There could be a worse way to start the year than having American for Prosperity singing the praises of global warming on the pages of the News and Observer, but then again, maybe not.
Why NC lawmakers should fight EPA rules (Raleigh News & Observer/Americans for Prosperity column) -- The Environmental Protection Agency, at the White House’s direction, will soon announce the final version of its “Clean Power Plan.” The initial version of this regulation would have forced North Carolina to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent over the next 15 years.
POLICIES & POLITICS
7 Senate Races To Watch In ‘16 (National Journal) -- Democrats are looking to reclaim their Senate majority in two years, but after losing nine Senate seats in 2014, their path back to that majority won't be easy. Democrats will be benefiting from a favorable landscape, with Republicans defending 24 seats (many of them in blue territory) while Democrats will be defending only 10. So to kick off the new year, here is National Journal's preview of the seven most compelling Senate races in 2016, with the most pressing question that will determine the race's outcome: North Carolina: Can Democrats recruit a credible candidate to run against Sen. Richard Burr? North Carolina should again be a competitive presidential battleground in 2016, but it's not clear whether Democrats have a deep enough bench to seriously challenge Sen. Richard Burr. The party's strongest candidate in the state, state Attorney General Roy Cooper, is running for governor. And the party's congressional bench was decimated after the 2010 midterms and subsequent redistricting, leaving just three Democrats left out of 13 representatives. There's a reason Kay Hagan, despite losing a winnable race in 2014, is being mentioned as the best hope for contesting the seat. Burr has thrived as one of the more anonymous senators, with one recent poll from the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showing that one-third of North Carolina voters have no opinion about him. Yet he's won election twice despite his low profile. That could remain the case in 2014, unless Democrats recruit a star candidate.
Mayor: State office rumors 'speculation' (Greenville Daily Reflector) -- Greenville Mayor Allen Thomas is generating buzz and drawing attention at the national level after being included in a list of potential 2016 U.S. Senate candidates by Politico.
Job statistics don't tell the whole story for local economy (Mountain Xpress) -- On Nov. 21, Gov. Pat McCrory’s office released a statement saying that all of the jobs North Carolina lost during the Great Recession — some 62,000 positions — had been gained back. Not long after, local unemployment numbers started coming in, showing that Asheville had the lowest unemployment numbers among the North Carolina metro areas at 4.1 percent. What does all that mean? Perhaps not what you might think. Tom Tveidt, a 20-year veteran of economic research and owner/founder of Syneva Economics, a local research company, has a wealth of experience with the average person’s misunderstanding of the economy. “Construction jobs are still way down, and that’s where a majority of the losses were. Are those going to come back? Probably not; we’re not going to be in that [construction] boom again. You’re not just replacing what was lost: [The market is] all new. Those people who lost their [construction jobs], they’re not going to get them back. They’ve gone off to do something else.” Patrick McHugh said “One of the most distressing aspects of the last few years is how many of the middle-class positions lost during the recession were replaced with low-wage employment, part-time work and jobs with few opportunities for career advancement.” Noting that the economic recovery has done nothing so far to reduce poverty in the state, he concludes, “If we don’t honestly look at what policy changes are needed to ensure that hard work pays, the economic damage of the recession will become a permanent reality for many North Carolinians.”
McCrory’s Gas Tax Hits Cap, Now 9th Highest in Nation (TWCN-TV) -- With the start of the new year is a start of the new tax rate for gas in North Carolina. The tax is adjusted twice a year and to kick off 2015, the rate will hit its cap of 37.5 cents, making it the ninth highest in the country.
NC seems to burn gas-tax money on everything except roads (Winston-Salem Journal column) -- I admit it. I love those cheesy South of the Border billboards.
2nd judge upholds ruling on McCrory’s firing of ex-ALE director (AP) — A Superior Court judge has upheld a ruling that the former director of Alcohol Law Enforcement should be reinstated to his job as an ALE agent.
Judge sides with John Ledford over firing (Asheville Citizen-Times) -- Former Madison County Sheriff John Ledford has won another round in his bid to get his job back with the state Alcohol Law Enforcement agency. In an order filed this week, a Superior Court judge upheld a previous ruling by an administrative law judge ordering that Ledford be reinstated. Administrative law judge Fred Morrison found that Ledford's firing in 2013 was politically motivated. Morrison ordered that Ledford be given his job back and back pay. "The order (from Superior Court Judge Philip Ginn) is basically saying that it adopts the decision of Judge Morrison in its entirety," said Ledford's attorney, Larry Leake. Ledford, a prominent Democrat, served as head of the ALE from October 2009 through December 2012. But he asked for a demotion to field agent shortly before Gov. Pat McCrory and Republicans took over state government. In April 2013, Ledford was fired from the field agent job. He appealed that firing.
North Carolina Cuts Film Incentives To $10M Per Year (WUNC-FM) -- North Carolina will offer up to $10 million a year until 2020 to encourage video production companies to film in the state, as part of the new incentives package going into effect today. The state's new grant program will give preference to filmmakers who use "economically distressed" locations or show attractions that could promote tourism to the state, according to guidelines drafted by the N.C. Film Office.
NC Democrats look ahead after few 2014 victories (AP) — Democrats still trying to figure out their comeback in North Carolina politics found more obstacles in 2014.
GOP legislators thwart bids to expand Medicaid (AP) — Governors across the political spectrum are hitting a roadblock in their bids to expand Medicaid with federal funds: Republican legislators who adamantly oppose "Obamacare." Partisan politics have driven states' Medicaid decisions ever since the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that expansion was optional, not mandatory, under the new law. Within months, every Democratic governor agreed to expand Medicaid (although Republican legislatures blocked a few of those efforts). Only nine states with Republican governors accepted the offer. Alaska's new independent governor-elect Bill Walker and North Carolina's Republican Gov. Pat McCrory also face serious GOP legislative opposition to their ideas for expanding Medicaid.
Obamacare Exchange Enrollment Busy in N.C. (N.C. Health News) -- Almost a quarter-million people in North Carolina have selected plans through the health insurance exchange in the first month of open enrollment, Nov. 15 through Dec. 15, according to a federal report released Tuesday.
Dems are NOT expecting to enjoy 2015 as much as 2014 (Washington Post) -- A Pew Research Center poll shows that liberals are not looking forward to 2015.
Much of David Duke’s ’91 Campaign Is Now in Louisiana Mainstream (New York Times) – Rep. Steve Scalise’s effort to explain why he accepted a speaking engagement offered by an aide to Mr. Duke in 2002 was a reminder of choices Louisiana Republicans faced in the past.
Five new laws for 2015 (WRAL-TV) -- The last set of laws passed by the General Assembly in 2013 and 2014 go into effect Thursday, including a corporate tax cut and a switch to film incentives.
NC mayor given job after scandal facing voters (AP) — The politician named Charlotte's mayor after his predecessor was busted on federal corruption charges wants to earn the job from voters himself.
Understanding our jail deaths (Greensboro News & Record) -- 12 people have died in Triad jails in the past 5 years.
Durham police concerned for officers' safety after shootings (AP) — Durham police are concerned about their safety after two officers were shot at over the past week.
Libertarian candidate for NC governor announces (Raleigh News & Observer) -- Ken Fortenberry, a retired journalist, is a Libertarian candidate for governor in 2016. He is running to end the war on drugs, lower the legal drinking age to 18, and reduce – and eventually eliminate – the state personal income tax. Fortenberry, 63, edited the Lake Norman newspaper, news@norman, before it merged with the Denver Weekly earlier this year. He previously ran small papers in about a half dozen southern states. He ran in a 2012 Republican Congressional primary against U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry.
Baker caught with pot brownies, arrested. police say (Fayetteville Observer) -- A Southern Pines baker was arrested Tuesday after police said he was found with illicit treats in his vehicle.
91-year-old Vaughan Furniture Co. in Virginia to close (AP) — Vaughan Furniture Co. is planning to cease operations in 2015 after 91 years in business, laying off 24 workers in Virginia, North Carolina and Nevada.
Court orders NC trader to pay more than $1.3M (AP) — A federal court has ordered a Buncombe County man to pay more than $1.3 million for defrauding at least 19 people who invested in his commodities pool.
Brochure touts Oriental as tourist destination. (AP) — The Oriental Tourism Board hopes that a new promotional brochure that was developed during 2014 brings new visitors to the sailing village in 2015.
Funeral services set for veteran educator, civic leader (Wilmington Star-News) -- Funeral services will be held Friday for Lethia S. Hankins
SCHOOLS & UNIVERSITIES
With eye on 2016, Jeb Bush resigns from all boards (Washington Post) -- Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, moving closer to a possible presidential run, has resigned all of his corporate and nonprofit board memberships, including with his own education foundation, his office said late Wednesday night. … In his capacity as an adviser, Bush was “available to run ideas by and discuss concepts” as the firm expanded, said Randy Best, founder of Academic Partnerships, the online education firm that Bush was a part of. He said Bush helped preside over two conferences on the future of education hosted by the firm. Bush and former N.C. Gov. Jim Hunt (D) helped draw a high-powered lineup of speakers, including Hillary Rodham Clinton, the likely Democratic presidential front-runner, who addressed a March meeting on global education. A 2012 report by the Texas Tribune said the company received $105 million in revenue from 24 public colleges and universities, including eight in Texas. Forbes magazine reported in 2013 that the company had contracts with 40 U.S. schools.
Wake County school system wants its own charter schools (Raleigh News & Observer) -- The Wake County school system wants the ability to approve its own charter schools to compete with the growing number of nontraditional public schools in the state.
Professor among 4 fired in UNC academic fraud (AP) — North Carolina's flagship public university is trying to fire a senior professor, accepted the resignation of another faculty member and dismissed an academic counselor for athletes for their roles in the fraud scandal that rocked the school, campus officials said Wednesday.
Professor Among 4 Fired in UNC Academic Fraud (TWCN-TV) -- North Carolina's flagship public university says it's firing a professor who once headed the faculty at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for her role in the academic fraud scandal that's rocked the school.
UNC-CH releases more names of staffers punished in fraud scandal (WRAL-TV) -- UNC-Chapel Hill on Wednesday released the names of two faculty members punished in the wake of an investigation into academic fraud at the school.
UNC identifies employees facing dismissal (Raleigh News & Observer) -- UNC officials, as part of a lawsuit settlement with media organizations, released information related to the UNC scandal.
Schools peppered by strife (Rocky Mount Telegram) -- The fight over more teachers’ pay, the unpopular closing of a longtime elementary school, controversial Internet photos, hiring of a new college president, firing of the head at local charter school and new faces on the school board were a few of the education headlines in the Twin Counties during the 2014 year.
YEAR-END NEWS ROUND-UPS
Top 10 Health Care Stories of 2014 (N.C. Health News) -- Health care in North Carolina was often the big story in 2013, with the debate over Medicaid at the top of the list. But some of our most popular stories of 2014 were small stories that our reporters discovered and readers found interesting, intriguing and significant. This is North Carolina Health News’ list of the Top 10 (actually, 11) health stories of 2014, based on the web traffic these stories received over the year.
Year in Review: Our top stories of 2014 (Carolina Mercury) -- A major election, a coal ash spill, the ACA takes effect, the end of this country’s longest war, lawsuits and court rulings over state legislation, a few natural disasters, several man-made ones and dozens of further reminders that the world is one strange place, all packed into 365 days
Film incentive sunsets; grant fund to start in 2015 (Port City Daily) -- The sun has set on the state’s film incentive, which expires at midnight New Year’s Eve. As revelers welcome 2015, a new film credit—a grant fund program—will begin to take effect in North Carolina. The change has been months in the making, proposed at the start of this year’s legislative session and finalized last month with a set of draft guidelines. But its impact has already started to be felt, and is predicted to continue into the new year.
LOOKING AHEAD: A look at what to expect (Durham Herald-Sun) -- More fallout from UNC paper-class scandal, a mayoral election, more hotels and apartments downtown all are on the radar for the year ahead.
Top stories of 2014: Coal ash (Sanford Herald) -- North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources staff are requesting more information from Charah, the company charged with the moving and storage of Duke Energy’s supply of coal ash, before continuing the permit approval process.
Year In Review: Coal Ash Spill In Dan River (WSET-TV) -- The coal ash spill into the Dan River is an event that's made its mark on the Southside. Duke Energy spilled 37,000 tons of toxic sludge into the river in February. It left the city very concerned and a lot of people urging Duke Energy to be held accountable. On February 2 Duke Energy notified the city of Danville that a pipe beneath their ash basin in Eden, North Carolina broke. It gushed 37,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. As soon as the news broke a wave of concern hit the public. The number one question was is if the drinking water safe or not. In the days, weeks and months ahead Danville and many other environmental agencies tested the water. All results showed the water was never unsafe to drink or bathe in.
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
Wind farm technology enhances prospects for southeastern N.C. (Fayetteville Observer) -- Technological advances are making areas like southeastern North Carolina more suitable for wind farms, energy officials say.
30-year sea-level rise will vary along NC coast, scientists say (Raleigh News & Observer) -- A new scientific report warns that the seas are rising at widely varying rates along the North Carolina shore – ranging from a possible low of 4 inches at Southport to as much as 12.1 inches higher on the northern Outer Banks by 2045.
Loss of Duplin Co. power plant could cost county millions (WNCT-TV) -- After failing to reach an agreement on a new contract with Duke Energy, Coastal Carolina Clean Power (CCCP) in Kenansville could shut its doors for good, laying off 24 employees and losing millions of dollars for the county each year. The power plant and Duke Energy agreed to a six year contract back in 2008, ending December 31, 2014. Without an agreement with Duke Energy, plant officials say it can't survive. "The biggest hardship is just the unknown of what's going to happen," said Stuart Batts, who has worked at the plant for 15 years, and lived in the county for 40 years. In a letter to state officials, CCCP's CEO Larry Richardson estimated the economic impact of closing the plant would be about 15 million dollars each year. Duke Energy released a statement to WNCT saying they had worked in good faith to negotiate with CCCP, but felt the power plant wanted to charge more than fair market value for the energy produced.
4 smart power outlets for energy savings and convenience (Charlotte Observer) -- After decades without much appreciation, wall outlets are now going the way of other home appliances – they are getting smarter. We’re using them to figure out how much power a device is drawing, and we’re pairing them with smartphones to monitor and control our machines.
AAA: U.S. drivers saved $14 billion on gasoline in 2014 (Fuel Fix) -- Analysts expect gasoline prices to remain low for much of 2015, too.
Cumberland commissioners to look at Sanderson Farms incentives package (Fayetteville Observer) -- The Cumberland County commissioners plan to decide Monday whether they want to consider an incentives package for a Sanderson Farms chicken plant.
Smoking ban working (Greenville Daily Reflector) -- Not so long ago it seemed almost inconceivable that tobacco smoke actually could be banned from restaurants and bars.
Full slate of challenges await elected leaders in 2015 (Asheville Citizen-Times) -- We need a federal government that worries more about outcomes and less about political advantage. At the state level the major players are all Republicans, but that doesn’t mean there are no tensions. The houses of the General Assembly frequently have been at odds with each other and with Gov. Pat McCrory. The top issue will be the budget. State leaders are sticking with the theory that lower tax rates will mean more tax revenue, a theory that been disproved time and again yet keeps on being spouted time and again.
Pipeline of prosperity not all it seems (Sanford Herald) -- Dominion Resource’s recent decision to bypass Sanford with a natural gas pipeline is a blessing in disguise.
The dawn of a new year offers hope and yes, some trepidation (Raleigh News & Observer) -- It is a time to wish for all, in particular, those who are disadvantaged and for whom last year was a hard pull, a better and happier time ahead.
State medical examiner system is in need of major surgery (Wilmington Star-News) -- North Carolina's medical examiner system is deficient
How to work at DENR (Weekly Independent column) -- Donald van der Vaart is the new secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, replacing John "oil is renewable energy" Skvarla, who's been whisked off to the Commerce Department. Van der Vaart has been deputy secretary only since August, although previously he worked in air quality and as the department's energy policy adviser, according to the governor's press release. However, these details were missing from Christmas Surprise 2014: Not surprisingly, he's a fossil fuel guy. Van der Vaart worked for Shell and Carolina Power & Light, now a subsidiary of Duke Energy. In 2013, he testified before Congress that only the states, not the federal government, can legally limit greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. And he participated in a clandestine meeting with the feds and energy companies about oil drilling off the East Coast.
Economy, crime remain our top issues here (Fayetteville Observer) -- It's a clean slate this morning, a newborn year setting out to find its identity.
Gov. McCrory Throws One More Insult (Camel City Dispatch column) -- The Order of the Long Leaf Pine has long been considered one of North Carolina’s highest honors. As if to prove that he doesn’t care about North Carolina’s legacy or our heritage, Gov. Pat McCrory has sullied this longstanding honor by giving it to disgraced former State Sen. Thomas Goolsby. Yes… that Goolsby who while in office attacked Moral Monday demonstrators by slinging childish insults. That Goolsby who in September 2014, along with his business partner, was told by the NC Secretary of State’s office to stop their work as investment advisers after their practice came under investigation for defrauding investors. Clearly the bar has been lowered on this honor. … In 2013, 10 people sued then Sen. Goolsby’s Empowered Investor firm, alleging they lost substantial amounts of money when the firm placed their funds into unsuitable investments. The suit named Goolsby as president and James Upham, vice president. Empowered Investor was presented as a portfolio management firm that promoted itself through seminars and a radio program that Goolsby hosts. In fact it was a well-constructed scam.
2015 brings promise and challenges (Winston-Salem Journal) -- It can seem disorienting to consider new beginnings while our side of the earth is in the midst of winter. But here we are poised at the beginning of a fresh new year, and even while the days are short and the nights are long, we can find events to anticipate – as well as challenges to overcome.
A view of 2015 (Greensboro News & Record) -- Our annual fractured forecasts are usually wrong, often silly but always offered with wishes for a Happy New Year.
Headlines we’d like to see (Charlotte Observer) -- We’re looking forward to 2015. Once again this year, we’re sharing some headlines we’d like to see. And who knows? Last year, one headline we hoped for was “Observer wins Pulitzer.”