Author

Commentary

Be sure to check out the Sunday edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer for an excellent column by NC Budget and Tax Center economist Patrick McHugh: “Hold the applause for NC’s sputtering economic recovery.” As Patrick notes:

“The worst of the Great Recession is in the rearview mirror, but the recovery has left far too many people, families and communities worse off. When you take a sober look at North Carolina’s economic reality, the breathless self-congratulations ring a bit hollow. An alarming pattern has emerged: Economic growth is not producing broad prosperity, which is trouble for everyone….

We’ve also replaced a lot of middle-class careers with low-paying, dead-end jobs. Thousands of jobs have been lost in industries that were the bedrock of middle-class North Carolina for generations, particularly manufacturing and construction. These were jobs where hard work brought livable wages and opportunities for advancement, jobs that could support a family, and jobs that offered a piece of the American Dream.

At the same time, we’ve seen an explosion in low-wage service jobs with few opportunities to move up. The average wage in industries that have grown since 2007 – like hotels and restaurants – is almost $10,000 less than in industries that have declined. When growth doesn’t create good-paying jobs, the lack of prosperity reverberates through the entire economy as people stop going out to eat, buying houses, getting new cars and scale back in a host of other ways….

Leaders in Raleigh need to be constantly reminded that we cannot accept growth without broad prosperity. Too many people are out of work, too many paychecks are coming up short and too many communities are being left out of the recovery.

We have neglected the investments needed to provide our children a 21st century education and our working men and women skills training; to build a transportation system that can move at the speed of business; to help small businesses withstand the competitive pressure of the modern market. This lack of investment has blunted the recovery and left the deepest problems with North Carolina’s economy unaddressed.

Instead of taking pride in finally escaping the recession, we should be focused on building a future that North Carolina can really be proud of.”

Read the entire op-ed by clicking here.

Commentary

Offshore oil platformEnvironmental organizations are doubling down on efforts to get concerned citizens to comment on the federal government’s proposed plan to open the coast of North Carolina to offshore oil and gas drilling. The deadline for comments in this phase of the process is this coming Monday March 30.

To comment, click here to visit the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management website and click on the “Comment Now!” button.

To learn more, check out the websites of the groups the N.C. Coastal Federation, Environment North Carolina, the Southern Environmental Law Center, the NC Sierra Club, Food & Water Watch, and Stop Offshore Drilling of the Atlantic (SODA).

For an opposing, pro-drilling point of view, check out this recent op-ed by the Executive Director of the NC Petroleum Council.

Meanwhile, for a comprehensive overview of the subject and what will happen next, be sure to RSVP for the upcoming April 7, NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon, “Can this coastline be saved?” Click here for more information.

Commentary

Please join us for a very special Crucial Conversation luncheon in Raleigh on Tuesday, April 7:

Can this coastline be saved? Offshore drilling and what it will likely mean for North Carolina’s beaches and wetlands
Click here to register

Recently, the U.S. Department of the Interior released a draft five-year plan that would make the Mid- and South Atlantic coasts available to oil and gas leasing starting in 2017. This represents a significant shift in federal policy, as there have never been any producing oil or gas wells drilled off the ecologically rich coastlines of Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia. Offshore drilling could threaten the economic livelihood of the coastal communities that rely on healthy waters and clean beaches to support local tourism and fishing industries. It could also damage barrier islands and marsh ecosystems, as well as sensitive wetlands that provide drinking water and hurricane protection to nearby communities.

NCPW-CC-2015-04-07-sierra_weaver

Join us as we explore this controversial “sea change” with one of the state’s leading experts on the topic, Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Sierra Weaver. Attendees will have a chance to get fully up to speed on the rush to drill and learn what will come next after the initial March 30 comment period and how to stay engaged in the issue.

Don’t miss the chance to learn more about this important issue at this critical juncture.

Note: If you’d like to comment by the March 30 deadline, go to http://regulations.gov, type “Docket ID: Boem-2014-0085? into the “search” tab and click on the “Comment Now!” button. You can also click here to check out information from the NC Coastal Federation Facebook page.

When: Tuesday, April 7, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Click here for parking info.

Space is limited – preregistration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Click here to register

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

Commentary

Payday loans.jpgThe federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau is unveiling some long-awaited proposed rules targeting the predatory payday lending industry at a big hearing in Richmond, Virginia today and you can follow along on Twitter at the hashtag #StoptheDebtTrap. Generally, the proposed rules amount to a promising start. There are, however a few worrisome potential loopholes. The good people at the Center for Responsible Lending explain:

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to Limit Payday Loan Debt Trap; Curb 400% Interest Rate Loans

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will offer a first look at where the agency’s efforts to rein in the abusive practices of payday and car title lenders are headed at a Thursday hearing in Richmond, VA. The consumer agency will release information outlining their deliberations and take testimony from a panel of consumer and civil rights advocates as well as industry representatives.

Mike Calhoun, President of the Center for Responsible Lending, will present testimony at the hearing.

Calhoun comments on the proposal:

“The proposal endorses the principle that payday lenders be expected to do what responsible mortgage and other lenders already do: check a borrower’s ability to repay the loan on the terms it is given. This is a significant step that is long overdue and a profound change from current practice. If made mandatory, the ability to repay standard will help millions of borrowers avoid dangerously high-cost payday and other abusive loans. The requirement would prevent debt traps, an all-too common practice where a lender flips loans over and over and the consumer ends up paying double the amount borrowed in interest and fees. And the Bureau appropriately applies the standard to both shorter and longer term loans, including vehicle title loans.

At the same time, we are deeply concerned about provisions in the proposal, the so-called “debt trap protection options,” which would in fact permit payday lenders to continue making both short- and longer-term loans without determining the borrower’s ability to repay. The industry has proven itself adept at exploiting loopholes in earlier attempts to rein in the debt trap. The consumer agency can look to necessary revisions to the Military Lending Act after widespread abuses were found, dragging active service members into debt so damaging that a Defense Department report found it undermined military readiness.

These “options” are an invitation to evasion. If adopted in the final rule, they will undermine the ability to repay standard and strong state laws, which give consumers the best hope for the development of a market that offers access to fair and affordable credit.

We urge the consumer bureau to adopt its strong ability to repay standard without making it optional.”

Let’s hope the regulators are listening.

Commentary
Senator Tom Apodaca

Senator Tom Apodaca

It is becoming increasingly clear that the single, best thing that North Carolina lawmakers could do to aid public education in our state is this: nothing.

Seriously, lawmakers would do our young people, educators, public education officials, employers, and the state at-large an enormous service if they would simply pass one bill each year providing the funding that our schools really need and then get the heck out of the way and check back in five or ten years. No more “ABC’s” of this or that or “Excellent Schools Acts.” Nothing, nada, zip. Just give our professionals the money and the mandate and let them do their jobs.

Unfortunately, the urge to meddle, micromanage and pass half-baked ideas that some lawmaker heard something about over dinner or on Fox News assures that this will never happen. For the most recent example of this apparently irresistible tendency, check out the proposal in the North Carolina Senate to “bill” local schools for the cost of remediation courses that students take in Community College. As NC Policy Watch reporter Sarah Ovaska reported this morning, one of the bill’s key sponsors, Senator Tom Apodaca, thinks this will make a difference:

The desire, Apodaca said, is to make sure the state’s K-12 system is turning out graduates ready to jump into the higher levels of education.

“We’re sending a message to our schools that we want quality coming out,” Apodaca said.

You got that? The premise of the law — as with so many other conservative education proposals in recent years — is that North Carolina can wring better results out of its public schools through sheer force. Rather than addressing poverty, providing universal pre-K, lowering class sizes or investing the money that it would really take to hire the teachers and counselors and other professionals who could perform the miracle of preparing millions of kids for the insanely competitive 21st Century economy (half of whom come from families too poor to afford lunch), the Senate would propose to get better K-12 grads by threatening to take away more money from their schools.

What a great idea! Maybe this can even set a precedent for other parts the education system. For instance, Read More