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Green jobs as a silver lining

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For at least the past year, the U.S. economy has been in a steady freefall. Last November alone, more than a half-million Americans lost their jobs. Tomorrow we'll know how many received pink slips in December. Unemployment in the U.S. is hovering near 8 percent.

N.C. House Speaker Joe Hackney (D-Chatham, Orange) acknowledged as much during a speech organized by N.C. Policy Watch, a progressive think tank, on the eve of the state Legislature's opening session. But he also pointed to a "confluence of factors" promoting smarter energy policy and green-collar job creation—the kind of ideas that could kickstart the economy and perhaps even improve it.

"We have a president who campaigned on green jobs, spending more money on green energy, a grid, weatherization, and energy programs," Hackney told the gathering of roughly 200. "We have a governor who campaigned on those same types of things. And we have the existence of a stimulus package coming along at that exact same time. I think what this means is, some things that have needed doing for a long time, and which will pay benefits far into the future, are going to get done this time."

Crazier things have happened. Case in point: Barack Obama's election as the country's first African-American president, for many a once unimaginable feat. In addition to education, health care and infrastructure spending, Hackney cited estimates from Obama's proposed stimulus package—which the president is hoping to pass through Congress by mid-February—that would give North Carolina unprecedented funding for energy initiatives ($77 million) and weatherization improvements ($140 million).

"We've never had that kind of money in North Carolina for weatherizing people's homes and businesses," Hackney said.

Though Hackney highlighted the silver lining of a recession that is on pace to be the country's longest since the Great Depression—insisting that this was an "exciting time" for new ideas and pointing to the state's steady growth rate—he didn't ignore the storm clouds ahead. On the plus side, Hackney said, North Carolina is on pace to balance its budget this fiscal year, which ends June 30. That's due in part to across-the-board cuts to agency funding, and what Hackney described as "losses in services, and many changes." The down side? As Hackney put it, "For next year, '09-'10, we have many, many questions."

Beginning tomorrow, state legislators will push for legislation that, they argue, will answer questions like: How do you create jobs, provide essential services and care for the needy, while also balancing the budget? (See our legislative issue tomorrow for some possible solutions.)

"All proposals are eligible and can be thrown in the hopper," Hackney said.

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