Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Transportation Politics + Community Colleges + Pesticide Task Force from NC Justice Center

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May 6, 2008 – In this edition:
· Looking for a way to get politics out of transportation policy
· Property taxes deserve a second look this voting day
· Task force on pesticide exposure fails to take important actions
· High community college enrollment highlights need for funding changes
· New study shows NC’s business taxes are low
· US House protects Medicaid
· Get the scoop on the upcoming session

TRANSPORTATION: Committee Suggests More Politics
Political considerations drive North Carolina’s transportation spending far more than they should. But there has been hope that the legislature’s 21st Century Transportation Committee would come up with suggestions to change that and better align spending with need.
Unfortunately, the most significant recommendation to come out of the Prioritization and Best Practices subcommittee appears to strengthen and centralize political control over the Department of Transportation. The subcommittee suggests giving more oversight power to the Board of Transportation, which is made up almost entirely of political appointees (many of whom are major fundraisers).
What North Carolina needs is a Board of Transportation made up of professionals appointed for their transportation expertise, not their fund-raising abilities.
Ø Progressive Pulse: Less, Not More, Politics in the Roads Business a Key Priority
Ø Justice Center: At the Crossroads – Recommendations for the Future of Transportation in North Carolina
Ø Greensboro News & Record: NC Needs to Repair Its Transportation Funding
LOCAL TAXES: Don’t Forget Property Taxes in the Debate
Voting day is here! In 24 counties, voters are deciding whether to approve a new revenue source to help fund local services and infrastructure – either a .4% land transfer tax or a .25-cent sales tax. Unquestionably, all counties – rural and urban, fast-growing or those with declining economies – have a long list of important needs that justify raising new revenue, from building new schools to repairing aging water and sewer systems. So the real question is, what’s the best way to raise the needed funds?
Voters have heard a lot of talk for and against passing these new revenue sources, but they may not have considered whether the best source is one that’s already in place – the property tax. Property taxes in North Carolina are among the lowest in the country. Compared to the sales and land transfer taxes, the property is a fairer, more adequate and more predictable revenue source that is paid by everyone in the community, including businesses and renters. For many counties, more frequent revaluations and an increase in the property tax rate may be the fairest and best option.
The bottom line is that counties need additional revenue, and this new revenue should be used for savvy new investments, not to replace property taxes.
Ø NC Policy Watch: More Revenue Needed, but May 6 Referenda Should Not Replace Property Taxes
WORKER PROTECTIONS: Pesticide Task Force Punts
Sad and disappointing are the nicest words one can apply to the recent report issued by Governor Easley’s Task Force on Preventing Agricultural Pesticide Exposure. The governor appointed the task force in response to several cases in which farmworkers were exposed to pesticides, with devastating effects for the workers and their families.
The task force adopted only one of the recommendations championed by farmworker advocates – a proposal to outlaw retaliation against workers who report safety violations. Farmworker advocates say Secretary of Agriculture Steve Troxler effectively blocked several reform measures. Efforts to require better record-keeping by growers, to strengthen the penalties they face for pesticide violations, and to allow for confidential complaints were squashed.
Ø Toxic Free NC: Pesticide Task Force Punts on the Tough Issues
Ø NC Policy Watch: Pesticide Task Force Comes Up Short
Ø Raleigh News & Observer: New Pesticide Rules Posed
Ø Raleigh News & Observer: Editorial—De-bugging a Law
COMMUNITY COLLEGES: Better Funding Plan Needed
The weak economy has fueled enrollment increases throughout the North Carolina Community College System. Fall enrollment was up four percent over the prior year, and spring enrollment is likely to be up as well. However, the amount of state money each college gets is largely based on its enrollment from the previous year, so enrollment jumps like these leave community colleges in a budgetary pinch.
For fiscal year 2008, the high enrollments so far have carried an unexpected $12.2 million price tag. In response, the NCCCS has drained all $2 million in its enrollment reserve account, leaving a net unfunded liability estimated at $10.2 million.
The General Assembly needs to take two steps. In the short-term, the legislature should provide the $12 million needed to fully fund the enrollment reserve account. And in the long-term, the legislature should reform how it funds community colleges so the NCCCS can meet the needs of the state’s workforce.
Ø Justice Center: BTC Brief – Community College Crunch: Economic Downturn Drives up Enrollments, Spotlights Funding Challenges
Ø Raleigh News & Observer: Coming Up Short in North Carolina
Ø Raleigh News & Observer: The Jobs are There, but the Money Isn’t
STATE TAXES: Pro-Business Study Shows Taxes are Low
Researchers at the strictly pro-business Ernst & Young and the Council on State Taxation have once again shown that North Carolina’s business taxes are quite low. In fact, when taxes on businesses are calculated as a percentage of Gross State Product, North Carolina’s are the third lowest in the nation.
North Carolina has many issues it must address to assure its competitiveness in the global economy – education, workforce development, transportation infrastructure – but corporate taxes is not one of them.
Ø Council on State Taxation: COST Announces Release of the 2008 Business Tax Burden Study
HEALTH CARE: US House Votes Down Medicaid Cuts
The US House voted overwhelmingly to put a one-year moratorium on new rules for Medicaid that would have cut federal health-care spending for the poor by $13 billion over five years. The rule changes would have restricted access to health care for the nation’s most vulnerable people and would have financially hurt states, many of which are facing budgetary crises.
The moratorium bill had strong bipartisan support in the House, with two-thirds of Republicans joining every Democrat in voting in favor. The only House member from North Carolina of either party to vote against the moratorium – and therefore in favor of the cuts – was Representative Virginia Foxx.
Ø NC Health Report: Two Minutes to Rebut the Right, Medicaid, Raleigh Parent Meeting
Ø CHECK IT OUT! NC Health Access Coalition Director Adam Searing’s latest Health Care Minute videos on the immorality of conservatives’ “individual tax credit” plan and the myth of “socialized medicine”
Ø New York Times: House Passes Bill Challenging Bush on Medicaid Cuts
The flagging economy is increasing demand for Medicaid and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program around the country. Health researchers with the Urban Institute say for every percentage-point rise in unemployment, the number of uninsured Americans jumps by 1.1 million.
Ø New York Times: Study Warns Jobs Losses will Strain Government Health Programs
EVENT: Inside Scoop on the 2008 Legislative Session
The 2008 “short session” of the North Carolina General Assembly starts next week. If you’re looking for the inside scoop on what to expect, be sure to attend a special “Crucial Conversation” luncheon sponsored by two of North Carolina’s leading progressive policy think tanks, NC Policy Watch and the Common Sense Foundation.
The 2008 Short Session: Prospects for the Progressive Agenda will feature special guests Senator Tony Rand and Representative Rick Glazier. This important luncheon will be held on Monday, May 12 at 12:30 pm (please note the later than normal starting time) at the Marbles Museum (formerly Exploris Museum) in downtown Raleigh at the corner of Hargett and Blount streets. Registration is $10.
Ø REGISTER TODAY for this Crucial Conversations luncheon, or call Annette Plummer at 919-861-2067

Listen to NC Policy Watch’s radio show News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon
This week’s topics:
· Dr. Andy Taylor on the run-up to the May 6th primary
· Local option taxes on the ballot
· Mike Darrow on Cover the Uninsured Week
Catch News & Views in Raleigh each Sunday at 7:30 a.m. on WRAL-FM (101.5) and WCMC-FM (99.9), or find a station near you.

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