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In case you missed it over the weekend, Patrick Conway, the head of the economics Department at UNC Chapel Hill had an important op-ed in Raleigh’s News & Observer about the true state of the North Carolina economy. As Conway explains, the recent rosy claims of state officials and their apologists in the right-wing think tanks  are ignoring a huge, under-reported issue: 300,000 “missing” workers who have simply evaporated from the workforce. Here’s Conway:

There’s a large disconnect in perceptions of the current state of North Carolina’s labor market.

Gov. Pat McCrory stated a positive view in a recent address in Chapel Hill: “We’ve had one of the largest drops in unemployment [rates] in the country.” His more general contention was that the state’s labor-market difficulties are “being resolved” by tough choices made by his administration.

A contrary view was voiced by a recent letter-writer who said we’re still in the midst of a terrible recession.

These views seem contradictory, but it is easy to reconcile the two. McCrory ignores the 300,000 working-age adults who have dropped out of the labor force since 2010. If we assert that they’re gone, our unemployment rate is a high but acceptable 6.8 percent. If we recognize that these are productive residents who have temporarily stopped looking for work, then our unemployment rate is a terrifying 12.4 percent.

Conway goes on to say that simply ignoring these missing workers will not solve the problem: Read More

Commentary

As reported on N.C. Policy Watch recently, some advocates on the far right — including North Carolina’s own Lt. Governor — have been pushing the radical idea of late that it’s time for a second American constitutional convention.

For those who haven’t given the idea much thought, the dangers that would accompany such a move may not be readily apparent. Thankfully, veteran national policy analyst Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities explained them in a recent column for the Washington Post.

As Greenstein noted, such an event could be a disastrous free-for-all:

The Constitution sets no rules for how a constitutional convention would work. What standards determine whether 34 states have called for a convention? Do all resolutions that state legislatures have ever passed count — even if they called for conventions on very different topics, or were passed 50 or 100 years ago, or were later rescinded, as some have been? Oklahoma, for instance, passed a resolution in 1976 calling for a convention but rescinded it in 2009, citing concerns about throwing the Constitution wide open to unknown changes; some proponents argue that Oklahoma should still count anyway. Can that be right? The Constitution is silent on all of these issues.

That’s just the start.  If a convention were called, how many delegates would each state get, and how would they be selected? How long could the convention last? The Constitution provides no guidance on those questions either.

He continued: Read More

Commentary

UtilitiesNC Policy Watch followers will recall that last week we reported on a an recent and egregious giveaway to big utility companies in which the North Carolina Utilities Commission pulled a mysterious and unforeseen rabbit out of a hat to reverse its own previous ruling from earlier this year.

The case revolves around whether all of the 2013 tax cuts enacted by the General Assembly and Governor McCrory should be accounted for when it comes to computing the rates that regulated monopolies like Duke Energy are allowed to charge ratepayers. In May, the Commission ruled by a 6-1 vote that they must.

A few months later, however, in an abrupt and apparently unprecedented move, three McCrory appointees to the Commission changed their minds and signed on to a new opinion by the Commission chair, Ed Finley, in which the May ruling was summarily reversed and the “exceptions” (i.e. the appeal) submitted by two of the power companies upheld. Parties in the case were not even given a chance to submit arguments on the question.

According to the new majority, the cut to the state’s corporate income tax should not be factored into rates and companies should be free to keep the windfall if they like. According to the three overruled commissioners:

“The Majority’s decision, rescinding, in part, the Commission’s May 13, 2014 Order in this docket, allows the utilities to charge ratepayers in perpetuity to collect for taxes that the utilities no longer pay. The Majority’s decision errs with respect to fairness to ratepayers; errs procedurally with respect to due process and the limitations of the Commission’s right to rescind, alter, or amend an Order; and errs in its content with respect to its legal conclusions.”

As it turns out now — perhaps because of the adverse publicity here and elsewhere — most, if not all of the big utilities are now saying they will not keep the windfall.

This is good news for consumers but it should not be the end of the story. Even if the utilities are too embarrassed to keep their unearned money, the Commission majority’s heavy-handed action was and is still unacceptable and sets a terrible precedent — both with respect to substance and procedure.

Let’s hope that both the Utilities Commission Public Staff and Attorney General Roy Cooper stick to their guns, appeal the matter to the state judiciary and secure an order vindicating the rights of consumers ASAP.

Commentary

Medicaid expansionConservative political support for one of the central components of Obamacare continues to grow. The latest conversion: North Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis.

This is from a story by reporter Craig Jarvis in Raleigh’s News & Observer about Tillis’  televised appearance on Time Warner Cable’s “Capital Tonight” show last evening:

Medicaid: Asked if he thought it would be likely that the state legislature would expand Medicaid coverage after refusing to do so previously, Tillis said it might make sense once the state has better control of the financing of the program, which is notorious for its cost overruns.

He said he didn’t have an ideological objection to expanding the coverage. But he said when the state auditor told the previous governor that money was being wasted on it, the appropriate response would not have been to make it bigger and more costly.

“I would encourage the state legislature and governor to consider it if they’re completely convinced they now have the situation under control,” Tillis said.

In other words, the Speaker is echoing the McCrory administration’s imperfect but mostly encouraging line on the issue. Let’s fervently hope that Tillis’ successor as House Speaker and Senate President Pro Tem Berger adopt this same common-sense stance so that the matter can be disposed of as early in 2015 as possible.

Commentary

Though his background is in architecture, North Carolina Lt. Gov. Dan Forest certainly does seem to fancy himself quite the constitutional law expert. Lately, he’s been tooling around the state with a far right activist who wants to rewrite the U.S. Constitution to return the country to the 18th Century by, essentially, giving the state’s the right to nullify federal laws with which they disagree.

Now, this morning, Prof. Forest has treated the visitors to his website with a cocksure lecture about how the North Carolina  Supreme Court should purport to defy the federal courts and, in effect, nullify their recent rulings on marriage equality. According to Counselor Forest, this will somehow force a “showdown” in the U.S. Supreme Court on the issue.

Maybe Forest has been talking with his buddy and fellow ideologue, Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby, but whatever the source of his latest daft and inappropriate missive, let’s hope he keeps churning them out. After all, as long as we’re talking about “showdowns” in North Carolina public policy, it will be helpful for as many as possible to know that the state’s second-highest elected official is echoing the pro-discrimination/states’ rights values of George Wallace, Lester Maddox and the other mid-20th Century bigots.