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Friday Forward News Roundup

North Carolina Forecasts Higher Revenue Amid Economic Growth

North Carolina's state government is expected to collect higher revenues than previously budgeted in both this fiscal year and the next, as revealed by a new forecast from economists for the General Assembly and Governor Roy Cooper’s budget office. This fiscal year, which ends on June 30, is projected to see a $413 million surplus, a 1.2% increase, while the next fiscal year anticipates an additional $1 billion, or a 3% increase. This positive adjustment is largely due to stronger-than-expected individual income tax and sales tax collections, underpinned by low unemployment and rising consumer spending. This financial upturn provides the legislature with more flexibility for upcoming budget adjustments and funding for initiatives such as childcare and private school scholarships. (AP)

North Carolina Exceeds Revenue Forecasts, Plans Budget Adjustments Amid Economic Growth

North Carolina's revenue forecast for 2024 has revealed an additional $1.4 billion, surpassing earlier projections that anticipated a "slow-cession." This economic boost, characterized by higher wages, increased retail sales, and lower unemployment, has positioned state lawmakers with substantial fiscal leeway as they reconvene for the new legislative session. House Speaker Tim Moore attributed this financial health to conservative fiscal policies that have enhanced the state's economy. However, concerns persist regarding the sustainability of these gains amidst deep tax cuts and potential inflation and supply chain risks. As the General Assembly prepares to adjust the two-year budget plan, debates continue over prioritizing funding for public needs like childcare and education against the backdrop of uncertain economic conditions. (News & Observer)

North Carolina's Election Funding and Administrative Challenges

North Carolina's State Board of Elections Director, Karen Brinson Bell, has called for increased funding to support election administration, highlighting the critical nature of maintaining operational elections systems. During her address to the Joint Legislative Committee on Elections, she detailed the implementation of new voter ID laws, a changed absentee ballot deadline, and the need for expanded voter outreach as the state navigates 99.94% compliance with ID requirements but faced 1,128 uncounted absentee ballots due to late arrivals under new rules. Brinson Bell emphasized the challenges of staff turnover and the importance of robust funding to assist underfunded counties and ensure smooth election processes amid legislative changes and potential legal battles over election board restructuring. (News & Observer)

Successful Implementation and Future Challenges of Voter ID Laws in North Carolina

During the recent March 5 primary, nearly all in-person voters in North Carolina complied with the state's newly implemented photo ID mandate, showing valid identification as required. The mandate, which was approved in 2018 but delayed by legal challenges, saw over 99.9% compliance among voters, similar to results from earlier municipal elections. Karen Brinson Bell, the state elections Executive Director, highlighted this success while addressing concerns about the potential disenfranchisement of voters who might abstain from voting due to lack of ID. The state has spent $100,000 on an advertising campaign to educate voters about the ID requirements and plans to invest an additional $730,000 ahead of the November elections to further inform the public, especially targeting those without IDs. Despite these efforts, challenges remain, such as staffing issues and continued public and political scrutiny of election administration. (FOX 8)

Delays in North Carolina's Signature Verification Pilot for Mail-In Ballots

North Carolina has struggled to implement a signature verification pilot program for mail-in ballots due to difficulties in finding a suitable vendor. Karen Brinson Bell, Executive Director of the NC State Board of Elections, informed state lawmakers that despite soliciting bids, they have been unable to secure a vendor who can meet the necessary timelines. The program, mandated by recent legislation from the Republican-led legislature, aims to test signature-matching software across 10 randomly selected counties using data from the March primary. Although intended to enhance election security, logistical challenges have hindered progress, and officials may miss the May 1 deadline for a preliminary report. Critics and supporters alike are watching closely, with some skepticism about the feasibility of implementing the program statewide by the upcoming fall elections. (CBS 17)

Controversy Over Changed Early Voting Plan Deadlines in North Carolina

The North Carolina State Board of Elections (NCSBE) swiftly modified its master election calendar following complaints from the state Republican Party about changes to early voting planning deadlines. Previously set for August 2 as a 'best practice' for submitting early voting site plans, Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell informed counties in early April that the new deadline would be May 7, significantly earlier than historical precedents from 2016 to 2022. This abrupt change, made without public explanation, has drawn criticism for potential partisanship, especially as it diverges from the typical midsummer submissions. The update was made to the master calendar shortly after a press release by the NCGOP calling the move "highly unusual and questionable," suggesting it might be an attempt to sidestep ongoing litigation. Local officials expressed concerns about the logistical challenges and potential impacts on electoral transparency and fairness. (Carolina Journal)

Ongoing Debate on Noncitizen Voting in U.S. Federal Elections

Former President Donald Trump recently reiterated his longstanding concerns about noncitizen voting in federal elections during a meeting with House Speaker Mike Johnson at Trump's Florida compound. Despite Trump's claims, extensive audits and studies consistently show that noncitizen voting is exceedingly rare in U.S. federal elections. For example, a 2016 North Carolina audit found only 41 legal immigrants—out of 4.8 million votes—who mistakenly voted without citizenship. These findings highlight the minimal impact of noncitizen votes on election outcomes and underscore the effectiveness of current federal voter registration safeguards, which require an affirmation of U.S. citizenship under penalty of perjury. Critics argue that additional measures to prevent noncitizen voting, such as those proposed by Johnson, could pose risks to valid voters, echoing issues seen in Texas where new checks mistakenly flagged thousands of U.S. citizens as ineligible. (WRAL)

North Carolina Supreme Court to Decide on Eye Surgeon's Challenge to CON Law

Dr. Jay Singleton, an eye surgeon from New Bern, is contesting North Carolina's certificate-of-need (CON) law, which requires him to obtain state approval to perform surgeries in his own facility. Currently, he must use a nearby hospital's operating room, which holds the region's only CON. The state Supreme Court heard arguments, with Singleton's lawyers arguing that the CON law infringes on constitutional rights by creating monopolies. Lower courts have previously ruled against Singleton, upholding the law as a reasonable economic regulation. (Carolina Journal)

North Carolina Bar Owners Partially Win Appeal Over COVID-19 Shutdowns

North Carolina bar owners have won a partial victory at the state Court of Appeals, which ruled that Governor Roy Cooper's executive orders during the COVID-19 pandemic violated their rights to the fruits of their labor and equal protection under the law. The court, however, rejected the argument that the shutdown constituted an unconstitutional taking of property, which would require just compensation. The Appeals Court overturned a prior ruling entirely in Cooper's favor and has remanded the case for further proceedings. The court found that the distinctions made between types of bars in the executive orders were not supported by the scientific data presented, declaring the differential treatment of private bars as arbitrary and not justified by the health outcomes the orders aimed to achieve. (Carolina Journal)

UNC System Board Moves to Eliminate DEI Positions, Stirring Controversy and Student Protests

The UNC System Board of Governors' University Governance committee has approved a policy that would dismantle Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) positions across North Carolina's public universities. This decision, made with no discussion in a brief five-minute open session, mandates the elimination of DEI roles or their dissociation from diversity functions. This policy also threatens to shut down campus centers dedicated to diversity, although universities can still implement programs positively affecting diverse students' academic outcomes. The full board will consider this policy in May, with potential immediate implementation if approved. This move mirrors similar actions in other states like Florida and has prompted significant backlash from students, faculty, and Governor Roy Cooper. (News & Observer)

Moms for Liberty Town Hall Stirs Controversy Over Education in North Carolina

Moms for Liberty, a national organization advocating for parental rights in education, held a Town Hall in Raleigh, N.C., where panelists expressed concerns over what they perceive as public school indoctrination, citing Critical Race Theory and gender ideology as key issues. The event, which drew about 50 attendees, became contentious, leading to a protester's expulsion. The group, which started in 2021 opposing pandemic-related school closures, now aims to limit discussions on gender and race in schools and has pushed for legislative changes like North Carolina's Parents' Bill of Rights. This law bans certain teachings on gender and sexuality in early education. (News & Observer)

Wake County Allocates $7.5 Million to Combat Opioid Epidemic

The Wake County Board of Commissioners has detailed their plan to distribute $7.5 million in the upcoming fiscal year to combat the opioid crisis, with funds aimed at expanding access to addiction treatment and support services. Key allocations include $2 million for evidence-based addiction treatment, $450,000 for treatment in jails, and $1.9 million for recovery support services. The funding also supports naloxone distribution, early intervention programs for youth and families, and initiatives for historically marginalized populations. This financial commitment is part of a broader strategy following a $65 million settlement Wake County will receive over the next 18 years from the national opioid settlement. The county's efforts are in response to a sharp rise in overdose deaths, particularly involving fentanyl, and aim to address underlying causes such as poverty, trauma, and isolation. (ABC 11)

Frontier Communications to Invest $20 Million in Western North Carolina Internet Infrastructure

Frontier Communications has committed to investing $20 million over the next four years to enhance internet infrastructure in western North Carolina, following a settlement with the state Attorney General Josh Stein. This decision comes after complaints about the inadequacy of Frontier's services, including instances of slow or non-functional internet speeds. The settlement, which does not admit any legal wrongdoing by Frontier, also includes a $300,000 restitution payment to assist customers impacted by these issues. Additional terms require Frontier to clearly disclose internet speeds and provide options for customers to cancel service if speeds do not meet advertised levels. This investment aims to improve connectivity in a region where Frontier is the sole internet provider. (WUNC)

North Carolina Hospitality Leader Cautions Buncombe County on Using Tourism Taxes for Affordable Housing

As the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority (TDA) prepares to allocate $9.5 million in LIFT funding, a significant debate has emerged over the use of occupancy tax dollars traditionally earmarked for tourism-related expenditures. The North Carolina Restaurant and Lodging Association (NCRLA) has warned that using these funds for non-tourism projects like affordable housing could face legal challenges, citing a recent court decision against Currituck County for a similar misuse of funds. The controversy reflects a broader discussion on how best to utilize tourism tax revenue, with some local leaders advocating for investment in affordable housing to aid those displaced by the region’s rising cost of living. This approach, however, is contested by others who insist that occupancy taxes should strictly benefit tourism-related projects to comply with legal and traditional guidelines. The outcome of the TDA’s upcoming decision could set a precedent for how tourism taxes are utilized in Buncombe County and potentially influence other regions facing similar dilemmas. (WUNC)

SouthPark Envisions a Walkable Future with $250 Million Revitalization Plan

SouthPark, an upscale neighborhood in south Charlotte, is setting the stage to transform into a walkable community through a comprehensive $250 million Vision Plan. This plan, orchestrated by SouthPark Community Partners (SCP), includes over six dozen projects ranging from park renovations to the creation of new trails, aimed to be completed over the next decade. SCP's initiative starts with a $1 million investment over three years to kickstart the projects, backed by $1.6 million generated annually from the area's municipal service district tax. (Axios Charlotte)

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