Commentary

No, hell has not frozen over and the following excerpt from a story in Upstart Business Journal does not appear to be an April Fools’ joke. Rather, it is the latest sure sign that troubled souls on the American religious right are, blessedly, losing the fight for the hearts and minds of the nation:

“Facing opposition from the world’s largest retailer and his state’s biggest business, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson today backed away from signing a ‘religious freedom’ bill many said would be an open invitation to discriminate against gays and lesbians.

Hutchinson, a Republican who had previously said he would sign the bill passed Tuesday by the Arkansas House, instead asked legislators to revisit the bill and make it more like a federal law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993. ‘I’ve asked them to recall it and change the language,’ Hutchinson said at a news conference….

‘Every day, in our stores, we see firsthand the benefits diversity and inclusion have on our associates, customers and communities we serve,’ McMillan said in a statement posted on Twitter. ‘It all starts with our core basic belief of respect for the individual. Today’s passage of HB1228 threatens to undermine the spirit of inclusion present throughout the state of Arkansas and does not reflect the values we proudly uphold. For these reasons, we’re asking Governor Hutchinson to veto this legislation.’

Other states including North Carolina and Georgia had been considering similar bills. But politicians in those states have slowed down the process since the Indiana firestorm, with N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory, of North Carolina saying, “What is the problem they’re trying to solve?”

Read the entire story by clicking here.

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEditor’s note: This is the latest installment in the “Raising the Bar” — a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina nonprofit leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.  

The past few years have brought a major shift in how the state of North Carolina approaches economic development. Legislation passed in 2014 eliminated the state’s seven economic development partnerships, and replaced them with eight Partnership for Prosperity Zones. These zones were placed under the umbrella of a new public-private partnership to manage North Carolina’s economic development efforts.

The establishment of the public-private partnership signaled a new direction for economic development in North Carolina, one that is focused more on the attraction and retention of high-growth, innovation-focused, large employers and not as much on the businesses on Main Street.

This new direction was reinforced in the state budget. The Fiscal Year 2014 budget enacted major funding cuts to nonprofit community economic development organizations, organizations which play a critical role in ensuring that jobs and investment reach our most under-served and distressed communities. This is particularly true as the state’s economic development structure focuses more on business attraction and retention, and less on local economic development. The Support Center was included in these budget cuts, along with the Institute for Minority Economic Development, the Association of Community Development Corporations, the Indian Economic Development Initiative, the Community Development Initiative, and others.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s 2015-2017 biennium budget continues down this path. The Governor’s job creation proposals speak much about entrepreneurship and investing in innovation. He proposes $15 million annually for the Venture Multiplier Fund, to increase investment in early-stage companies, and $2.5 million annually for the Rallying Investors and Skilled Entrepreneurs program, which would recruit investors and entrepreneurs to the state. A $5 million appropriation for the One North Carolina Small Business Program would also invest in high-growth, high-tech small businesses.

All of these programs, though they are geared toward entrepreneurs and small businesses, do not address the capital or training needs of “Main Street” businesses—the local small businesses that are the backbone of economies in communities across the state. Read More

News
John Fennebresque, UNC BOG chair

John Fennebresque, UNC BOG chair

A subcommittee of the University of North Carolina’s Board of Governors meets in Charlotte tomorrow to talk about the search for a new president of the 17-campus higher education system.

The board’s presidential search nominating committee is holding a public meeting at the McGuire Woods law firm in Charlotte, where UNC Board Chairman John Fennebresque is a vice-chairman at the law and lobbying firm.

Though the meeting is at a private law firm, it is public and open to anyone who wishes to attend. The meeting is from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the McGuire Woods law firm, 201 N. Tryon Street in Charlotte.

The only items on the agenda are a review of past presidential searches and discussion by the committee.

UNC President Tom Ross

UNC President Tom Ross

The 32 members of the UNC Board of Governors, all of whom have received appointments from a Republican-led legislature, are looking for a new president after President Tom Ross was unexpectedly pushed out in January. Fennebresque, the board chair, cited a general desire for change while praising Ross for his leadership and denying that politics played a role in Ross’ ouster.

The state’s open meeting laws allow public bodies (like the UNC Board of Governors) to hold their meetings in areas usually off-limits to the public as long as the general public is allowed to attend, said Brandon Huffman, a Raleigh-based attorney with the Stephens, Martin, Vaughn and Tadych law firm, which specializes in First Amendment issues.

“They can have it there,” Huffman said. “They do have to allow the public the same access as they would at any other venue.”

Read More

Commentary

nc-gas-tax-can-400There a lot of headlines today about the lower gas tax in North Carolina as a result of legislation passed this week by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Pat McCrory. And it’s technically true. The state gas tax went down today by one and a half cents.

One conservative advocate took to Twitter to wish us all “Happy Gas Tax Reduction Day” with hashtags like #toughproblems and #findingsolutions, all to support the legislative leadership and help perpetuate the deception that lawmakers voted to lower our taxes.

But the legislation is a tax increase, not a tax cut. Without the bill, the gas tax would drop by roughly 8 cents a gallon this summer. The legislation cancels that reduction. We will all pay a higher gas tax at the pump for the next few years. That is a tax increase.

There’s a legitimate policy reason for it. The state desperately needs more transportation funding, though it would be easier to accept if the General Assembly also reinstated the state Earned Income Tax Credit to help low-wage workers handle the tax hike.

It would also be nice if legislative leaders would simply own up to the fact they raised taxes because they want more transportation funding instead of playing semantic games.

And in case you missed it, the gas tax increase bill also includes a provision that taxes the mortgage relief granted to help people avoid foreclosure. A WRAL story explains it this way.

There are several programs that help people who have problems paying their mortgages. Several of those programs forgive a large part of the debt people owe on their first house.

Federal tax law does not treat the forgiven debt as income for 2014. However, North Carolina will, meaning those who have recently lost their homes due to the inability to pay will be charged thousands of dollars in taxes.

“That provision is tantamount to saying we’re going to stomp folks while they’re down, and then we’re going to dance on them,” said Rep. Kelly Alexander, D-Mecklenburg.

Higher gas taxes and punishing people struggling to keep their homes. That’s what the legislation does that lawmakers passed and Gov. McCrory signed. Time for new hashtags. #tellusthetruth, #highertaxes  and #punishinghomeowners come to mind.

Commentary

It’s looking more and more like the the pro-discrimination bills in the North Carolina General Assembly masquerading as “religious freedom” proposals are — thank goodness — going nowhere. This morning, you can add the Greensboro News & Record and the Winston-Salem Journal to the list of major news outlets issuing condemnations.

Here’s the N&R in an editorial entitled: “Don’t follow Indiana”:

A Religious Freedom Restoration Act has been introduced in both the N.C. House and Senate, and our state’s Republican governor says he won’t support it.

We urge the North Carolina sponsors to look at Indiana, listen to McCrory and withdraw their bills before any harm is done here….

Large corporations are making it clear they expect their employees and partners — all of them — to be treated fairly in Indiana. Some already are saying the same about North Carolina. The politicians who claim to be ushering in business-friendly policies should be careful that some of their actions aren’t seen as hostile to 21st century corporations.

Indiana Republicans now say they’ll “clarify” their new law, which they insist has been misinterpreted. Actually, it’s seen very clearly for what it is.

We hope and trust McCrory will veto a similar bill in North Carolina, but it will be shameful enough if such a measure even reaches his desk.

And this is from a Journal editorial entitled “‘Religious freedom’ bills would open door to discrimination”:

“State Sen. Joyce Krawiec of Kernersville, a sponsor of the bill, told the Journal’s Arika Herron in an email that ‘…we have an obligation to make sure that North Carolinians’ religious rights are protected.’

But the Constitution already guarantees that. What it most certainly doesn’t guarantee is the right to discriminate against others.

Given our history in the South, we have a healthy fear of any law that might be used to bar members of certain groups from businesses. Blacks rightly won that fight.

Opening the door now to legalized discrimination against any group would take us back toward an uncomfortable and unjust past. As we’ve written before, a separatist society is a greater threat to North Carolina than same-sex marriage ever could be. Inclusion enriches our state, allowing commerce to flow more freely, allowing contributions to society from more quarters and promoting individual freedom.

If our legislature continues on this destructive path, it had best be ready for the backlash.”