We kick off the show talking about education with BEST NC President & CEO, Brenda Berg. She shares her thoughts on the good, bad and ugly of the education portion of the soon to be passed state budget. She says she likes the raises for teachers, especially with the Senate-proposed merit/step raise system remaining in place. Mark mentions that principals are also getting raises. Ms. Berg says we are currently 50th in the nation in terms of what we pay our principals and we have to do better. She says this should involve holding school leaders and teachers accountable for low performing schools because a balance of achievement and academic growth are the key factors in improving education in the state. She also points out a statistic we rarely hear. North Carolina gets an “A” on the Return on Investment it gets from the amount of money spent per pupil. Ms. Berg says the state also needs to continue to focus on elevating educators by providing opportunities for principals and teachers. This is a great interview from which you will learn a lot about how lawmakers are using your tax dollars to better our state’s educational needs.
Next, WBTV Investigative Reporter Nick Ochsner joins Mark. He says revisions to HB2 legislation may not be considered in either the House or the Senate even after a visit by the Governor. Nick says Democratic House members have told him not much was said in their meeting with Governor McCrory. Nick tells Mark about an investigation he’s been doing on coal ash ponds and the safety of the water going to surrounding homes. He explains they started their investigation because the whole neighborhood had concerns about the levels of hexavalent chromium – a toxic contaminant – in their water. Nick says the real rub is that Duke Energy says no wells are affected by the coal ash ponds. He adds that chemists with the Southern Environmental Law Center have shown errors in the way Duke conducted its tests. Nick says the Department of Environmental Quality has some wiggle room in legislation to require Duke continue to provide bottled water to all homes within a certain radius of the coal ash ponds. Mark asks how the people whose water tested in dangerous levels felt about the results. Nick says they were pretty upset. We should all be.
In the second hour, Civitas Executive Vice President Brian Balfour shares the three numbers you won’t hear about in the soon to be passed state budget. The first is $5.5 billion. Brian explains this is the amount of the budget just three decades ago. He says even taking into consideration increases in population, going from $5.5 to $22.3 billion is substantial and should be a concern. The second is 42%. That’s how much of each North Carolinian’s tax dollars are spent to meet budget needs. And the final number is 66% or $14.5 billion which goes to pay state workers and their benefits. Those are three pretty large numbers.
Finally, House Speaker Tim Moore shares his thoughts on the budget. Speaker Moore says he is quite happy with the raises they were able to give to teachers and state employees while still being able to provide a bonus to state retirees. Mark asks how lawmakers hopes to balance growing needs of state employee pensions. Speaker Moore says this is something that will have to be addressed just like funding the state healthcare plan. He says when you see a problem, you have to deal with it instead of continuing to kick the can down the road or you end up in a situation like Detroit. Mark asks what he’s most pleased with in the budget. Speaker Moore says the tax cuts that were passed because they help everyone.
USO-NC President & COO Lt. Col. John Falkenbury, Time Warner Cable News Anchor Tim Boyum and “The Federalist” Senior Editor David Harsanyi join us tomorrow.