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.”

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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.”

NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina can haOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAve quality schools, accessible health care, a sound transportation system, affordable housing and safe neighborhoods—all of the things necessary to strengthen the economy and grow a strong middle class. We just have to make the choice to build this infrastructure of opportunity.

In recent years, state policymakers have undercut the effectiveness of our public systems, instead enacting tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthiest taxpayers and profitable corporations. Because of those tax cuts and a slow economic recovery, the state doesn’t have enough revenue to adequately support the systems that fuel economic growth.

That’s not how it worked in the past. Coming out of previous recessions, North Carolina quickly reversed the cuts made when times were tight and increased investments in roads, schools, and universities that paved the way for an economy that outpaced many other Southern states.

North Carolina has never looked to other states to show us the way forward. On the contrary, other states in the south have always looked to us for leadership and innovative ideas. Our state created a progressive personal income tax in 1921 that made us a leader in state funding for public education at one the time and further established our reputation as the Great Roads State. We created a community college system that was the envy of the nation. And, more recently, our innovative early childhood programs were held up as a national model.

Today, instead of making investments, policymakers are using the tax system and the state budget to bulldoze the infrastructure of opportunity.

As state leaders create the Fiscal Year 2015-2017 biennial budget, we can encourage them to make investments that are proven to grow our economy and promote financial stability for families and the state government. But we have to acknowledge that they can’t make those investments without the necessary revenue.

Over the next few weeks, experts on a range of issues that support stronger communities, families and economies in North Carolina will share their perspectives here. They will speak not just on where state investments have been and what has been lost in recent years, but they will also share proposed solutions for what North Carolina’s leaders could do to achieve the better outcomes we all seek.

We hope that our leaders will consider how we raise the bar in the budget debate not how we race our neighbors to the bottom.

Commentary

If you’ve been following the uproar and backlash over Indiana’s religious freedom law, you’ll want to read these next two articles:

First, civil rights icon Julian Bond thoughtfully explains why these ‘religious discrimination’ bills cropping up across the nation (including North Carolina) have nothing to do with religion. From Dr. Bond’s op-ed:

bondThese religious refusal proposals tell folks they can pick and choose which laws they want to follow. That individuals can sue not only businesses but teachers, firefighters, and police officers if they believe their religious rights are violated. If a police officer sues his precinct because he is required to patrol a mosque, can laws like the one in Indiana protect him? If a father sues a teacher because she disciplined his child under a community-wide antibullying policy, can legislation like that before the governor of Arkansas put that teacher in jeopardy? These bills are intentionally vague, leaving it up to an overburdened court system to decide whether an individual’s religious beliefs are more important than another person’s basic civil rights.

We oppose these bills because they seek not to preserve or protect religious believers but to demean and exclude LGBT people, religious minorities, and others who may find themselves standing on the outside looking in.

I have seen discrimination. I have stood inside businesses that would not serve me because of my race, and I have been told that the rights of those business owners were more important than mine. I countered that logic then, as I do now. We have no crisis of religious discrimination; we have a crisis of fear. I stand against these bills and with those who are fighting to stop them. I refuse to allow discrimination to cloak itself in a shroud of faith. I refuse to give into fear.

Now click over to Policy Watch’s main site and read today’s Fitzsimon File, in which Chris Fitzsimon pointedly asks in his Tuesday column: Gov. McCrory barks against discrimination–but will he bite?

fitzsimonBoth the bills currently in the General Assembly, the misnamed religious freedom act and the proposal to allow magistrates to refuse services to gay couples, are appalling attempts to give legal authority to discriminate and harken back to the Civil Rights era when segregationists fought to retain the right to discriminate against African-Americans in public accommodations.

If the proposals pass the General Assembly, McCrory will have to decide if he wants to stand with the 21st century version of the segregationists or stand up for human rights and a more enlightened state.

Simply saying he opposes the bills isn’t enough. He needs to make it clear he will veto both of them and force legislative leaders to try to override him, making them go to extraordinary lengths to allow discrimination against thousands of people in the communities they represent.

Click here to read and share Fitzsimon’s full column.