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TeachersHeadline-hunting legislative leaders got what they wanted and needed (for now) with yesterday’s latest budget announcement. They wanted the story to be first and foremost about big teacher raises and it appears pretty clear that they got that. Media outlets around the state are reporting that central component of the proposed budget agreement this morning and millions of North Carolinians are waking up to the news — even if it’s frequently tinged with skepticism.

The problem with this story, of course is that, by all indications, the pay raise is being purchased at an enormous price — i.e. big cuts everywhere else –including education — along with tiny and inadequate pay raises for other public employees (including education personnel).

In short, though many details remain to be seen, the central and disastrous driving force behind this year’s budget — last year’s regressive and backward-looking tax cuts remain in full force. As budget analyst Tazra Mitchell wrote here yesterday:

There are better choices available that will put North Carolina on a stronger path to recovery for children, families, and communities across the Tarheel state. For starters, lawmakers need to face the reality that we can’t afford further tax cuts and stop the income tax cuts that are scheduled to go into effect next January. Doing so will save approximately $100 million in the current fiscal year and $300 million in the 2015 calendar year. These revenues would go a long way towards reversing the most damaging cuts that were enacted in the aftermath of the Great Recession. That’s a short-term fix.  A longer term fix requires restoring the progressive personal income tax structure so that revenues are stable and more adequate.

The only saving grace of the budget is this: the message it sends to progressives. As dreadful as the budget is — both for the near and long term — it does serve to remind progressives of the power of advocacy. Read More

Veteran Washington Post columnist Dana Millbank gets things just about right in this new essay about the stubborn refusal of the state’s conservative political leaders to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Millbank’s column was inspired by Belhaven mayor Adam O’Neal’s march to Washington that was designed to highlight the plight of his small town that lost its hospital thanks the state’s Medicaid decision:

O’Neal arrived on Capitol Hill carrying his hiking pole and wearing trail shoes, shorts and a “Save our Hospital” T-shirt. He was accompanied by about 250 supporters, most affiliated with labor unions, and by civil rights leaders. The hospital closure disproportionately affects African Americans. But Gibbs is white, and so is Crystal Price, who, with her young son, joined the mayor on the stage.

Price, 27 and an employee at Wendy’s, has no health coverage and spoke tearfully about her cervical cancer. “They don’t want to expand Medicaid, so families like mine .?.?. have to decide if we’re going to pay for our children’s health care or our own,” she said. “How many have to bury their loved ones, and how many children like my own will have to grow up without a parent because you want more money in your pockets?”

For O’Neal, any ideological doubts about Obamacare are dwarfed by the disgrace of a young working mother unable to get cancer treatment.

“I mean, that’s wrong,” he said. “Conservatives — everybody — should think that’s wrong.”

Read Millbank’s entire column by clicking here.

Falls LakeIt’s last-minute sausage making time down on Jones Street and lawmakers are doing their worst to ram through a raft of measures that are of, by and for the well-heeled special interests. See for example the 54-page “technical corrections” bill that was passed by the House last week and that’s scheduled to blitz through the Senate Rules Committee this morning.

On the environmental front, the last-minute mischief is taking many forms, including, as reporter Craig Jarvis of Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning, another industry-designed threat to clean water. This is from Jarvis’ story entitled “Stream buffer protections rewritten by industry, DENR“:

A plan to update regulations that protect streams and rivers was adopted last year after a nearly five-year process that incorporated input from a wide range of interests.

In just five months this winter, the McCrory administration rewrote those rules with the help of private companies that had a financial stake in the outcome – including the company where state Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla once worked….

Environmental groups that had been following the development of the new rules for years were surprised to find out the rules had been rewritten at all. They didn’t find out about it until this month, when a low-profile bill surfaced in the General Assembly that would authorize replacing the rules with the version written by the seven-member group.

“I didn’t even know they had met or issued a report,” said Heather Jacobs Deck, riverkeeper with the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, who was involved with the original rules. “That was a shock. We had no idea. It was a little frustrating to know at the end of the process there were tweaks and other changes. We weren’t part of it.”

None of this is to say that there might not be good reasons to update the rules in this complex and important area. But the fact that the McCrory-Berger-Tillis team is plunging ahead without even informing — much less consulting — the state’s incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated environmental advocacy community is a testament to the bad faith that the state’s conservative political leadership has long brought (and continues to bring) to what ought to be its sacred duty to preserve our air, land and water.

Read Jarvis’ entire story by clicking here. Read the bill in question by clicking here.

more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/28/4036052/stream-buffer-protections-rewritten.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/28/4036052/stream-buffer-protections-rewritten.html#storylink=cpy

 

 

SmokeIn an allusion to the signal that’s seen in the Vatican when the leaders of the Catholic Church elect a new Pope, at least one news media report this morning is talking about “white smoke” being visible on Jones Street. The story accompanying the headline, of course, is that leaders of the North Carolina General Assembly signaled over the weekend that they have agreement on the framework of a state budget deal. Assuming it really comes to fruition, the agreement comes a full month into the 2015 fiscal year.

A closer look at those puffs of smoke, however, reveals them to bear a notably blue tinge — that is, the kind one typically see with an engine that’s leaking oil and about to blow. As Alexandra Sirota details in the post immediately below and Chris Fitzsimon highlights in this morning’s “Monday Numbers,” one important impetus for the agreement would appear to be the latest calculations of the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division staff that the income tax cuts enacted last year are harming state budget revenues even more than had been officially forecast – i.e. more along the lines of what the Budget and Tax Center has been predicting all along.

So, keep in mind a couple of things this week as lawmakers and the Governor are falling all over themselves to issue statements of  self-congratulations:

1) Notwithstanding their rosy claims, the engine driving state government — the tax system — remains cracked and badly in need of an overhaul.

2) The current proposed solution — rolling up the window and ignoring the smoke — will provide only a temporary solution at best.

This morning’s Greensboro News & Record makes some sound points in assessing the split in the federal courts over the Affordable Care Act and the availability of subsidies in states without state-based exchanges.

While the editorial (which is entitled “Save the subsidies”) acknowledges the ambiguity of some of the language in the statute, it also rightfully calls for judges and lawmakers to apply common sense in interpreting and applying it.

As it notes:

“Yet, it [the inartfully crafted statute] could be fixed easily. Congress could pass a technical correction, making plain its original intent that subsidies should be made available across the country. Republicans won’t agree to that, preferring to see the program collapse.

North Carolina could provide a remedy for its residents, creating a state exchange and allowing them to sign up again for coverage. Our state’s Republicans won’t do that, for the same reason. They would rather stick to their opposition, even if more than 300,000 residents lose their medical coverage. It’s all about politics.

For now, after Tuesday’s contradictory rulings, the legal question is still open. Politics seems to influence the courts as well. The three judges on the Richmond panel were appointed by Democratic presidents. The two who produced the majority opinion in Washington were nominated by Republican presidents. If the full D.C. court hears the case on appeal, a reversal is expected because most of the court’s judges are Democratic appointees.

It would be refreshing to see a ruling made on the legal merits of a case, rather than politics.

Also helpful would be consideration for what’s really best for the public. The ACA intends to improve access to medical care. Whether the enrollment mechanism is a federal or state exchange shouldn’t matter, and judges should apply common sense to their final decision.

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.