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January 28, 2021

Political Notebook: Senate Republicans disagree with Cooper administration halting CARES Act spending

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

RALEIGH — Nearly 30 N.C. Senate Republicans in a letter sent to Gov. Roy Cooper last week expressed their disagreement with a decision to halt more than $30 million in coronavirus funds set aside by state lawmakers for rural broadband expansion.

House Bill 1105, passed by legislators and signed into law by the governor in September, allocated the remaining $1.1 billion federal CARES Act funding, with $32 million set aside for rural broadband expansion. The grants supplement the existing Growing Rural Economies through Access to Technology (GREAT) grant program.

Lawmakers’ decision to allocate funding arose out of the concern that the lack of access to broadband service across the state has been exacerbated by the pandemic, which has necessitated thousands of students to attend school virtually.

The North Carolina Department of Information Technology’s Broadband Infrastructure Office is in charge of providing the pandemic relief grant funding to eligible service providers and electric membership cooperatives looking to help bring high-speed internet access to rural areas of the state.

However, the deadline to spend the funds is Dec. 30. Meanwhile, there is currently disagreement between Senate Republicans and the governor’s office about whether federal guidance allows for those funds to be used for such projects by the deadline and whether the federal government would then take the money back.

Following a question related to this issue during a COVID-19 briefing last week, Gov. Roy Cooper said rural broadband expansion continues to be among his priorities, but added that he’d like to see a bond of at least $250 million put into broadband expansion efforts.

Thus, the use of these funds have been halted by the executive branch, which then prompted Senate Republicans, including Sen. Carl Ford, R-33, to send a letter to the governor on Nov. 24 stating they disagree with the governor that using those funds violated federal guidelines. The letter stated they were willing to work through the disagreement and that providers are “committed to working in good faith to meet the Dec. 30” deadline.

“Respectfully, there is room for good faith disagreement over the vagaries of federal guidance on this or any other matter,” the letter stated. “The legislature reviewed all relevant federal rules and concluded, in a supermajority vote, that appropriating CARES Act funding toward rural broadband is an eligible expense. Dozens of other states reached the same conclusion.”

The letter also stated that “these conversations could have occurred in September or October rather than the end of November.” Cooper said in last week’s COVID-19 briefing that U.S. Treasury Department regulations on how to invest CARES Act money is “continuing to evolve and change.”

“We remain optimistic that we can get past this disagreement and work together to deliver broadband to rural North Carolina,” the letter stated, which was then immediately followed by the signatures of 27 Senate Republicans.

 

Three county boards of elections to continue recount this week for state Supreme Court Chief Justice contest

RALEIGH — County boards of elections in Forsyth, Guilford and Mecklenburg counties will resume recounts today in the North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice contest.

Though a deadline to complete the recount across the state was set for Nov. 25, those three counties were unable to meet that deadline due to the hundreds of thousands of ballots cast. All ballots must be inserted into the tabulators to complete the recount.

As of Wednesday morning, the original deadline, at least 91 counties finished their recounting process, according to the North Carolina Board of Elections spokesperson Patrick Gannon.

Rowan County completed its second and final day of recounting on Nov. 20, which resulted in 11 one-stop ballots showing results different from the county’s canvass conducted the previous week. That difference amounted to six fewer votes for the Democrat incumbent Cheri Beasley, and five fewer votes for the Republican challenger Paul Newby.

No change, however, was reported among the 15,620 election day ballots, 175 provisional or 10,258 absentee by mail ballots cast for the general election.

Following the recount, Newby now has 47,448 votes in Rowan County, while Beasley has 24,340 votes.

With other recounts across the state now complete, Newby leads Beasley by 433 votes out of nearly 5.4 million cast. When Beasley called for the recount, she trailed Newby by 409 votes.

The state Board of Elections will announce final results when all counties have completed their recounts. After that, the trailing candidate, within 24 hours, may demand a hand-to-eye recount in a random sample of 3% of precincts in each county.

Meanwhile, both Supreme Court candidates have election protests pending that are likely to be considered by the state board soon, Gannon said in a statement. No hearing date has yet been scheduled.

 

North Carolina’s poet laureate outlines ‘words of gratitude’ on behalf of state in New York Times article

RALIEGH — State poet laureate Jaki Shelton Green emphasized the ways in which North Carolinians “gathered together to take care of each other” this year in an article published by the New York Times last week. 

Gov. Roy Cooper named Green, a poet, teacher and community arts advocate, as the state’s ninth poet laureate in 2018. Poet laureates are appointed by a government and are typically expected to compose poems for special events and occasions and serve as an ambassador to the state’s literature.

“From state and local governances to essential health care workers,” Green stated in the article, “there are innovative community farms, front yard potlucks feeding thousands over a weekend, and virtual arts, cultural and political programming that remind us to remember who we really are as a kind, generous and humble people who thrive close to the land and hold family close.”

Green added that community activists and nonprofits across the state continue the monumental task of fighting racism, classism, gender phobia, sexism, ageism and xenophobia.

“We are thankful for these movements that encourage and facilitate dialogue around racial justice and antiracism in the midst of not-so-hidden racial agendas fueled by white supremacy groups who purposely look to incite violence,” Green stated in the article.

Green continued, “North Carolinians are proud of our strengths and vulnerabilities that hold us accountable to reimagine the possibilities, visions and commitment to creating more compassionate communities for our children. Daily, we are creating the safe spaces and corridors of generosity where we can continue to thrive alone, but together, trusting thattenderness unto the unknown is tenderness unto oneself.’”

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246.

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