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

School vouchersFolks who support expanding the completely unaccountable school voucher scheme passed by the General Assembly last session were on Jones Street today with a rally and press conference, urging lawmakers to expand the program.

One thing they didn’t mention was that there are no strings at all attached to the public funding that goes to private schools and religious academies, no curriculum requirements, no standardized tests to see how students are doing compared to their public school counterparts, and no minimum requirements for teachers—not even criminal background checks.

They also didn’t mention what some of the kids who receive the vouchers are learning thanks to taxpayer support of their schools.  Guess which one of the following ideas they are teaching in some voucher schools.

A) Dinosaurs and humans co-existed on Earth

B) The Great Depression wasn’t as bad as the liberals made it sound

C) The Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross

The answer is all of them.  Kids at some voucher schools are learning all of those absurd things and many more and Rep. Paul Stam and others want to increase the taxpayer support the schools are receiving.

So much for the current legislative majority’s claim about accountability in spending public money.

And so much for the “sound basic education” the courts have ruled is guaranteed in our state constitution.

Commentary

Governor Pat McCrory was clear two months ago about what he wanted the General Assembly to do as soon as the session convened–pass business incentive legislation. Here’s what he told the N.C. Chamber in early January.

Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday that the state legislature must fund incentives “in a matter of weeks” or North Carolina could lose companies looking to bring jobs here…..

“I do not have the tools that I need,” he said. “I need you to help me work with the General Assembly. That has to be the No. 1 priority in the first two weeks of this legislature.”

The state’s funding for job-creation grants is running on empty, and McCrory had even considered bringing the legislature back to Raleigh in December to act on the issue.

“I cannot be at the negotiating table without knowing what we have in North Carolina to negotiate with,” he said. “I am talking with major job creators right now, and I need these tools.”

The session convened January 14th for a one-day organizational session and then reconvened January 28th to begin its work in earnest. The House did pass an incentive bill last week—six weeks into the session—but the Senate rejected it Monday night and sent it to the Rules Committee where Chairman Tom Apodaca doesn’t seem to be in much of a hurry to take it up.
When the bill came to the Senate on Monday night, leaders sent it to the Rules Committee. A trip to Rules can sometime be an indication that a measure is on the fast track, but for other bills, the committee is a place to languish unheard.
Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca made clear this was not a fast-track sort of assignment.
“We’ve had a discussion about rank and file can accept in terms of an economic development bill, and, to say this bill pushes that limit is an understatement,” said Apodaca, R-Henderson.
So much for McCrory’s two weeks. Senate leaders have other ideas and they are running things in Raleigh these days.
Commentary

Paul Stam 2Rep. Paul Stam was bellowing about the evils of expanding Medicaid on WRAL-TV’s On the Record this weekend. He claimed that every dollar the federal government spends on expansion is being borrowed from the Chinese, which a WRAL fact check story showed to be ridiculous.

He also said that we don’t need to expand the program because the people who would be covered are already getting help.

Most of the people who would be in any kind of Medicaid expansion are already getting large subsidies on the federal exchange, several hundred thousand probably…

Well no, that is simply not true either.

According to Adam Searing, a senior research fellow a Georgetown University who has worked in North Carolina, there are about 357,000 completely left out in a Medicaid coverage gap because they are both ineligible for Medicaid and unable to qualify for help buying insurance on the exchanges. Some 143,000 may be in range of people who make between 100 and 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Some in that range, he said, may have bought insurance. But others may not have been able to, even with help from the subsidies.

Stam’s reaction when confronted with the facts?

During a break in the show, we checked in with Stam regarding his statement on Medicaid. He said he was unaware of how the coverage gap worked

Say what?

If you are keeping score at home, Stam’s case against Medicaid expansion is based on a claim that is not true and he admits that he doesn’t understand how a key part of the program even works.

But he’s opposed to expansion anyway.

Commentary

ApodacaSenate Rules Chair Tom Apodaca decreed from on high Tuesday that bipartisan legislation that would create an independent redistricting process is “dead. It’s not going anywhere.”

Apodaca certainly ought to understand what the legislation sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers that includes conservative Republican Rep. Paul Stam is trying to accomplish, as Apodaca was himself a co-sponsor of a redistricting reform plan three different times, including in the 2009-2010 legislative session.

(Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger sponsored similar legislation five times when he was in the minority)

The hypocrisy of Apodaca and Berger now claiming that redistricting reform is a bad idea after sponsoring it for so many years is troubling enough, but the fact that one member of the Senate can unilaterally decide that a proposal is dead even before it’s introduced is even more outrageous and ought to give lawmakers of both parties pause.

It does make you wonder though. Why fool around with a six month session, long debates, press conferences and briefings, floor votes, amendments and all the rest?  Let’s just let Sen. Apodaca decide up front what passes and what doesn’t.

Think of the time and money we’d save. A banana republic can be very efficient.