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Editorial pages and good government advocates are weighing in this morning in praise of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to send North Carolina’s gerrymandered legislative maps back to the state Supreme Court for further review. This morning’s Fayetteville Observer calls the decision a “setback” for gerrymandering and concludes this way:

“We don’t know how this will be settled, but it reminds us that the creation of a nonpartisan redistricting commission is the real solution that we need.”

Meanwhile, Raleigh’s News & Observer terms the ruling a “voter victory.” It also notes that:

“Redrawing legislative and congressional districts is a task that ruling parties take on after a census. It’s true, as Republicans have claimed, that Democrats drew districts to their advantage when they were in power, but they did not go to the extremes the GOP did.

Think of how much time and trouble and money the state could save if it established a bipartisan commission to draw districts every 10 years. But don’t expect that to happen while Republicans continue to enjoy being in power after 100 years out of it.”

And for more details on how a nonpartisan solution is within easy reach of the General Assembly, turn over to the right side of the N&O editorial section and read this op-ed by Common Cause board member and retired N.C. State professor Larry King in which he explains how GOP lawmakers like Representatives David Lewis and Bert Jones have done one of the all-time flip flops on the issue. As King explains:

“Republican Party leaders need to let the democratic process play out. This is legislation they have long championed. North Carolina Republicans remember all too well how frustrating it was when their voices weren’t heard because of gerrymandered districts. Redistricting reform ensures this never happens again. It’s time to end gerrymandering once and for all in North Carolina, and it starts with letting H92 be heard in committee.

The residents of North Carolina deserve no less.”

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The list of counter-productive proposals on Jones Street has been expanding rapidly in recent days and both the Charlotte Observer and Greensboro News & Record have new essays blasting one that’s already been approved by the state House: the idea of partisan elections for judges (and even school board members!).

Here’s the N&R in an editorial entitled “No need for parties”:

“No matter the motives, North Carolina made a wise move in 2004 [when they made judicial elections non-partisan]. Nonpartisan elections, and officially nonpartisan courts, really do reduce the kind of hyper-partisanship that we have in state and federal legislative bodies. Judges should not line up with their political parties when deciding cases. Voters may perceive partisan differences on the courts, and rulings may break along party lines sometimes. For the most part, however, partisan distinctions aren’t apparent on our state’s highest courts.”

And here’s veteran Republican attorney John Wester writing in the Observer in an op-ed entitled “Don’t further politicize judiciary”: Read More

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GunsIn case you missed it, North Carolina legislators produced another one of their inimitable, you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up moments yesterday. On the very same day that a disturbed and self-described Neo-Nazi confessed to shooting and murdering an innocent Wayne County Community College employee in cold blood earlier this week, House members defeated a bipartisan proposal that would have given law enforcement officials limited authority to destroy the gun he used to commit the crime if and when he is ultimately convicted.

Right now, in North Carolina, gun buyers and sellers are often free to obtain and re-sell weapons that were used to murder innocent people as state officials are, bizarrely, forbidden from destroying them in most circumstances. As the sponsor of the bill, Republican Representative Ted Davis of New Hanover County, noted in debate, families of murder victims can, under current law, be forced to see the weapons that killed their loved ones turn up for sale on eBay. Indeed, it’s quite likely there is nothing to prevent a dealer from ultimately obtaining the gun Kenneth Stancil used in Wayne County and touting its past use as proof of its effectiveness!

As Rep. Darren Jackson explained, the proposal was brought to the General Assembly by the District Attorney of Gaston County on behalf of law enforcement officers and court officials in his district as one small thing that state officials could do help provide a bit of peace of mind to people who put their lives on the line every day to protect the citizenry and who don’t want to see the weapons used by criminals back out “on the street.”

Amazingly, though, Davis’ and Jackson’s common sense arguments fell largely on deaf ears as the House defeated the proposal 63-50. Click here to see how your lawmaker voted.

In helping to defeat he bill, opponents like Rep. Jay Adams and Rep. Charles McGrady spoke in defense of the poor, defenseless and innocent weapons. Read More

Commentary

If there’s a “most frustrating set of tax facts” to be considered today as this year’s Tax Week comes to a close, it’s got to be this: the billions of dollars that tax scofflaws cheat their fellow citizens out of and the conservative, budget-cutting policies that help enable it.

As Citizens for Tax Justice reported earlier this month:

“All told, American Fortune 500 corporations are avoiding up to$600 billion in U.S. federal income taxes by holding more than $2.1 trillion of “permanently reinvested” profits offshore. In their latest annual financial reports, twenty-eight of these corporations reveal that they have paid an income tax rate of 10 percent or less in countries where these profits are officially held, indicating that most of these profits are likely in offshore tax havens”

Meanwhile, billions of tax dollars go uncollected each year from corporate and individual taxpayers, in large measure because of conservative budget cuts at the I.R.S. As former National Association of Manufacturers chief Jerry Jasinowski wrote on the Huffington Post earlier this week:

“For five consecutive years Congress has taken an axe to the IRS budget imposing total budget cuts thus far of $1.2 billion. As a result, the IRS has lost 13,000 employees, 11 percent of the total. Last year, the IRS began 19 percent fewer criminal investigations than the year before. This year the agency expects to close at least 46,000 fewer audits. With 5,000 fewer revenue agents, revenue officers and criminal investigators, the IRS expects at least $2 billion that taxpayers owe to the government will go uncollected in 2015.”

And don’t think North Carolina tax collections are immune to this toxic pattern. The Charlotte Observer reported earlier this week that more than 300,000 people owe more than a $1 billion to North Carolina in delinquent taxes. Noticed any proposals on Jones Street in recent years to meaningfully beef up the state Department of Revenue?

The sad bottom line on all this: It isn’t an accident. The conservative campaign to undermine the legitimacy of public structures by underfunding them and thereby eroding public confidence in (and support for) them has been ongoing for many decades. Here in North Carolina, the war on public education has been the most visible example of this Koch-Pope ideology in action, but the efforts to undermine the agencies that administer and enforce tax collections is another.

We’re all suffering as a result of this disturbing cynicism.

Commentary

Governor Pat McCrory’s notorious hyper-sensitivity to criticism was on full display yet again yesterday. The Guv went to the trouble of issuing a special statement in response a mild and understated barb from President Obama about the well-documented decline in North Carolina’s commitment to public education.

Here’s what the Prez said:

“Funding now here in this state, and teacher pay, is ranking as low as it gets. And so part of it is just pointing that out and hopefully understanding this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re Republican or Democrat. You should want to make sure schools are successful and have … teachers who are motivated and have professional training but also are making enough of a living that they can afford a middle-class lifestyle.”

Rather than letting the remark go as he would have been smart to do, McCrory tried to respond with a snippy comment in which he touted his Rube Goldberg teacher pay raise plan of last year and basically said that Obama had no idea what he was talking about.

The fact of the matter, though, is that Obama was quite correct. North Carolina spending on public education is still well-below pre-Great Recession levels. And while, some teachers did get a desperately overdue raise last year, it in no way made up for the years of layoffs, class size hikes, losses of support personnel and numerous other indignities visited on our public schools because of the state leadership’s ill-advised tax giveaways to the well-off.

The bottom line: As usual, the Governor overreacted to a gentle bit of criticism and in so doing, only served to focus more attention on the policy failures over which he has presided.