Commentary

Tom-Ross-116By now you probably know that the UNC Board of Governors, all of whom were elected in the last four years by the Republican majorities in the state House and Senate, voted this morning to force UNC President Tom Ross to resign effective January of 2016. Sarah Ovaska has a good rundown of the meeting and the aftermath.

Rumors about the dismissal started early this morning and were confirmed by the board after a closed session that lasted more than two hours.

There was no public discussion when the board returned to open session, only a vote on a cryptic “employment package” for the president. The board and Ross issued a joint statement  that praised Ross’ performance and said the “timeline for transition was different” between Ross and the board. In other words he was forced out.

After the meeting Ross and Board Chair John Fennebresque met with reporters in one of the most bizarre press conferences you will ever see, with a combative Fennebresque unable to answer a basic question asked by reporter after reporter; why exactly was Ross forced to step down.

Fennebresque said it had nothing to do with his performance, the joint statement said that too. Fennebresque said he was very pleased with Ross’ efforts for the UNC system, that he had been doing a wonderful job.

He said it was not related to Ross’ age—he is 64—and Ross said explicitly that he was not ready to retire. Fennebresque said it had nothing to do with the scandals about athletics and academics at UNC-Chapel Hill, that Ross has handled those situations “admirably.”

And Fennebresque said it had nothing to do with politics either, the hardest answer of all to believe given the rumors about pressure on the board from legislative leaders to make a change.

It was about nothing apparently. UNC President Tom Ross, a man respected throughout North Carolina and across the country for his intellect, leadership and integrity, was being forced out for no apparent reason. Yes, Ross will get a severance and will remain on the job for a year but that is not the point.

He is being dismissed, force to resign before he wants to leave and for no reason that the head of the board that is firing him can identify.

What a cowardly and pathetic decision.

It has to be politics and the folks behind it at least ought to have the courage to admit it.

Supporters of the university and taxpayers across North Carolina deserve at least that much if a sadly overtly political board is firing a leader who they admit is doing a wonderful job running one of the most important public institutions in North Carolina.

Commentary

mc-1Governor Pat McCrory emerged from his much-publicized meeting with a handful of other governors and President Obama at the White House  Tuesday breathlessly declaring that Obama is open to considering waivers to allow North Carolina to crafts its own version of Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act.

But that shouldn’t be news to McCrory or anybody else.  Nine states, most of them with Republican governors, have already expanded Medicaid with waivers from the feds or have been in discussions with the Obama Administration about waivers for their own versions of the program.

Neighboring Tennessee is the latest state with Republican leadership to move forward, with Governor Bill Haslam unveiling a proposal for Medicaid expansion last month. 

Apparently McCrory had to fly to Washington to figure out that the Obama Administration was willing to work with state officials who are developing their own Medicaid plan.  Or maybe he just wanted us to know he was talking tough with Obama.

I presented a very strong argument for more flexibility if we even consider Medicaid expansion, so we can have a North Carolina plan instead of a Washington plan, and especially a plan that would encourage more people to get a job or get training before we expand another government program,” McCrory said after the meeting.

While it’s too bad it took McCrory much longer than many Republican governors to realize the Obama Administration was willing to work with the states to provide health care for people who need it, at least he seems to finally understand it.

There’s also the head-scratching logic that more people will have to get a job before Medicaid is expanded, as if only people who are working need to be able to see a doctor, not to mention the people with chronic illnesses whose lack of access to treatment prevents them from working in the first place.

But maybe now McCrory can get on with what he should have done already, following the lead of his Republican colleagues across the country by expanding Medicaid in North Carolina and providing health care coverage for several hundred thousand low-income people and creating thousands of jobs in the process. It is past time.

Commentary

A Politico story the day after Christmas discussed the “Brownback effect,” the change in some of the most radical tax-cutting rhetoric from Republicans across the country, thanks to the disaster that is the state budget in Kansas after Governor Sam Brownback’s massive tax reductions forced devastating cuts and a downgrading of the state’s credit rating, with more cuts on the way.

It’s a cautionary tale on a national scale … Many of us felt that [Kansas] had been too aggressive,” said Indiana Senate Majority Leader and tax committee chairman Brandt Hershman, who helped GOP Gov. Mike Pence cut corporate taxes last spring. “We all like low taxes … but we have to ensure the stability of a revenue stream to provide basic services that our citizens expect.”

The story doesn’t mention North Carolina but easily could have.  Governor Pat McCrory initially pledged that the tax changes passed in 2013 had to be revenue neutral but never lived up to that commitment.

The tax cuts that went primarily to corporations and the wealthy were initially forecast to cost the state $513 million this year but economists at the General Assembly now say it the tab will be more than $700 million and some analysts believe the cost could wind up being more than a billion dollars a year.

And folks wonder why there’s not enough money for textbooks and toilet paper in the schools.

And it may not stop there. Prominent Republican leaders like Lt. Gov. Dan Forest and Senator Bob Rucho are still pushing to abolish the state income tax entirely, which brings in more than half of the state’s revenue.

If this keeps up, before long folks across the country may be talking about the McCrory/Forest/Rucho effect.

Commentary
Donald van der Vaart, new secretary for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

Donald van der Vaart, new secretary for the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In case you missed it over your holiday break, Governor Pat McCrory named Don van der Vaart as the new Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources to replace Secretary John Skvarla who is moving over to head the Department of Commerce.

Van der Vaart was serving as Deputy Secretary of DENR and as the state’s first “energy policy adviser” according to a press release from McCrory’s office. That means, according to the release, that van der Vaart “focuses on increasing domestic energy exploration, development and production in North Carolina as well as promoting related economic growth and job creation.”

In other words, the new secretary’s previous job was pushing drilling and fracking  and other industry objectives in a department that’s priority is supposed to be protecting the environment.

And that’s not the most disturbing part of his appointment. Read More

Commentary

Patrick McHenryPoliticians of both political parties in Washington are scrambling to defend their support of the pork-barrel-laden budget bill that funds the federal government for the rest of the year—and predictably gives Wall Street a huge break.

North Carolina Congressman Patrick McHenry defended his support of the bill in an especially troubling way, bragging in his weekly update to constituents that the bill slashed funding for the EPA.

Additionally the funding legislation passed Thursday includes a number of important changes including cuts to EPA funding and staffing, cuts that will drop the agency to levels last seen in the 1980s.

That’s quite an accomplishment McHenry is touting, reducing the funding for the agency that protects our water and air and land to the level it was funded 30 years ago.

Wonder if McHenry checked with Governor Pat McCrory before he boasted about slashing the funding.  It was only three months ago when he signed the coal ash bill passed by the General Assembly  that McCrory promised to partner with EPA to  “hold Duke Energy accountable for violations of the federal Clean Water Act at the Eden facility and its 13 other coal plants in the state.”

It will be hard to count on the EPA to do its job as a “partner” in cracking down on coal ash pollution if folks like Rep. McHenry keep crusading to make it unable to do its job.

Unless of course that was the plan all along.