Tuesday News: A taxing proposition


PROPOSED 10% PROPERTY TAX INCREASE IN WAKE COUNTY DRAWS FIRE: While some asked for more money for schools, most speakers at Monday’s public hearings questioned a nearly 10% property tax rate increase in Wake County’s proposed budget. The anti-tax speakers — some holding homemade signs and wearing American-themed costumes — called on Wake County leaders to reject County Manager David Ellis’ proposed 6.36-cent tax-rate increase. Ellis’ $1.47 billion spending plan would raise the county tax rate from 65.44 cents to 71.8 cents per $100 of assessed property value. That increase includes 3.8 cents to fund the education and parks bonds backed by voters this past fall. Wake County is trying to cover the failures of the state legislature’s unfunded mandates, said Kristin Beller, president of the Wake County chapter of the N.C. Association of Educators.

MISMANAGEMENT BY GOP LEGISLATURE LED TO FAILURE IN DISASTER RECOVERY EFFORTS: The report by the legislature's Program Evaluation Division looked at why the release of some federal disaster funds for Hurricane Matthew recovery has been so slow. Basically, the state wasn't prepared to use the money. According to the report, the state hadn't received that type of funding in more than a decade, and the people who used to manage the money no longer worked for the state. Also, shortly before the hurricane hit, state lawmakers moved the spending of those funds from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Public Safety – something DPS had never done before. Laura Hogshead, the director of the state Office of Disaster Recovery and Resiliency, which lawmakers created last year, said administrators had to learn on the job. All of the positions in the Office of Disaster Recovery and Resiliency are temporary, and the report recommends that some become permanent so the state won't find itself in this position after the next big storm.

STEINBURG AND BROWN SPAR OVER WIND ENERGY BAN: Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said he plans to bring back Senate Bill 377, the Military Base Protections Act, which did not pass ahead of this month’s crossover deadline. Brown, one of the Senate’s main budget writers, said he plans to get the legislation back before the Senate as early as this week, but would not do so through the budget process, as some observers had speculated. Meanwhile, Steinburg and others have been making the case against the use of the new map. In an op-ed published May 14 in the Elizabeth City Daily Advance, Steinburg writes that the bill would prevent many of the state’s most economically distressed counties from taking advantage of a potential major boost in their economies. He notes the bill as written violates private property rights and overrides a strict state permitting process and Defense Department reviews. “Fortunately, there are protocols in place by the U.S. Department of Defense Clearing House that will make opposing Senate Bill 377 a no brainer for me,” Steinburg writes in his op-ed, “the military’s mission will be protected, personal property rights assured and free markets will continue to flourish in a part of the state in desperate need of further economic development.”

TRUMP'S MOSCOW TOWER DEAL COMES BACK TO HAUNT HIM: Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former longtime personal attorney, told a House panel during closed-door hearings earlier this year that he had been encouraged by Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow to falsely claim in a 2017 statement to Congress that negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow ended in January 2016, according to transcripts of his testimony that were released Monday evening. In fact, Cohen later said discussions on the Moscow tower continued into June of the presidential election year, after it was clear that Trump would be the GOP nominee. Cohen is serving three years in prison for lying to Congress, financial crimes and campaign finance violations. House Democrats are now scrutinizing whether Sekulow or other Trump attorneys played a role in shaping Cohen’s 2017 testimony to Congress. Cohen has said he made the false statement to help hide the fact that Trump had potentially hundreds of millions of dollars at stake in a possible Russian project while he was running for president.

EPA'S MOVE TO DOWNGRADE DEATHS FROM AIR POLLUTION IS GIFT TO INDUSTRY: The proposed shift is the latest example of the Trump administration downgrading the estimates of environmental harm from pollution in regulations. In this case, the proposed methodology would assume there is little or no health benefit to making the air any cleaner than what the law requires. Many experts said that approach was not scientifically sound and that, in the real world, there are no safe levels of the fine particulate pollution associated with the burning of fossil fuels. Fine particulate matter — the tiny, deadly particles that can penetrate deep into the lungs and enter the bloodstream — is linked to heart attacks, strokes and respiratory disease. “Particulate matter is extremely harmful and it leads to a large number of premature deaths,” said Richard L. Revesz, an expert in environmental law at New York University. He called the expected change a “monumental departure” from the approach both Republican and Democratic E.P.A. leaders have used over the past several decades and predicted that it would lay the groundwork for weakening more environmental regulations.