Newsletter from the office of Representative Mary Belk.
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The Mecklenburg Arts & Science Council representatives made a strong case for the cultural and learning opportunities they bring to our communities. 

Town Hall on June 23rd!

Calling all constituents: let me know what’s on your mind! As the Short Session comes to a close, you are invited to meet with me on June 23rd at 1:00pm at the Goodwill Opportunity Campus.

We'll have a representative from the District 26 court, who will talk to us about the new SelfServe Center that allows you to take care of routine legal matters without hiring a lawyer.  I will be presenting information on the 2018 budget, as well as legislative and judicial redistricting. Please plan to join us at my town hall meeting and have your voices heard! 

    Rep. Mary Belk’s Town Hall     
    Date: Saturday, June 23rd, 2018
    Time: 1:00pm - 3:00pm
    Place: Goodwill Opportunity Campus
              5301 Wilkinson Blvd.
              Charlotte, NC 28208
ActionNC organizers Jean Busby, Barbara McCullers, and Betty Washington visited Raleigh to advocate for a gradual minimum wage increase to $15/hour.

Government by the Few

There were a number of choice words floating around the General Assembly last week as the GOP leadership passed their ”‘take-it-or-leave-it” budget through both chambers on a party line vote, without hearings or amendments. I heard fiasco, fraud, sham, travesty, undemocratic, uninformed, unaware, and incompetent, among others. The word “charade” fit perfectly in my mind, as the entire process was “an absurd pretense intended to create a respectable appearance.” 

All of the descriptions illustrated the profound frustration and anger of my Democratic colleagues as we were frozen out of the budget-writing process this year. I was proud of our caucus for sticking together on the budget vote and refusing to dignify it with any of our names. It was such a blatant abuse of the power that one famously conservative Republican (who happens to be retiring), Rep. John Blust, spoke out against it and voted against the final package.    

I have not been a legislator for very long, but my experience with the budget last year taught me that the deliberative process is not just about competing policies and priorities, but also about crafting an effective budget. There are a staggering number of details contained in any state budget and the committee and subcommittee process is designed to break that work up into manageable chunks. Provisions can be reviewed and debated separately before floor debates and ‘final negotiations’ in a conference committee between the two chambers. 

This year, there are a couple glaring examples of details that were missed because the budget was drafted and negotiated in secret. First, the budget failed to fund the statewide suicide prevention hotline, which is particularly important for rural counties that cannot afford to run their own. Even more surprising, funds were appropriated to a school supplies non-profit, but the money was rejected because of the publicly stated policies of the same non-profit. Public debate and deliberation would have brought these issues to light before they became part of NC law. We now require the “technical corrections bill” to fix more than technicalities.   

In addition to problems with the process that created this budget, I cannot support a number of policy decisions included in it, especially the failure to prioritize important items that require immediate funding.

Light Rail: The item of most immediate concern to me as the Representative from District 88 is a provision in the transportation section that appears to make it impossible to secure funding for light rail projects anywhere in North Carolina. All state-funding approvals are now contingent on first receiving funding approval from the Federal government. However, the long-standing policy of the U.S. Department of Transportation is to withhold federal approval and funding until all state and local funds are secured. 

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx agrees the provision amounts to a ‘poison pill’ that will hamstring all light rail projects moving forward. I have witnessed first-hand the amazing transformation that the Blue Line has brought to South Boulevard, and it boggles my mind that the supermajority would sabotage projects that have proven to be such successful economic engines.

Rape Kit Tracking and Testing: Last year’s budget included a small amount of funding to begin the process of collecting and testing thousands of untested Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kits. My committee members were assured that the amount, though small, was just the beginning of a much larger funding stream that would be provided once an inventory of all State law enforcement organizations determined the number of untested kits.

The report from the Attorney General’s office was released in February. It found 15,000 untested rape kits, including over 7000 tied to cases that would qualify for testing under federal guidelines. Yet this budget appropriates ZERO funding to tackle this backlog. The only bill currently under consideration is a ‘study’ bill, which includes no funding to purchase, install, or implement a tracking system to prevent falling further behind.

The Budget that Could Have Been: More than anything, I am frustrated by the continued lack of investment represented in this budget. Whether we’re talking about lack of funding for school supplies and instructional support, misdirected funding that fails to address the full consequences of GenX, Coal Ash, and emerging contaminants in our environment, or the continued failure to expand Medicaid and unlock up to $10 billion in healthcare funding a year, the “Backroom Budget” dictated by the supermajority fails to prioritize issues that my constituents want addressed.

HERE is a chart comparing Governor Cooper’s proposed budget with the final product. I would never expect a majority party to just accept a budget proposal from the other party’s Governor (legislators never do, no matter which party is in charge), but I would expect to have a reasoned and substantive debate. Instead, we were lectured about how we should all be thankful we were ‘spared’ from a lengthy budget process. With all due respect to the supermajority, that’s exactly the work the voters of District 88 sent me here to do, and I would never diminish or shirk that great responsibility.
Mecklenburg County Commissioners and Staff visited the legislature for a working lunch with our House and Senate delegation.

Municipal Charter Schools

Representative Brawley’s Municipal Charter School bill (HB514) passed the House on June 6th, and because it is a Local Bill (meaning it only technically applies to one county - Mecklenburg), the Governor cannot veto the bill and it will shortly be law. The new law allows towns and cities to open ‘local’ charter schools and fund them with municipal property taxes. I wrote before about my position on municipal charters and why they are drastic step to address issues that could be dealt with by working inside the existing structure of CMS.

I fear this bill was initially suggested as a way to get the attention of CMS administrators, but through a series of miscommunications and amid heated rhetoric, it has now passed into law and created a whole new dimension of administrative conflict between our local governments. It’s not hard to imagine a future budget where the State cuts funding for school systems that include municipalities and then expects the cities to make up the shortfall, much the way they treat the large urban counties now. 

After the bill passed, I thought about how the work we do in Raleigh has the potential to profoundly affect the way our communities are built and grow. I believe that we, as North Carolinians, will be able to build a more vibrant, successful, and dynamic society if we all work together to solve a few thorny, underlying issues. Issues like lack of social mobility, substandard education opportunities, and intergenerational poverty. Unfortunately, we’re not going to solve any of those problems by walling ourselves off from one another and ignoring the broader consequences of those choices. 
The new District and Superior Court voting districts for Mecklenburg (Charlotte), Wake (Raleigh), New Hanover (Wilmington), and Pender Counties.

Assault on the Judiciary

Since the end of the long session, the supermajority has been constructing and revising plans to gerrymander the District and Superior Court judicial voting districts, the same way they’ve gerrymandered our General Assembly and U.S. Congressional districts. Their plans for new statewide maps could not get approval, so they settled on SB757, which redraws the lines in Mecklenburg, Wake, and New Hanover Counties. Why those particular counties? Because that’s where Democrats have majorities, and their populations are concentrated in cities. You can find a full set of maps and stat-packs HERE.

The Judicial Branch is a separate and co-equal branch of government that serves as a check and balance on the other branches - a fundamental democratic principle. It must be treated with careful and circumspect respect, not diced up to maximize partisan advantage. The independence of the judiciary is vital to a free and fair democracy. The political scheming of the GOP leadership in the legislature has repeatedly failed because judges of every personal political stripe in courtrooms across the State have agreed.

North Carolina has a Courts Commission made up of legislators, judges, lawyers, and advocates from across the State. Past judicial redistricting projects were collaborative, blue-ribbon reviews that studied caseloads, resource utilization, and the efficiency of court operation, in addition to ensuring equal representation of voters. We need to put the process in their independent hands, where it belongs, not in the hands of politicians who have continually proven they can’t see past party labels. 

I expect SB757 and others like it will continue to be the subject of lawsuits declaring them unconstitutional, as they likely are. It is a sad reflection on the current state of leadership when our underfunded courts are clogged with the endless ill-conceived and consistently unconstitutional legislation coming out of the General Assembly. We must remedy this situation in November.
The 211 system can connect you to a wide range of social services, volunteer opportunities, charitable organizations, and disaster relief.

Our County, Our Community

Have you ever heard of the NC 211 System? The United Way provides an amazing resource for accessing health and human services departments, organizations, and charities in our community, and in communities across America (over 90% of U.S. counties). The best thing about the 211 system is that it works very much like the 911 system - operators are trained to get a caller’s information, listen to their issue or concern, and then refer them to one or more of hundreds of possible state, local, or private resources. 

As just one example, Mecklenburg 211 became the ‘Coordinated Entry’ point for homeless or shelter-insecure individuals. The operators have a series of questions they can go over with callers to determine if they could be helped by rent and utility assistance, if they have children and need to be connected with the women’s shelter, if substance abuse counseling would be helpful, or any number of other factors that might mean they would be better served by one organization or another. This interview and placement process saves the individual many visits and calls to various service organizations and gets them the help they need as soon as possible. 

The 211 system also places volunteers with local charitable organizations, finds places to donate specialty items or skills, and serves as the central non-emergency disaster relief coordinator for North Carolina.

Domestic Violence Hotline: If you or someone you know is trapped in a domestic violence or partner abuse situation, please call Safe Alliance at 704-332-2513 and they can help you.

Mecklenburg Compost & Mulch are now available for purchase from the new Compost Central Recycling Disposal Center. Visit their web page for details and pricing.

Property Tax values and histories in Mecklenburg County can be searched on this site that includes links to Polaris and information about the reassessments that occurred in 2011. You can find more detailed information on real estate values on the Mecklenburg Modria site. 

Charlotte 311 is your connection to city services, including Animal Control, Street Maintenance, Bulky Trash Pick-up, Parking Enforcement, and all other non-police related matters. Dial 311 or visit their website to fill out a form and have your issue addressed as soon as possible.    

Voter Information: You can find your current information on the NC Voter Lookup page. You can also find interactive versions of the new House & Senate maps HERE.   
Don’t forget! Visit today to see if you have unclaimed property under the supervision of the NC Treasurer’s office.

My office is here to help you navigate any issues you may have with state services. Please call myself or my legislative assistant, Ralph Belk, at 919-733-5607 or email me at with any questions or concerns

In the News

For the first time in modern NC history, lawmakers won't allow changes to budget
The News & Observer

Controversial NC charter bill approved. Now, these four towns could open schools.
The Charlotte Observer

CMS Officials, Clergy Threaten Lawsuit Against Charter School Bill

Editorial:  City money for schools? Why that's a false hope
The Charlotte Observer

Opinion:  Sooooie! There's plenty of pork in the state budget
The News & Observer

GOP heading to finalize budget likely without amendments
Associated Press

Catch-22: Triangle Democrats upset over light-rail funding hit
Democrats, Others Shut Out Of State Budget Process

Do we even need a legislature?
Richmond County Daily Journal (Tom Campbell column)

NC Dems Shut Out Of Budget Talks Slam Process
Blue Ridge Public Radio

State Budget’s Potential Winners and Losers Were A Mystery Before This Week
North Carolina Health News

Democrats annoyed at Republican budget process
The News & Observer

Anti-abortion pregnancy clinics and Christian hunting clubs get money in NC budget
The News & Observer

'Birth tax' – The cost of newborn screenings is going up. Republicans say it'll save lives.
The News & Observer

Suicide hotline funding excluded from NC budget proposal, group says
The News & Observer
State troopers could get hit with tuition costs buried in budget
Pollution regulations for Jordan, Falls lakes on hold again in State Budget
Charity refuses to pass NC taxpayer money to schools in one senator's district
Charlotte Observer
Editorial:  A sentence in the proposed state budget could make all future light rail in Charlotte 'impossible'
Charlotte Observer
Sexton: Taxpayers get no say on state budget
Winston-Salem Journal
Our Opinion: Let's not reduce North Carolina's corporate tax rate any lower
News & Record
Our View: Whatever happened to budget debate?
The Fayetteville Observer
No Room For Dissent In The New State Budget Plan
Editorial:  Cut from the NC budget: Democracy
The News & Observer
Education budget shocker could alter the fundamentals of NC school funding
NC Policy Watch
Not just Democrats: Some Republicans slam their leaders for secretive budget process
The News & Observer
Industry gets requested changes on GenX bill
N.C. Legislators Do the Budget Boogie
North Carolina Health News
Acrimonious budget debate roils House
Roy Cooper vetoes state budget
The News & Observer

Cooper vetoes GOP budget, saying it 'doesn't cut it'

Editorial: Gov. Cooper - Veto this bill
Capital Broadcasting Company

Our Opinion: Dark efficiency
News & Record

Editorial: GOP jams budget into law
Wilmington Star-News

GOP Budget Language Affects I-77 Tolls, Light Rail Projects

Thousands of families will get help paying for child care. So why are advocates raising alarms?
The Charlotte Observer

NC attorney general not happy about lack of funding for 15,000 untested rape kits
Spectrum News Charlotte

Proposed NC state budget includes teacher raises, but falls short of expectations

Opinion: GOP’s budget fails on GenX actions
Wilmington Star News

Segregation in 2018? Resistance builds as NC town charter school bill labeled racist
The Charlotte Observer
Mecklenburg County NC House Districts Effective for the 2018 Election 
Copyright © 2018 Representative Mary Belk, All rights reserved.

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