Commentary, News

Benefits1. Lawmakers weigh options to reduce state commitment to retiree health benefits

Despite the fact that North Carolina already ranks near the bottom nationally in the generosity of its retiree health plan—better only than Georgia—Senate and House lawmakers met on Monday to mull over ways to address the plan’s looming unfunded liability, with some options including a reduction and even elimination of the state’s commitment to providing its workers with retiree health benefits.

Highlighting an unfunded liability of $25.5 billion for the Retiree Health Benefit Fund that is expected to grow at least another ten billion dollars by 2020, a new legislative report presented to the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee suggests a number of ways to reduce that debt. [Continue reading…]

School-vouchers2. One question voucher scheme supporters never answer

Several months ago on a public affairs television show, the host asked one of the two guests why he was opposed to the school voucher scheme that was upheld last week by the N.C Supreme Court.

The guest cited the lack of accountability in how the program spent taxpayer money and pointed out that students at some voucher schools were being taught that humans and dinosaurs co-existed and that slaves were treated well.

The host seemed taken aback and asked where in the world that was that being taught and was told that many of the roughly 700 schools eligible for taxpayer-funded vouchers are fundamentalist Christian academies that use the A-Beka Book curriculum and books from Bob Jones University Press that include the inaccurate and offensive claims. [Continue reading…]

Lindenmuth3. Ex-head of NC’s public-private economic development group got $30K bonus to stay, left three months later

The former head of North Carolina’s public-private economic development group received a $30,000 “stay” bonus in January, an enticement that only kept him at the new endeavor for three months.

Richard Lindenmuth, a Raleigh business executive, was selected in January 2014 to get the largely publicly-funded Economic Development Partnership of North Carolina off the ground. He had specialized in helping troubled companies but had no prior economic development experience.

The public-private partnership, which received $17.5 million in state funding last year, has been a central piece of Gov. Pat McCrory’s economic development strategy, after state lawmakers granted the McCrory administration’s request to move Commerce’s job recruitment, tourism and marketing arms out of state government. [Continue reading…]

sm-7744. Death penalty secrecy bill headed to governor’s desk

Secret and swift.

That’s what executions in North Carolina would become under a bill headed to the governor’s desk for signature.

Despite recent examples of botched prosecutions here that sent innocent men to death row – Henry McCollum comes to mind – and botched executions elsewhere in the country, state lawmakers this morning adopted H774, which eliminates obstacles that have kept the state from carrying out the death penalty since 2006.

The bill cuts off public debate by exempting the Department of Public Safety from rule-making requirements when executions are involved, eases restrictions on the type of drug used for lethal injections, and allows medical professionals other than doctors to monitor the process.

It also aims to gag opposition. [Continue reading…]

WB-727155.The “history” excuse doesn’t wash either
The most dangerous explanation of Confederate flag and monument defenders for their obstructionism

The ongoing debate over the continued (and, indeed, expanding) celebration of the confederate flag on thousands of North Carolina license plates and the recent enactment of a law forbidding local governments from removing confederate monuments has once again placed North Carolina and its leaders in an unfavorable national light. Even as officials in South Carolina moved to take down the flag from their state capitol, North Carolina leaders seem content to point fingers and shrug their shoulders one day and then double down on defending confederate symbols the next.

All of this is especially embarrassing for Governor McCrory. [Continue reading…]

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Earlier this week, health care advocates across the nation marked a milestone: the 50th anniversary of the Medicaid and Medicare programs.

To mark the occasion, the good folks at North Carolina Health News have put together a useful interactive map, demonstrating how Medicaid benefits the residents of each county in our state.

Here’s a snapshot of how the program benefits Rockingham County, the home county of Senate President Phil Berger:

nchealthnewsmapClick here (and scroll down) to view the full map and read more about how Medicaid provides lifesaving health care to the most vulnerable people in North Carolina.

This weekend, NC Policy Watch will discuss Medicaid expansion on its weekly radio show, News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon.

Joining Chris will be Joan Alker, the executive director of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families.

Alker discusses CCF’s new report on how parents and kids benefit from closing North Carolina’s Medicaid coverage gap.  (CCF recently traveled to North Carolina to release the report in partnership with NC Child and the NC Health Access Coalition.)

Below Alker talks about why Governor Pat McCrory is overdue in presenting  a state-specific plan for Medicaid expansion:

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A week after the state Supreme Court ruled that school vouchers were constitutional, the Rocky Mount Telegram writes it’s time for parents to ask some hard questions about the enacted “Opportunity Scholarship” program.

The editorial board writes in Friday’s paper:

School vouchersPublic schools in the Twin Counties alone have plenty of kids who would benefit from a $4,200 per-pupil stipend every year to attend a private school. Almost 70 percent of the 16,000 students in Nash-Rocky Mount Public Schools and 85 percent of the 7,500 students in Edgecombe County Public Schools are on a free or reduced price lunch program. If just a quarter of all of those students applied for vouchers, where would the state find money for them? And how would a financially decimated public school system pick up the pieces and move on to educate the rest of our kids?

Those are real issues that school boards and superintendents in systems all over the state will have to wrestle with in the very near future.

While those folks are struggling with finances, parents would be smart to ask some questions, also. For example, how does academic performance at the private school I’m considering compare to performance at the public school where my child is currently enrolled?

Good luck finding an apples-to-apples answer to that. Private schools don’t have to test kids by curriculum standards required of public schools by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction. Educators in private schools don’t even have to be certified by anyone to teach.

If the N.C. General Assembly is going to require standardized testing in public schools as part of its accountability policy, shouldn’t it require the same of private schools where voucher recipients are spending public tax dollars?

The Supreme Court might have cleared the air on vouchers in North Carolina, but the remaining questions are likely to leave us in the fog for a while to come.

For more on the recent voucher ruling, listen to Chris Fitzsimon’s Friday radio commentary:

Commentary, News

Today’s must read comes from  Jim Rutenberg of The New York Times. In his latest piece, A Dream Undone, Rutenberg takes readers back to 1956 when Henry Frye (who later became North Carolina’s first black Supreme Court chief justice) was subjected to a literacy test and barred from registering to vote.

Rutenberg then fast-forwards us to 1965 when the Voting Rights Act was signed into law, eliminating such tests and seeking to end the disenfranchisement of black voters. His story goes on to explain:

In the decades that followed, Frye and hundreds of other new black legislators built on the promise of the Voting Rights Act, not just easing access to the ballot but finding ways to NYTactively encourage voting, with new state laws allowing people to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles and public-assistance offices; to register and vote on the same day; to have ballots count even when filed in the wrong precinct; to vote by mail; and, perhaps most significant, to vote weeks before Election Day. All of those advances were protected by the Voting Rights Act, and they helped black registration increase steadily. In 2008, for the first time, black turnout was nearly equal to white turnout, and Barack Obama was elected the nation’s first black president.

Since then, however, the legal trend has abruptly reversed. In 2010, Republicans flipped control of 11 state legislatures and, raising the specter of voter fraud, began undoing much of the work of Frye and subsequent generations of state legislators. They rolled back early voting, eliminated same-day registration, disqualified ballots filed outside home precincts and created new demands for photo ID at polling places. In 2013, the Supreme Court, in the case of Shelby County v. Holder, directly countermanded the Section 5 authority of the Justice Department to dispute any of these changes in the states Section 5 covered. Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, declared that the Voting Rights Act had done its job, and it was time to move on. Republican state legislators proceeded with a new round of even more restrictive voting laws.

All of these seemingly sudden changes were a result of a little-known part of the American civil rights story. It involves a largely Republican countermovement of ideologues and partisan operatives who, from the moment the Voting Rights Act became law, methodically set out to undercut or dismantle its most important requirements.

Rutenburg’s article covers five decades of the struggle to expand voting rights, right up to the the federal trial (North Carolina N.A.A.C.P. v. McCrory) in Winston-Salem that could wrap-up later this week.

Read A Dream Undone here in The New York Times.

For more on the voting rights trial continuing in Winston-Salem, listen to Policy Watch’s recent radio interview with Bob Phillips of Common Cause North Carolina.

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Commentary, News

Governor Pat McCrory’s Transportation Secretary caught many in the state government world by surprise Tuesday with the announcement that he would leave the office immediately.

A press release from the governor’s office explained Tony Tata’s departure this way:

…Tony Tata has resigned as Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Transportation (DOT) to focus on personal and family matters in addition to pursuing his passion as an author.

“Tony Tata has been a valuable partner in our efforts to reform and modernize North Carolina’s transportation system,” Governor McCrory said. “His dedication to the people of North Carolina is in keeping with his long career of service to his community, state and country.”

Tata’s resignation takes effect today. Chief Deputy Secretary Nick Tennyson will serve as Acting Transportation Secretary.

Tata has been one of the more visible members in the McCrory administration, most recently traveling the state with the governor to promote the Connect NC bond proposal.

NCDOT Sec. Tony Tata and Governor Pat McCrory discuss Connect NC bond proposal in late June at Hammocks Beach.  (Photo: Governor's flickr account.)

NCDOT Sec. Tony Tata and Governor Pat McCrory discuss the Connect NC bond proposal in late June at Hammocks Beach. (Photo: Governor’s flickr account.)

Here’s what others on social media are saying about Tata’s departure: