News

Want to offer up your two cents about what type of leader should be at the helm of North Carolina’s public university system? Your chance is here.

The University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors are hosting four public forums around the state in connection with its ongoing search for a new system president. There are also opportunities for the general public to provide feedback via email.

UNCsystemThe purpose is to allow the public to provide feedback for the “leadership statement,” which is essentially the job description that will be used to recruit candidates to lead the 17-campus university system.

Of course, it remains to be seen how much input from the public will be taken into account by UNC Board of Governors, who will make the final decision. The board has said it hopes to have a new president announced this fall.

The 32-member board, all of whom received appointments from the Republican-led legislature, opted in January to dump Tom Ross, the system leader since 2011, in a move speculated to have political roots. No concrete reasons other than a general desire for change were given for dismissing Ross, a former judge and Davidson County president who had been hired to lead UNC when Democrats were in control of the state. Ross will stay in his position until 2016.

The input sessions are in:

  • Asheville: 7 p.m. on May 26, at the Sherrill Center (Room 417) at UNC-Asheville’s campus.
  • Greenville: 7 p.m. on May 27, East Carolina Heart Institute (Room 1415) in Greenville.
  • Durham: 7 p.m. on May 28, Mary Townes Science Complex (Room 1111) on N.C. Central University’s campus.
  • Charlotte: 7 p.m. on June 1, Harris Alumni Center in Charlotte.

Information about parking and directions is provided here, on the UNC system website.

Can’t make it but still want to tell the UNC Board of Governors what you think?

The university system is also operating a survey (click here) through May 22, and taking feedback via email and mail.

You can send your thoughts to uncsearch@northcarolina.edu, or mail to UNC Presidential Search, P.O. Box 2688, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27515.

Commentary

Dix campusYesterday’s once-and-for-all, final approval of the Dorothea Dix campus land sale to the city of Raleigh ought to remind progressives of a couple of important facts about the state of modern politics.

First is that there’s still lots of room for intentional public action in shaping the society we want to inhabit. Sure, the Dix property could have been sold off for condos as so many folks on Right Wing Avenue would have liked. The “market” could have had its way with the property and life in the capital city would have gone on, albeit in a diminished state. But, now, thanks to the vision of some inspired people and the loud and repeated demands of thousands of average citizens, the entire community will benefit for decades (maybe even centuries) to come as a result of a modest and collective upfront sacrifice.

If ever there was a classic example of how “the people” banning together can lift up the common good and public solutions and thereby triumph over the forces of greed and privatization, this is one. The Dix deal isn’t perfect (the state continues to do far too little for people with mental illness and disabilities) but it is clearly far superior to what we would have gotten had the decision been left to the market fundamentalists.

That said, the second lesson is this: Though they were dragged kicking and screaming to the deal, the folks on the right wing remain unrepentant. Even as Raleigh moves toward the creation of a major public “destination park,” the privatizers and conservative ideologues continue to push to dismantle all thing public — including institutions like parks, zoos and aquariums that ought to be forever public. Don’t think for a second that yesterday’s  success will stop that effort — either in North Carolina or around the country.

The bottom line: Let’s hope the Dix victory reminds progressives of two things: 1) the power they have when people band together for the common good and 2) the need to redouble their efforts going forward in the battle with those who would sell off our government.

Commentary

Sea-level rise 2For anyone who cares about the North Carolina coast, there is a “must read” in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by one of the state’s top experts on coastal geology.

As Dr. Rob Young explains in an essay entitled “That ‘more realistic’ sea-level report? Not good news for NC,” the notion that scientists have backed off of the troubling predictions that had developers in a lather a few years back is nonsense. Here’s Young:

“There seems to be a grand misimpression that a new sea-level rise report released by the Science Panel of the Coastal Resources Commission is different from a report released in 2010.

Here’s the shocking news: They’re essentially the same. The main difference is that the Science Panel first was asked to look 90 years down the road. The new report looks 30 years down the road. Interestingly enough, the first report includes a projection for 30 years that essentially matches the 30-year projection from the new report.

Any suggestion that the political establishment somehow chastened scientists into producing a ‘more realistic’ report is nonsense. The new report uses the same data sources, plus a few new ones, and the same approach. It even presents the predicted acceleration of sea level rise toward the middle of the century. (Full disclosure, I was an author on the first report but stepped down from the panel before the second report was completed.)

Yes, it is true that the new report includes different projections for the northern and southern North Carolina coast because northeastern North Carolina is subsiding. But the first report clearly acknowledged this difference. Why did the first report choose to use the higher northern Outer Banks rate for its SLR projection? Because the Science Panel was directed by the CRC to report only one number in that report. Had the CRC requested multiple rates, it would have gotten them.

The real lesson from this exercise is that five years of additional data haven’t changed the basic forecasts.”

As Young goes on to explain, the implications of these latest findings are hard and troubling but undeniable and the same as the ones he explained a couple of years ago in an NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation: Unless North Carolina wants to waste vast sums of money and actually make things worse in many places, we need a plan for managed retreat in some communities along the coast. Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The announcement today that North Carolina has paid down its unemployment insurance debt to the federal government is just a first milestone in the path to a solvent system. It is one that has been achieved through a series of harmful cuts impacting jobless workers, their families and communities and an approach that will ultimately reduce the long run potential of the system to serve as stabilizing force in the economy.  So as far as milestones go, the celebration seems premature.

Here are few things to remember about the unemployment insurance debt and the choice that policymakers made to pay employers’ debt with cuts to unemployment insurance for jobless workers.

1. Yes, historic job loss contributed to the need for the state to borrow from the federal government to ensure payments during the Great Recession, but that wasn’t the driver. It was tax cuts in the 1990s that set the system up to fail even before the recession hit.

2. North Carolina’s unemployment insurance system was pretty much middle of the pack on most measures of adequacy, reach and financing when policymakers decided to make their changes to it in 2013.  These changes have reduced average weekly benefit amounts and the number of jobless workers accessing the system.

3. The dollars from cutting benefits for jobless workers contributed the most to debt repayment according to estimates by the Upjohn Institute and Fiscal Research Division.  Nearly two-thirds comes from cuts to benefits and just 0.7 percent from state taxes.

4.  The final payments on the debt mean employers will no longer pay the automatic federal tax increases that were the primary way by which they contributed to the success of this system that benefits them.  The automatic federal tax increases went up $21 per worker each year or, for a full time employee, about a penny for every hour that worker worked. By 2013, employers were paying three cents more per hour worked per employee. Unemployment insurance taxes total represent about 0.1 percent of total business costs.

5. Unemployment insurance taxes are not a barrier to job creation or strong economic performance.  The opposite is the case: ensuring that the unemployment insurance system can serve its temporary and adequate wage replacement function means that employers are less likely to have to eliminate jobs and more able to rebound from a downturn.

Failure to make changes now to the financing of the unemployment insurance system by ensuring that employers contribute adequately and do not receive more tax cuts (as they will under current law) before the Trust Fund is truly solvent will undermine the system’s stabilizing force in the economy.  Future downturns could require more borrowing, benefit cuts or tax increases if policymakers prematurely reduce the state taxes contributed by employers. Failure to revisit the benefit cuts and the harm they have created will undermine the support of this system to the economy.

 

Commentary

One of the more interesting quotes of the day came from Gov. McCrory’s Communications Director Josh Ellis in a story about the NC Chamber  siding with legislative leaders in their dispute with McCrory over appointments to key state boards and commissions.

Ellis didn’t mince any words about the decision by the NC Chamber, a group generally considered as a key ally of McCrory.

It’s a sad commentary that some prefer the good ‘ol boy system that is inefficient, unaccountable and unconstitutional,” McCrory spokesman Josh Ellis said late in the day.

Yikes. That ought to go over well at the chamber headquarters.