class tax cuts. Instead of giving our teachers a raise or our hard working families a break, Senate Republicans have decided to cut taxes on the wealthy.
The Senate's budget was drafted behind closed doors by only a few Republicans. It was released shortly before midnight on a Monday and passed in the Senate – without a single Democrat voting in favor – by Wednesday, then again at 3:00 Thursday morning. Our budget represents what we think is important to our state. That should mean education, jobs, and taking care of our most vulnerable citizens.
House Republicans are now in closed meetings working out their version of the State budget. It will be better than the Senate budget; but it will still fall short of what Governor Cooper showed us was possible: a balanced proposal that puts people first and meets growing needs without raising taxes.
How to Engage
It's tough to keep track of what is happening. Here are some ways to stay involved.
1. Call me or my legislative assistant Gina Insko at 919-733-7208 or email me at Inskola@ncleg.net with How can I get involved in the subject line.
2. Follow us on Twitter at @verlainsko and Facebook at Verla Insko.
3. Visit ncleg.net where you can see bills, listen to session, and see daily calendars.
4. Help us spread the word on social media or by forwarding this newsletter and other alerts or key news items.
As always, thank you for your support of my work in Raleigh as your representative. Please let me know of your position on issues, your suggestions for legislation and your requests for help.