MT Raleigh Report: First Thoughts on the NC General Assembly Election Results

MT Raleigh Report: First Thoughts on the NC General Assembly Election Results

MT Raleigh Report: First Thoughts on the NC General Assembly Election Results

After millions of dollars in campaign spending, a gazillion political ads and much gnashing of teeth (as well as far too many tweets), the balance of power in the next North Carolina General Assembly is clear. At the state level, all of that politicking has landed us, well, right back where we started.

Roy Cooper, a Democrat, was elected Governor for a second term. And despite many pundits’ predictions to the contrary, Republicans maintained their control of both the state House and the state Senate – but without the veto-proof majorities they enjoyed in the first two years of Cooper’s first term.

So essentially, the elections have given us the same political environment in Raleigh that we’ve had for the last few years. It’s a political arrangement that has produced a good deal of deadlock – on the budget, on Medicaid, and on climate change to name just a few issues – and seems likely to do so again for the next two years.

Unfortunately, the deadlock is likely to get worse. Next year, lawmakers will face a multi-billion dollar shortfall as a result of the pandemic and its impact on the economy. If lawmakers and the Governor could not come to agreement on a budget before the budget crisis, it’s hard to imagine how they will come to agreement on the budget cuts and/or revenue increases that will be necessary to deal with billions in red ink.

On a more positive note, several legislators from WNC who have worked with MountainTrue to help us protect our rivers and streams will return to Raleigh. Senator Chuck Edwards of Henderson County, for example, is the chairman of a key appropriations committee and has helped us secure funding for water quality testing, spill response and expanded public river access for paddlers and other recreation enthusiasts. Likewise Senator Deanna Ballard, who represents counties in the Watauga River basin, has helped us protect and expand access to the river. This has included funding for the Wards Mill Dam removal project. We are also grateful for the return of Representatives John Ager, Brian Turner and Susan Fisher, who have been champions for the French Broad Watershed and MountainTrue’s legislative agenda.

Elsewhere in WNC, however, Representative Ray Russell of Ashe and Watauga Counties and Representative Joe Sam Queen of Haywood, Jackson and Swain – both solid votes for our region’s environment and strong supporters of MountainTrue – were defeated Tuesday.

And of course, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that MountainTrue’s very own Co-Director, Julie Mayfield, is heading to Raleigh in January to represent Buncombe County in the state Senate seat. Julie will fill the seat that was left vacant when former Senator Terry Van Duyn ran for Lieutenant Governor.

That’s probably enough campaign talk for now. Look for updates about MountainTrue’s legislative agenda soon, but until then thank you, again, for your support of our work in WNC and in Raleigh.

District Seat Now Held By Seat Formerly Held By Counties Represented
House 113 Jake Johnson Jake Johnson Henderson, Polk, Transylvania
House 114 Susan C. Fisher Susan C. Fisher Buncombe
House 115 John Ager John Ager Buncombe
House 116 Brian Turner Brian Turner Buncombe
House 117 Tim Moffitt Chuck McGrady Henderson
House 118 Mark Pless Michele Presnell Haywood, Madison, Yancey
House 119 Mike Clampitt Joe Sam Queen Haywood, Jackson, Swain
House 120 Karl Gillespie Kevin Corbin Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Macon
House 85 Dudley Greene Josh Dobson Avery, McDowell, Mitchell
House 93 Ray Pickett Ray Russell Ashe, Watauga
Senate 45 Deanna Ballard Deanna Ballard Alleghany, Ashe, Surry, Watauga, Wilkes
Senate 47 Ralph Hise Ralph Hise Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Yancey
Senate 48 Chuck Edwards Chuck Edwards Buncombe, Henderson, Transylvania
Senate 49 Julie Mayfield Terry Van Duyn Buncombe
Senate 50 Kevin Corbin Jim Davis Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, Swain

 


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

MT Raleigh Report: First Thoughts on the NC General Assembly Election Results

MT Raleigh Report: Time To Vote Early & Planning For Our 2021 Agenda

MT Raleigh Report: Time To Vote Early & Planning For Our 2021 Agenda

Debates, town halls, early voting, campaign ads and voting rights lawsuits – the election season is at its height! So if you don’t have a plan for voting, now is the time to make one. This is a great week to participate in early in-person voting, which allows you to register or update your voter registration and vote at the same time. Remember that you can vote at any early voting site within your county during the early voting period, but must go to your assigned polling location if you vote on Election Day. You can find early voting sites within your county if you live in North Carolina here and if you live in Georgia here. For more information on early voting, visit MountainTrue’s 2020 voter information page. 

While we all wait to see the results of the election, MountainTrue has already started our planning for the 2021 General Assembly. Earlier this month, we convened a half-day planning meeting to develop our first draft of ideas to protect Western North Carolina’s natural resources. We’ll spend the next few weeks refining these ideas, take in the results of the election and then finalize our legislative agenda in November. 

Our goal is to spend December and January talking to legislators – and to members like you – to build support for our 2021 priorities so we can hit the ground running when the legislature begins its 2021 efforts in January. While our to-do list for next year is still being developed, look for proposals to keep our rivers and streams clean, to improve enforcement of water pollution rules and to fund new investments in paddle trails and public access to our most popular rivers and streams. 

Thank you for supporting MountainTrue, and happy voting!


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

MT Raleigh Report: General Assembly Convenes For Two-Day Session & Preparing To Vote

MT Raleigh Report: General Assembly Convenes For Two-Day Session & Preparing To Vote

MT Raleigh Report: General Assembly Convenes For Two-Day Session & Preparing To Vote

Sep. 1, 2020

Members of the General Assembly return to Raleigh tomorrow for yet another short – very short – two-day session. While Governor Cooper released an ambitious package of budget priorities including pandemic response proposals and bond measures last week, lawmakers are not expected to take up much of those plans. Instead, look for the legislature to focus on a more limited expenditure of some portion of the state’s still-unspent federal COVID-19 relief funds, including a bump in unemployment benefits and new investments in rural broadband to support the rise of online schooling.

For our part, MountainTrue has joined a coalition of environmental and economic justice organizations in calling for lawmakers and Governor Cooper to support substantial new assistance for North Carolinians facing utility shutoffs as a result of the pandemic. The Governor recently announced $175 million in funding “to support rental and utility payments and prevent evictions for those with a demonstrated need.” Unfortunately, more than one million North Carolina residential utility accounts now owe ​at least $226 million in unpaid utility bills as of July 31st – far exceeding the portion of the $175 million that is likely to be allocated specifically for utility bill assistance. Without additional assistance, thousands of North Carolinians will lose access to clean water and electricity as the weather grows colder.

With the election just around the corner, the General Assembly will likely complete its work this week and adjourn, officially ending its 2019-2020 term. But that doesn’t mean lawmakers are necessarily done for the year. There is already speculation that if Congress approves additional pandemic-related legislation this fall, Governor Cooper will call the General Assembly back into session before the new year. If Congress does not act, a return to Raleigh may also be required to appropriate the remainder of the state’s federal aid. Under current rules, North Carolina must spend all federal COVID-19 relief funding by the end of December or return it to the federal government.

Vote For The Environment & Voter Registration Information

The fate of environmental issues in North Carolina will be heavily impacted by the upcoming election. As such, we highly encourage all of our supporters to register to vote, create a voting plan and research the environmental positions of the candidates on your sample ballot as soon as possible.

The deadline to update your voter registration online or by mail is October 9. Online voter registration is now available and free through the NC Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) here. You can also download a registration form for yourself or a near relative here to fill out and mail to your local Board of Elections, or pick up a form directly from your local Board of Elections office. Or, you can register to vote and vote at the same time if you vote in person during Early Voting, which will occur between October 15 and October 31.

If you’re registered or unsure if your registration is current, you can check your voter registration status, find your polling place and see your sample ballot using the NC voter lookup tool here.

As always, thank you for your support of our work in Raleigh to stand up for Western North Carolina’s environment. Stay tuned for more updates from us on activities in the legislature in the coming months.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

MT Raleigh Report: First Thoughts on the NC General Assembly Election Results

MT Raleigh Report: Some Good News at the General Assembly – Really!

MT Raleigh Report: Some Good News at the General Assembly – Really!

Last week, the North Carolina General Assembly completed most of its work for the 2020 session – and among the flurry of late night meetings and last minute bills that are typical of the end of session, there was some good news for Western North Carolina’s rivers and streams. Legislation approved by both chambers of the General Assembly included two modest but important appropriations: $200,000 to help the Department of Environmental Quality better respond to pollution spills, and $100,000 to MountainTrue to expand our water quality testing efforts focused on E. coli pollution.

Both appropriations occurred because they were on MountainTrue’s legislative agenda, and because we’ve worked closely with our legislators for the past two years to secure them.

The funding for DEQ goes back to a petroleum spill in the Watauga River several years ago that MountainTrue’s Watauga Riverkeeper responded to and worked to resolve for months. At the time, spill response by DEQ was delayed because the source of the pollution could not be determined, and DEQ only provided funding to clean up gas tank spills if their source was known. In the absence of any other funds, DEQ did not have the resources to respond quickly, making a bad situation worse.

MountainTrue met with DEQ senior management on the issue, and then began advocating for a state appropriation to DEQ to clean up spills of undetermined origin. After meetings with WNC legislators Rep. Chuck McGrady, Sen. Chuck Edwards and Sen. Deanna Ballard in 2018 and 2019, the funding was included in the legislature’s final budget. Unfortunately, it was not allocated due to disagreement about the state’s spending plan between the legislature and Governor Cooper.

This year, however, the appropriation was included in separate legislation – again with the crucial support of Rep. McGrady, Sen. Edwards and Sen. Ballard. Governor Cooper is expected to sign this legislation into law.

The same bill also includes $100,000 for MountainTrue to expand our water quality testing in the French Broad, as well as other WNC rivers and streams. Our water sampling has brought widespread attention to water quality issues in the French Broad, and the public health impact of bacterial pollution.

E. coli bacteria makes its way into our rivers and streams from sewer and septic leaks and stormwater runoff — especially runoff from animal agricultural operations with substandard riparian buffers. E. coli can indicate the presence of other more harmful microbes, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, and norovirus. Contact with or consumption of contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illness and skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. The state’s investment will allow MountainTrue to do more sophisticated analysis and help us pinpoint the sources of E. coli and related pathogens.

We won these victories because you, our members, made it possible for MountainTrue to fight for WNC’s communities and environment in the legislature. We are the only WNC environmental organization with a permanent presence at the legislature – and that’s because of you all! 

As for the rest of the summer, lawmakers are expected back sometime before July 11 to take up some unfinished business, including veto overrides, before recessing for the rest of the summer. They are scheduled to return in early September to address additional funding for the COVID-19 pandemic. We’ll keep you posted when there are more updates. Until then, we are grateful to be able to celebrate these victories with you!

Do you have a friend who you think would value our Raleigh Report? Spread the word and help them sign up here!

 

 


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

MT Raleigh Report: First Thoughts on the NC General Assembly Election Results

MT Raleigh Report: Politics, Budget Policy and the Pandemic at the North Carolina General Assembly

MT Raleigh Report: Politics, Budget Policy and the Pandemic at the North Carolina General Assembly

With unemployment growing, the economy slowing and North Carolina’s tax revenues plummeting, legislators have made some key decisions that will shape how they are likely to deal with the state’s mounting budget challenges.

While the state’s revenues for the 2020-21 fiscal year won’t be in until the July 15 tax filing deadline, budget analysts expect revenues to be short $1.6 billion for FY19-20 and another $2.5 billion for FY20-21. Together, that is about an eight percent hit to the state’s $24 billion annual budget.

Complicating the budget picture is a long list of unknowns, including:

  • Just how big are the deficits North Carolina is facing? So far lawmakers are using estimates. Actual revenues won’t be known until July 15 – two weeks after the new state fiscal year is supposed to begin on July 1.
  • Can federal COVID-19 relief money be used to fill the state’s budget hole? North Carolina has $2 billion in federal COVID-19 relief money in reserve; state lawmakers are hoping Congress will give them permission to use those funds to address the state’s budget shortfall. But if and when that might happen is anyone’s guess. Complicating matters: under current federal law, all of the state’s federal COVID-19 funding must be spent by December 31, 2020.
  • Will Congress provide more help to states? The US House of Representatives recently approved a COVID-19 relief bill that would provide billions to help states balance their budgets, but support in the US Senate is lukewarm.

Look for Governor Cooper to wait until midsummer to spell out his budget plans.

For their part, GOP leaders at the legislature have opted not to produce a FY 2020-21 budget at all; they will leave the current budget (approved all the way back in 2017) in place. Instead, lawmakers in both chambers have agreed to approve 18 separate bills with a variety of appropriations for a discreet list of projects and programs. Their priorities include capital projects at various state universities and funds to address enrollment growth at public schools. The money for these bills comes from a number of sources, including unspent federal COVID-19 relief funds and monies from other sources that are expected to be unspent when the state’s fiscal year ends on June 30.

After completing these bills in the next few weeks, legislative leaders plan to go home. That would appear to leave balancing the budget to Governor Cooper – unless Congress gives the state a windfall of federal cash to balance the state budget. If that happens, it is unlikely that the state’s budget writers will allow Governor Cooper to decide how such a large amount of money is spent, and they would likely reconvene to appropriate those dollars. If help from Congress does not arrive, lawmakers also have the option of staying at home and leaving the politically difficult task of balancing the budget to Governor Cooper, just a few months before his reelection.

The lack of a budget development process at the legislature is a mixed bag for the environment. For starters, it leaves organizations like MountainTrue with no way to engage lawmakers about much-needed investments to protect our natural resources. On the other hand, it avoids – or at least postpones – the steep cuts that the legislature would likely propose for regulatory agencies that protect our air and water if they attempted to draw up a new budget.

As the legislative session continues, MountainTrue will continue to track the budget process and look for opportunities to fund some of the WNC projects we have promoted in the past – while also opposing any effort to cut state agencies that protect our water and air from polluters. We appreciate your continued support for this work and invite you to follow our policy work in Raleigh on all of our social media outlets. Thanks!


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

MT Raleigh Report: Legislators Discuss How to Hold Safe Elections and State Budget

MT Raleigh Report: Legislators Discuss How to Hold Safe Elections and State Budget

MT Raleigh Report: Legislators Discuss How to Hold Safe Elections and State Budget

May 20, 2020

The North Carolina General Assembly restarted its 2020 session this week, so it’s a good time for a quick update about what’s going on in Raleigh.

After much back and forth about how the session should proceed, the House and Senate Republican leadership decided to open the session this week and work continuously through the beginning of July, when they hope to adjourn. Previously, there had been some talk of meeting briefly this month, then recessing until late June.

The to-do list of lawmakers is likely to be fairly modest. The early weeks of the session will include debates about policy changes and appropriations necessary to hold the November elections safely. Local election officials say they need more money, and that voters need more education about absentee ballots to vote safely. Voting rights organizations have also asked lawmakers to loosen voting restrictions in order to increase access to the ballot and protect public health. Local bills, as well as bills in conference leftover from the 2019 session, may also move.

But the major work of the session will be the FY2020-21 budget – prospects for which could not be murkier. Budget forecasters are predicting a shortfall of several billion dollars as a result of the pandemic. Look for the House, the Senate and the Governor’s offices to agree on a “consensus forecast” for the state’s FY21 revenues late this week or early next. Lawmakers use this forecast as the basis of their budget decisions, and most budget watchers expect it to include a shortfall of $1–$4 billion for the coming fiscal year. In a budget totaling $24 billion, making up a shortfall that large could mean steep budget cuts.

However, how much of that shortfall lawmakers will have to cut their way out of is still very unclear. For starters, the state has more than a billion in reserves that can be used to address the shortfall. Lawmakers have also reserved $2 billion of federal COVID relief dollars, in hopes that Congress will give states the ability to use it to address their budget deficits – an option favored by many Republicans in the US Senate. In the US House, the bill approved last week and backed by Democrats could bring as much as $16 billion to North Carolina. If and when Congress acts on any or all of these proposals will have a significant impact on North Carolina’s budget.

Then there’s the politics of the North Carolina budget, which must be signed into law by Governor Cooper. Last year, the Governor and Republican lawmakers were unable to reach a deal on the budget. Whether the two sides will be able to reach a deal this year – just a few months before an election – remains an open question.

That’s where things stand in Raleigh right now – and of course, it’s all subject to change at any moment. Keep an eye out for future updates about the legislative session and what it means for Western North Carolina.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.