Commentary

Speaker Moore’s big whopper about legal aid

House Speaker Tim Moore

As a growing number of editorials in the state’s major news outlets have noted in recent days, House Speaker Tim Moore’s unilateral, backroom decision to slash funding for Legal Aid of North Carolina is an example of modern North Carolina politics at their absolute worst.

This is from last Tuesday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer:

To the list of legislative actions that have slapped the poor across their faces in North Carolina – no Medicaid expansion, higher sales taxes, tax cuts for the wealthy that have to be made up by those taxes – add reductions in state money for legal aid services. Assistance for several legal aid programs in the state has been reduced drastically in the last few years by Republicans in the General Assembly, who’ve conducted a one-sided war against the poor since taking control of the legislature.

The legal aid cuts done in the name of budget-balancing but now said by longtime observers to likely be permanent deny the poor a fair shake in the complicated legal system. That might mean a handicapped person can’t get access to a wheelchair, or worse, it might result in someone unjustly being thrown out of an apartment.

What’s more the decision is premised on a blatant falsehood. As this morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com rightfully observes:

Weeks after the budget was passed and rammed into law over the veto of Gov. Roy Cooper, Moore told reporters: “There were examples being brought to a number of us, where for example you had a ‘mom and pop’ who were landlords in a lease and where they were coming in and getting served with discovery and all these things and a lot of frivolous motions.”

Moore then left it to his press aide, Joseph Kyzer, to refuse to provide any details of the supposed complaints. “It wouldn’t be appropriate for our office to comment about actual cases,” Kyzer said.

Say what? A huge budget cut and then the Speaker’s office stonewalls the public about the reasoning?

In other words, this is just hogwash. Legal Aid doesn’t have enough lawyers or time to be taking frivolous actions of this kind — certainly not on any kind of scale that would warrant punishing the entire organization or the thousands of poor people it serves. If Moore has actual evidence of such behavior, he is a lawyer and a member of the bar and he ought to take action through the appropriate channels to expose and seek sanctions against the lawyers he is accusing. To simply slash the program and punish the people it serves based on such vague and flimsy allegations is just the latest in a long line of embarrassing decisions by the Speaker and his minions.

Commentary, News

New report: DACA program a success in North Carolina

The N.C. Budget and Tax Center is out with a new report today about DACA — the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program implemented under President Obama. Its conclusion: the program is a success that we should build on:

“The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy was initially introduced in 2012 by President Obama to address the needs of some undocumented immigrants who had arrived to the United States as minors — a subpopulation within the undocumented immigrant community. DACA provides temporary protection from deportation and work authorization (applicants must apply for renewal after two years), and has led to an increase in employment opportunities and participation in higher education among many beneficiaries. Since its inception, approximately 1.5 million individuals have enrolled in the program. In North Carolina, there are currently 49,712 DACA beneficiaries. In the five years since its inception, DACA has proven to be an effective strategy for boosting beneficiaries’ wages, employment opportunities, and education. While there are several shortcomings to this policy, DACA has been a good first step in addressing our outdated immigration system.”

After examining some of the many benefits DACA has produced, some of its shortcomings and the dangers that would result from ending the program, the report offers three specific recommendations for moving forward:

  1. In-State Tuition. The high cost of higher education continues to be a barrier to college for many DACA beneficiaries. Pursuant to state policy, undocumented students are considered “out-of-state” for tuition purposes and are therefore required to pay out-of-state tuition, despite the fact that many have lived in North Carolina long enough to otherwise qualify as state residents. Additionally, beneficiaries are not eligible for federal financial aid and must instead lean on personal savings, private scholarships and high-interest private loans to cover tuition and college-related costs. Therefore, one policy change would be to increase DACA beneficiaries’ access to higher education by recognizing their state residency for tuition purposes.
  2. Access to Occupational and Professional Licenses. Another way policymakers can strengthen outcomes among beneficiaries is by making them eligible for occupational and professional licenses. In North Carolina, no state law has been passed that specifies DACA beneficiaries as a category of non-citizens eligible for obtaining occupational and professional licenses. Their ineligibility means that some cannot put their education and training into action despite their investment in their education. Despite receiving training to aid those in need, professionals such as nurses and doctors who have DACA cannot put their much needed skills into practice. The absence of this policy can also be a deterrent to enrollment in programs that require licensure, and it contributes to a shortage of skilled labor in our state.
  3. A Pathway to Citizenship. The DACA program as it stands today does not provide a pathway to citizenship for most beneficiaries. The policy provides only temporary relief from deportation for most participants (though there has already been one reported case of a DACA beneficiary deported to their country of birth). The temporary nature of the policy can therefore be a barrier to long-term successes for beneficiaries. For this reason, policymakers should expand eligibility for residency and citizenship in a way that includes all DACA beneficiaries.

Click here to read the entire report.

Commentary

Two “must reads” on Saturday’s tragic violence in Charlotteville

If you missed it yesterday, it’s worth checking out the transcript of the interview with Charlottesville mayor Mike Signer on CBS’s Face the Nation yesterday. When asked by reporter John Dickerson for his response to Donald Trump’s take on the weekend violence, the mayor said this:

“You know, I don’t want to make this too much about Donald Trump, we have a lot of grieving, a lot of work to do as a– as a city and as a country, but he should look in the mirror. I mean, he made a choice in his presidential campaign, the folks around with him, to, you know, go right to the gutter, to play on our worst prejudices. And I think you are seeing a direct line from what happened here this weekend to those choices. He has the opportunity, as do we all, to have a fresh beginning.

Like I’ve said, our democracy has been through much worse than this, but that requires us to rise to the occasion. We’re going to do that work here — we’re going to work on civility and– listening, deliberation, first amendment, religious toleration, pluralism. I mean, those are ideas– are what got us here now. But, you know, we’ve just seen this– this– tide of coarseness, cynicism, bullying, and– you know, a festival of going to the absolute worst elements that previously have been hidden. Now they’ve been invited out into the daylight. I mean a lot of people were coming here this weekend saying this will be a shot heard ’round the world, this will be the Alt-right’s moment, this will be Alt-right 2.0. You know, all that kind of rhetoric. And I think they were– they’re getting– you know, they’re getting okays for that, because they were invited into basically a– a presidential campaign. That has to stop, and it can stop now.

What I did not hear in the president’s statement yesterday, as well-intentioned as it may have been, is I didn’t hear the words ‘white supremacy’. And I think that it’s important to call this for what it is and to say, okay, this– this show has run its course, this shark has been jumped, let’s– let’s move on.”

Meanwhile, for sobering, but terrifically thoughtful assessment of the disaster, be sure to check out national columnist Charles P. Pierce at Esquire. As Pierce notes in “This is the bleakest moment for America in my lifetime,” “anyone who followed the presidential campaign saw this coming.” After noting the absurdity of proposals like the ones seriously debated in several states including North Carolina this year to give a pass to some drivers who run into protesters in public streets, Pierce says this:

“Essentially, the statutes would create a protected class of vigilante motorists empowered to curtail free assembly with 4,000 pounds of mobile iron. This became an acceptable solution almost exclusively among Republican politicians.

So when anybody, especially the president*, talks about what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, over the weekend, from the Citronella Putsch on Friday night, to the violence on Saturday morning, to the graphic fulfillment of the philosophy behind these lunatic laws on Saturday afternoon, tells you that what happened in Virginia has anything to do with ‘polarization,’ or that it is a problem equally shared by Both Sides, that person is trying preemptively to pick history’s pockets.

Every Republican who ever spoke to, or was honored by, the Council of Conservative Citizens and/or the League of the South owns this bloodshed. Read more

Commentary

School voucher pork: Editorial calls on Cooper to review, crack down on waste

This morning’s Capitol Broadcasting Company editorial on WRAL.com has a new and creative idea for getting some kind of rein on the legislature’s currently unfettered spending on private school vouchers.

This is from “More questions, more answers needed on worth of private school vouchers”:

“Anyone who might be looking for an assessment of or justification for North Carolina’s private school voucher program won’t find them in two new studies from N.C. State University. The information isn’t there and subsequent studies will analyze early academic impact. These studies shed NO light on the performance or value of the taxpayer-financed ‘Opportunity Scholarship’ program.

That doesn’t mean that private school voucher fans won’t twist the findings to show the program which helps make private schools more affordable for low-income families, is working.

But in both reports, it is the questions that weren’t asked along with the facts and answers that were not gathered, that are the most significant. There is NOTHING in either report that shows the program is achieving any of its goals. Nor do they provide ANY EVIDENCE that the voucher students are better or worse off, learning any better, more or less, than at their previous public schools.”

After detailing some of the researchers’ findings and the almost complete lack of oversight and accountability that accompanies the current voucher scheme, the editorial makes this eminently reasonable recommendation:

“While the legislature won’t hold the schools that receive voucher funds accountable, we urge Gov. Roy Cooper to follow the example of former Gov. Jim Martin, who in 1985 ordered his budget director to review every pork barrel spending item in the state budget. Cooper should have his budget office assess whether the private schools getting state funds are proper businesses, appropriately accredited and using the funds as intended.

North Carolina taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent. The legislature should require appropriate accountability and transparency from the schools. The governor needs to display the determination and independence to demand it himself if the legislature won’t.”

Commentary

And so NC is reduced to this: Gov. Cooper forced to beg for donations to help teachers

The conservative war on public structures and services in North Carolina is a longstanding tragedy for our state, but it is now also well on its way to becoming utter farce. For confirmation of this sad state of affairs, one need look no further than the unfortunate but “what else are you gonna’ do?” spectacle of our governor appearing in Durham earlier this week to beg for donations to help teachers pay for school supplies.

This is from a story in yesterday’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer entitled “Gov. Cooper back on campaign trail, this time for school supplies”:

Cooper is asking North Carolinians to buy and drop supplies off at State Employees Credit Union branches, state government offices and businesses.

“One thing we know is that far too often teachers are having to dip into their own pockets to cover the cost of classroom supplies, supplies that their students need to learn and supplies that the state currently is not providing to them,” Cooper said.

He said he hopes the campaign will be short lived.

“What we want is a school system that provides what teachers and students need and that we don’t have to hold these kinds of drives,” Cooper said.

Communities In Schools of North Carolina chapters and AmeriCorps volunteers will distribute the supplies to classrooms.

Cooper said citizens could also start supply drives at their workplace using a start-up kit available at http://bit.ly/2vCjvql

Of course, there is an obvious solution to this outrageous and embarrassing situation: State lawmakers could fund schools adequately.  As Cooper noted at a press conference during his appearance, his budget included a proposal to fund $150 stipends for teachers but cheapskate lawmakers refused to go along.

Cooper said he has spoken to state business leaders and urged them to go to the legislature and demand more support for education.

“Instead of cutting my corporate tax and instead of cutting taxes for the wealthy, I want you to take those resources and invest them in education and that means early childhood education, K-12, community colleges and universities,” Cooper said. “I want North Carolina to be a Top 10 education state by 2025.”

Cooper is exactly right. The legislature’s absurd trickledown budget policies and priorities are ridiculously out of whack and continue to do terrible and completely unnecessary damage to the state and its future. Let’s hope he remains a fixture on the “campaign trail” in the weeks and months ahead in the battle to pull our state back from the brink to which the Right has driven it.