Publisher's note: This post appears here courtesy of the Carolina Journal, and written by Lindsay Marchello.
Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses what we think are some interesting, relevant stories you may have missed. Here's a week in review:
the Office of State Budget and Management contracted with McKinsey and Co., a consulting firm from Washington, D.C., to review budgeting operations at the N.C. Department of Transportation. The firm produced an eight-page report for $970,000 and seven weeks of work. Martin Elling, a longtime Democratic donor and campaign contributor to Gov. Roy Cooper, heads McKinsey and Co. The consulting firm got the job out of a no-bid contract. The N.C. Republican Party is crying foul. "There is no justification for awarding a no-bid contract paying close to $1 million to anyone for an eight page report - let alone a political donor,"
Jeff Hauser, an N.C. GOP spokesman, said in a news release.
Robeson Community College president:
Melissa Singler will be Robeson Community College's new president. The State Board of Community Colleges approved Singler's nomination Oct. 18. Singler is currently executive vice president of Cape Fear Community College, where she has held several administrative positions. The State Board of Community Colleges also approved William Aiken as interim president of Southeastern Community College and approved $6.4 million to address enrollment declines in 19 schools affected by Hurricane Florence last year.
Robeson County school closures:
The Robeson County Board of Education will close five schools due to budget deficits and a declining student population. A WRAL story
reported that the school district has a $2 million budget deficit. Nearly 1,700 students have left the district over the past four years. School district officials say recent hurricanes and a struggling economy have contributed to the shrinking population.
UNC Board appointment:
The General Assembly unanimously approved Reginald Holley's nomination to the University of North Carolina Board of Governors, but not without some complaints from Democratic lawmakers over how he was picked. Some Democrats questioned the closed process that led to Holley being the only nominee to the position, while others criticized the decision to add another Republican to the board. Holley will fill the vacancy left by Rob Bryan, who was recently appointed to finish former Sen. Dan Bishop's term.
No dogs allowed:
Drug-sniffing dogs are no longer allowed
in Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools. Superintendent Pamela Baldwin on Oct. 22 sent a letter to the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights with her decision to end the program. "After discussing this issue with school-based staff, I am suspending the use of dog searches,"
Baldwin said. "I am hopeful that our education, mental health, and other initiatives - and the constant vigilance of our teachers and staff - will prevent an escalation in drug activity on campus."
Local civil rights attorneys raised concerns that the drug-sniffing dog program was being used for "suspicionless searches" at schools.
Gov. Roy Cooper is looking to make North Carolina a major player in the film industry. On Oct. 22, Cooper announced the creation of the Governor's Advisory Council on Film, Television and Digital Streaming. Former Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican, dissolved a similar film council when he was in office, but Cooper, a Democrat, has brought it back to life. The council will advise the state on attracting film productions to North Carolina. "This advisory council will play a critical role in helping the industry flourish, which creates good-paying jobs right here in North Carolina,"
Cooper said in a news release
State Superintendent candidates:
Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, may run for state superintendent of public instruction in 2020. Horn currently leads several education committees and has been a vocal supporter of school choice. Horn told WRAL
he won't decide until current State Superintendent Mark Johnson has announced whether he'll run for re-election. Six Democrats have lined up to challenge Johnson.
The N.C. infant mortality rate dropped to a record low in 2018. The newly released 2018 N.C. Infant Mortality Report
shows infant mortality dropped for a third consecutive year - from 7.1 per 1,000 live births to 6.8 per 1,000 live births. While the overall rate dropped 4.2%, racial disparities persist. The African-American infant mortality rate dropped to 12.2 per 1,000 live births in 2018 - from 13.4 per 1,000 live births in 2016. But it remains more than twice the white infant mortality rate at five per 1,000 live births.
The state Senate during a session Thursday, Oct. 24, approved a handful of mini-budgets covering education funding and tax cuts. Senate Democrats weren't satisfied with the lack of salary increases for teachers or the cost-of-living adjustment for state retirees. A lowered franchise tax and standard deduction also irked Senate Democrats. Despite the vocal opposition, all of the mini-budgets passed the Senate. Here's a rundown:
- Senate Bill 557: The bill raises the standard deduction for all filing statuses by 7.5% and expands the definition of a holding company so as to cap the franchise tax on those companies to $150,000. S.B. 557 passed 47-3 and heads to the House.
- Senate Bill 578: The bill reduces the franchise tax rate from $1.50 to $0.96 over two years and eliminates the 55% of appraised value method used to determine a corporation's franchise tax base. Additionally, S.B. 578 reduces the qualifying expense threshold for awards from the Film and Entertainment Grant Fund. The bill passed 32-18 and goes to the House.
- House Bill 231: The bill appropriates $15 million in the first year and $30 million the second year for UNC system employee salaries. A little more than $12 million would be appropriated in the first year for N.C. Community College salaries, and $24.8 million in the second year. The bill includes $17 million over two years for UNC faculty retention. The bill passed 48-7 and heads to the House for concurrence.
- House Bill 377: The bill provides $16.3 million in both years of the biennium to provide step increases for principal pay raises. The bill also outlines merit-based bonuses and recruitment supplements for principals. Teachers and instructional support personnel only receive annual step increases, while non-certified school staff don't receive any pay raises in the bill. The bill passed 28-20 and goes to the House for concurrence.
- House Bill 399: The bill makes a variety of tax and financial changes. For one, the bill extends the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit program and the Dry Cleaning Solvent program. The bill also expands the Mill Rehabilitation tax credit program. Sales tax exemptions for certain airlines and professional motorsports teams were also extended. Under the bill, the N.C. Department of Revenue gets $12.5 million in nonrecurring funds for fiscal 2019-20 for tax system upgrades and maintenance, and more than $4 million in nonrecurring funds for each fiscal year of the biennium to contract with a vendor to conduct identity theft and tax fraud analysis. The Senate approved a conference report from the House.