May 2017

Thanks to everyone who turned out for our first-ever statewide Rural Day. We welcomed to Raleigh more than 300 rural champions from 70 counties across the state. We heard from top state legislative and executive leaders from across the political spectrum. And our leaders heard from us, as our participants met with their elected representatives and interfaced directly with heads of several state departments.

You will soon receive a detailed overview of all that happened at Rural Day, but in the meantime, let me express my deepest thanks. Without your support, your participation, and your voices, this historic day would never have been possible.

Now, it's time to turn the great conversations from Rural Day into action. If you met with your legislators, follow up with them now, and invite them to upcoming events in your town or to your organization to see first-hand the work you're doing for your rural community. If you need more information about the Rural Counts strategies or policy priorities, let me know. The Rural Center is here to support your local advocacy as we work together to carry the statewide torch.

And, I hope you will dig into the details of this month's newsletter. We have focused in May on giving you policy updates at the state and federal levels. The NC Senate passed its budget the same week as Rural Day, and while the budget addresses some of our top priorities for 2017, it also leaves much to be desired for rural economic development. We also have some new information from Washington, as appropriations for this fiscal year have been finalized and as the Trump Administration has continued to establish its staff and agenda.

I hope that you will keep in touch with your elected officials over the next month, thanking them for their support of rural North Carolina and encouraging them to walk the walk with you to create the bright future our communities deserve.

Keep watching for more policy updates, upcoming events, and webinars from the Rural Center, and opportunities for you to get involved to support rural North Carolina at the local, state, and federal levels!

Now, let's strap on those Fitbits and get to walking!

John Coggin
Director of Advocacy

80-County Listening Tour Continues

Now that the Rural Counts strategies are finalized and the program has been launched, the Rural Center has embarked on an 80-county tour of all the rural counties in North Carolina to listen to citizens and leaders discuss local perspectives on statewide issues.

Rural Center President Patrick Woodie and Advocacy Director John Coggin have visited 24 counties so far, hearing about local success stories in education, transportation, health care, and more. They have also gotten feedback about areas where rural communities most need to band together to amplify each other's voices on the rural economic development issues most important to us all.

Last week, the road warriors traveled over 600 miles across eastern North Carolina, making nine stops and talking with leaders from 15 counties in the northeast and coastal regions of the state. The first week in June, we take the tour to seven southwest counties. Interested in participating? Sign up now by clicking the registration links below.

Jackson County Public Library, Sylva
Monday, June 5
12:00 p.m.

Waynesville Town Hall, Waynesville
Monday, June 5
3:00 p.m.

Southwestern Community College, Franklin
Tuesday, June 6
9:00 a.m.

Hayesville Courthouse, Hayesville
Tuesday, June 6
2:30 p.m.

Tri-County Community College, Marble
Wednesday, June 7
9:00 a.m.

Swain County Technology & Training Center, Bryson City
Wednesday, June 7
12:30 p.m.
Waiting for a meeting in your county? Contact John Coggin to schedule a community forum in your town.
An Advocate's Overview of the Recently-released NC Senate Budget

Early morning on Friday, May 12, the NC Senate passed Bill 257, its $22.9 billion budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year. The budget is more than just an allocation of resources. It is a strong statement of what matters...and what doesn' our state leaders. That means it is important for us, as rural advocates, to educate ourselves about the priorities articulated in the proposed budget and to let our leaders know what we think.

Please take a few minutes to read this full overview of the most important parts of the budget, organized by our Rural Counts strategies.

Some items in the budget show a commitment to rural economic development issues. Let your Senators know that these policies show promise for supporting our rural communities.
  • Disaster Recovery - $150 million to long-term recovery after Hurricane Matthew
  • Education - reinstates Teaching Fellows program in NC and creates capital fund for school construction in Tier-1 and Tier-2 counties
  • Health - increases Community Health Grants funding by $7.5 million
  • Transportation - adds $140 million to Strategic Transportation Infrastructure Program (STIP) and $750,000 for planning organizations to pay a portion of the 20 percent match required for federal planning 
  • Rural Philanthropy - doubles funding to the Golden LEAF Foundation
  • Neighborhood Revitalization - gives $10 million in CBDG funding to NC Commerce for work in supporting struggling neighborhoods
Other parts of the budget give us cause for concern.
  • Downtown Revitalization - while we support the additional $950,000 in new funds for downtown development, the fact that most of the new funds are already earmarked to specific towns eliminates competition for those resources. Conducting rural development by earmarks is inefficient and inherently bad policy for the distribution of public dollars.
  • Food Deserts - prohibits any funds from being used to increase availability of fresh agricultural products to food deserts in NC. Policy that inhibits the production and consumption of fresh North Carolina produce benefits no one.

What's next? 

The House should be passing its own version of the budget soon, and then a conference committee will be called to reconcile the differences between the House and Senate versions. The final legislative budget will then be sent for signature or veto to the Governor, who released his own version earlier this year.

The budget is where the rubber hits the road of putting good ideas for rural development into action. There is much to be celebrated in the Senate budget, and there is much left to be desired.

Keep watching for Rural Center updates on budget details as they emerge, and keep in contact with your leaders and make sure they know that when it comes to allocating resources, #RuralCounts.

Want to get a fuller picture of all the bills before the General Assembly this session that pertain to Rural Counts strategies? Check out our NCGA Bill Tracker.

Updates from the Trump Administration and 115th Congress

Much has been happening on the federal level, as Congress has completed this year's appropriations, and the House has passed its Repeal and Replace legislation. We are also keeping tabs on the executive branch, and in particular developments at the USDA. Read our full report, with highlights including:
  • Congress completed the FY 2017 federal appropriations process to avoid a government shutdown and provide funding through September 2017.
  • The House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act by a vote of 217-213 on May 4 to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
  • The Senate approved former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue for USDA Secretary by a vote of 87-11.
  • Congress enacted a bill to overturn a transportation rule and also utilized the Congressional Review Act to block several environmental and education regulations from President Obama's Administration, although efforts to overturn the Bureau of Land Management rule limiting emissions from oil and natural gas drilling failed. 

The Rural Center will keep you up-to-date with federal policy news and updates around the 10 Rural Counts strategies. We encourage you to stay in contact with your elected officials using this handy contact sheet.

Debby Bryant
Federal Government Affairs Consultant

Director of Advocacy
The Rural Center