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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Senator Jim Davis January 2012 Newsletter

Reprinted from e-mail:



Sen Jim Davis January 2012 Newsletter
Contact Info:
2111 Legislative Building 
Phone: (919) 733-5875
Email for Legislative Assistant: davisjla@ncleg.net
Legislative Mailing Address:
NC Senate
16 W. Jones Street, Room 2111
Raleigh, NC 27601-2808
District: 50
Counties Represented: Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain, Transylvania
District Address: 37 Georgia Road, Franklin, NC 28734
District Phone: (828) 342-4483
REVENUE COLLECTIONS UP FOR FIRST HALF OF YEAR
The following information was provided by Barry Boardman, PhD, Economist, Fiscal Research Division, North Carolina General Assembly (January 10, 2012)
For the first half of the fiscal year General Fund collections are $150 million ahead of the budget target of $9.4 billion. Although collections are currently higher than anticipated, Fiscal Research Division is still cautious about the forecast for the remaining fiscal year.
Despite the current target surplus, concerns persist with respect to the overall revenue outlook.  There are several reasons for this:
First, the current budget surplus is mostly attributable to a surplus in personal income tax collections. While key economic drivers, employment and income, have improved slightly, the more aggressive personal income budget targets scheduled for the rest of the year put a lot of pressure on continued improvement of these key data points.  
Second, when considering the volatile personal and corporate income tax collections in April, along with the more aggressive budget targets scheduled for the second half of the fiscal year, most of the risk resides in the second half. Given the more aggressive budget targets ahead, the usual risks are compounded.
Finally, it is unclear whether the economy has garnered enough momentum to keep moving in a strong, positive direction. Most economists are expecting a slowdown for the first quarter of 2012. Moreover, without a lot of strong-growth signals on the immediate horizon the overall economy is more fragile and susceptible to commodity price shocks (energy, food) and global downturns such as the one underway in the Eurozone.
Therefore, Fiscal Research Division remains cautious towards the prospects of revenues continuing to meet, or exceed, the revenue forecast.  Clearly, having a $150 million surplus after the first half of the fiscal year is a bonus, but Fiscal Research Division is not prepared to say that because of this surplus the overall revenue outlook for the second half of the fiscal year has improved.
RHETORIC AND REALITY
On January 5, 2012 the North Carolina General Assembly successfully overrode Gov. Perdue’s veto of SB 727 – No Dues Check off for School Employees. The legislation ends the practice of the state collecting dues check off payments for members of the North Carolina Association of Educators (NCAE). Their reaction was strong and swift, but ignored many relevant facts.  Read more.
NC LEGISLATORS EDUCATION RETREAT
On January 9-10 I had the privilege of attending the 9th Annual North Carolina Legislators Retreat.  It was well worth the long drive.  The following describes the Sessions I attended:
·        Effective Teaching/Accurate Measures and Strong Support - Teacher quality is the most important school-based factor in boosting student achievement, yet identifying the characteristics of the most effective teachers remains a challenge.  Legislators and experts tackled the importance of new approaches to evaluating teacher effectiveness as well as focused feedback and support for teachers.
·        Teacher Compensation/What’s it Worth?  Alternative teacher compensation plans can be one component of a comprehensive plan to improve teacher effectiveness.  Experts highlighted key components of performance-based pay systems and presented a range of examples that demonstrate how student achievement can be considered in teacher compensation plans.
·        About Face/Turning Around Low-Performing Schools - Our lowest-performing schools are in desperate need for proven strategies that increase student performance, and innovative publically and privately funded programs are bringing fresh ideas to schools across the nation.  Several districts have found success in turning around their lowest-performing schools and the barriers and challenges to bringing that success to scale.
·        Improving Postsecondary Transitions - Only one-third of North Carolina students who took the ACT in 2011 tested at the college-ready level.  At a time when postsecondary education has never been more important for future success, many students struggle with basic college coursework.  Resource experts shared successful efforts that improve the transition from high school to postsecondary education through early identification of readiness and opportunities for students to improve during their high school years.
·        Literacy in the Early Years - A recent study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation indicates that students who are not proficient in reading by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school than their proficient peers.  Strategies for improving early literacy ensure that all students are on a path towards future academic success.
·        Adolescent Literacy/Reading Readiness – Students who have not mastered basic literacy skills in elementary school are likely to falter as they progress through middle and high school, and secondary teachers often lack the training or expertise to teach those skills.  Of the students who do persist to graduation, many are likely to need remediation in reading and writing upon entering a postsecondary program.  New approaches to literacy instruction and learning help adolescent readers to improve.
Note the new “Education Resources” in “Helpful Links” near the bottom of this newsletter.
ENCORE – GOT CASH?
I was surprised to receive only ONE request for the unclaimed property database.  This is not a scam.  It is real and you or someone you know may be on the list for CASH.  I personally know someone who found over $3,000 the state owed them.  Ask for your county’s list and take a look.
NC Cash Unclaimed Property Program
The North Carolina Department of State Treasurer holds nearly $400 million in unclaimed property. With two million properties in the database and nine million North Carolinians, there is almost a one in four chance that a North Carolina citizen has a claim. In the past year, the total number of claims paid was 38,583, totaling over $48 million in unclaimed property that has been returned.  There are constituents from the eight counties I serve whose names are on the unclaimed property list.  If you want to see if you (or someone you know) is on the list, click GOT CASH for information provided by the NC Department of State Treasurer.  If you would like a copy of an EXCEL spreadsheet listing names, please e-mail davisjla@ncleg.net
BERGER, TILLIS STATEMENT ON CHANGES TO JOBLESS BENEFITS
Raleigh, N.C., January 11, 2012 – Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis on Wednesday responded to questions about changes to federal unemployment benefits.
The state budget approved in June extended long-term unemployment benefits in North Carolina until the federal deadline of Dec. 31, 2011. But the U.S. Congress recently extended those benefits for an extra two months, requiring a change in state unemployment law to comply with the new federal law.
Below is a joint statement from Berger (R-Rockingham) and Tillis (R-Mecklenburg):
“The General Assembly is ready to work with Gov. Perdue to resolve this issue.  If Gov. Perdue believes an immediate fix is required, then we encourage her to take the appropriate action and call the General Assembly back for a special session.”
THIRD WORST IN THE NATION, BUT…
North Carolina’s $2.6 billion Unemployment Insurance debt is third worst in the nation. That debt generates both interest payments and federally mandated tax increases. Even after three years of insolvency, state legislators have failed to make any reforms, and the outlook of this fund continues to deteriorate.
But it doesn’t have to remain that way. Recently, North Carolina legislators highlighted their concern with subpoenaed questioning of the chief of the Division of Employment Security. If they proceed to take action and tighten the state’s UI belts in the coming session, the state could repay its trust fund balance of negative $2.6 billion within seven years.  Click on the link below to read more.
REDISTRICTING
Lawyers are arguing over the redistricting case’s future.  Attorneys defending new North Carolina political boundaries asked a panel of judges to throw out lawsuits challenging them on grounds of racial gerrymandering, arguing while the boundaries could be different, they comply with the new rules of redistricting. 
Special Deputy Attorney General Alec Peters said lawmakers followed the guidelines set by the state Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court over the past decade in drawing the lines. Democrats and supporting groups submitted plans that don't follow those rules while creating maps that don't look too different from the maps enacted by the General Assembly last year, Peters contends.  Click on the link below to read more.
LATE NIGHT/EARLY MORNING SESSIONS
I received a few e-mails from constituents unhappy with the House’s and Senate’s recent late night/early morning sessions.  Some claimed “lack of transparency” in government when they woke to learn about these sessions.  While most may have been sleeping, NC legislators were continuing their work.  These sessions were, as always, open to the public with access to the Legislature’s House and Senate galleries or by linking to the real time audio from the General Assembly’s home page (see link near the bottom of this update).
Although Republicans now hold the majority in both the House and Senate, Democrats are not immune to criticism about early morning votes. The 2005-2006 sessions run by House Speaker Jim Black and Senate leader Marc Basnight, both Democrats, accounted for 44 percent of the total votes taken in the early morning hours - the most of any session. And when Black split power in the 2003-2004 sessions with Republican Richard Morgan, the House and Senate held four dozen votes after midnight, the second most for any session. Many of the early morning votes came in sessions that stretched until breakfast. In 2005, the Senate held two votes at 6:21 and 6:23 a.m. - the latest votes for any overnight session - on preventing methamphetamine labs and on legislative studies.
IN THE DISTRICT
It is no secret that the 2010 election brought a wave of new state legislators for the new term. Because of the tremendous amount of change in the legislative session, it is especially important for you to acquaint yourself with your new representatives, learn where they stand on significant issues and how they approach their office and responsibilities.
·        I continue to schedule Town Hall meetings in each of the eight counties I serve.  My purpose for Town Halls is to listen.  I want to hear your questions, concerns, and suggestions.  Notices of Town Hall meetings will be placed in area newspapers, my Senate Updates, and also via other communication forums.  Cherokee and Macon Town Hall meetings were held in November.  Haywood County’s Town Hall is scheduled for January 26, 2012 and Transylvania’s for February 21 (see notices below).  Other counties will be scheduled for early 2012.  I encourage you to attend your county’s Town Hall and invite others to join you.  Town Halls are designed as mutually respectful,non-partisan events.  Please call or e-mail me if you have questions.
Haywood County Town Hall
January 26, 2012
7pm-9pm
HAYWOOD COUNTY COURTROOM of the HISTORIC COURTHOUSE
215 N. Main Street, Waynesville
Transylvania County Town Hall
February 21, 2012
5pm-9pm
TRANSYLVANIA COUNTY LIBRARY
212 South Gaston Street, Brevard
Clay County Town Hall
Plans are underway for February. When plans are finalized, notification will be sent in my second January Senate Update.
·        On January 6, it was my pleasure to join Franklin High School’s Advanced Placement Government Class taught by Bob Kuppers.  I talked to the students about our state’s and government’s federal debt obligation and my impressions from serving as a NC Senator.  I shared with them the difficulty of balancing and prioritizing needs when budget cuts, including cuts to education, were necessary to balance our budget.  The student’s asked some thoughtful questions and my answers were based on facts, rather than rhetoric. 
*Remember that you can listen to the Senate and House (when in session), committee meetings and press conferences on the General Assembly’s website at www.ncleg.net. From the Home page click on the “Calendars” tab to view scheduled sessions and meetings.  The "Audio" tab will allow you to select Senate Chamber, House Chamber, Finance Committee Room, Appropriations Committee Room or Press Conference Room to listen in.



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