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Dan ForestYou’ve got to hand it to Lt. Governor Dan Forest. The Lite Guv is clearly the most conservative statewide elected official in North Carolina in decades — especially when it comes to social issues, where in his less-well-guarded moments, he can make Pat Robertson sound like a secular progressive.

And yet, despite this, Forest is also a very slick and ambitious politician. Maybe, it’s being the son of a longtime member of Congress, but whatever the explanation, Forest can be very skilled at cloaking his extremist views with mainstream-sounding language.

A classic example is his “I support teachers” specialty license plate idea that he is plugging this week. What could sound more wholesome and make for better P.R. than “supporting” teachers?

The only problem, of course, is that the whole idea of “supporting” teachers by raising private donations at $50 a throw so that a foundation can mete them out to teachers in dribs and drabs is an absurd idea. Not only will it amount to a drop in the bucket, it undermines the very idea of how public schools ought to be funded and assessed — i.e. by the taxpayers and the professionals they employ.

But, of course, this shouldn’t come as any real surprise. As one of the most ardent champions of school privatization via vouchers (Forest’s own kids have been home schooled) and regressive tax policies that have undermined funding for what folks on the Right like to call “government schools,” Forest has been pushing the kind of slickly packaged, far right agenda that would warm the hearts of the Koch brothers for many years.

Let’s hope North Carolinians quickly see through this cynical effort to burnish/soften the image of an ambitious politician who could, if he really supported public school teachers, find several more effective ways to do so.

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Medicaid expansionIn case you missed them while scraping your windshield earlier today, there are two new lead stories  over on the main Policy Watch site today that will be worth a few minutes of your time.

This morning’s Weekly Briefing is an open letter to the one man in North Carolina politics with the clout (and, one hopes, the human decency) to set politics aside and guarantee access to health care for hundreds of thousands of people like Dana Wilson.

Meanwhile, this afternoon’s Fitzsimon File examines what was certainly the strangest claim in GovernorWorkers comp McCrory’s State of the State speech and its apparent origins with a little known administration official who seems to be keeping some odd and perhaps worrisome ties to the private sector.

Commentary

In case you missed it yesterday in all the hubbub surrounding the winter weather, the Wilmington Star-News had a fine editorial critiquing North Carolina’s misguided 2013 tax “reforms” and highlighting some hardships it has brought on:

“Once again this year, Rep. Rick Catlin is sponsoring legislation to help senior citizens who two years ago lost the right to deduct high medical bills on their taxes. A similar effort last year failed; let’s hope his fellow Honorables in the General Assembly recognize this time the need to right a shameful wrong.

In their zeal for ‘tax reform’ that has disproportionately benefited high-income taxpayers and corporations, the Republican-led General Assembly cut deductions, including the one for senior citizens’ medical expenses, that had helped low- and middle-income residents. Rep. Catlin, R-New Hanover, has introduced a bill that would reinstate the deduction for older adults who spend a significant portion of their income on medical expenses such as costly hospital stays or nursing home care.

Good for him. As people age, medical expenses rise. Even though Medicare covers 80 percent of most medical expenses, the remaining 20 percent can add up quickly. When one lives on a fixed income, the loss of a tax credit to help offset that cost might make it difficult to scrape by.

However, older adults were not the only people hurt by tax reform. Most notably, the Honorables killed the Earned Income Tax Credit that helped 900,000 families, as well as the tax deduction for parents who contribute to the state’s 529 college savings fund.

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Tony Tata 2One would have to think that some state officials are having second thoughts this morning about laying off 500 or so Department of Transportation employees as the state Senate proposed last week. As one look out the window will remind all of us, these are the kinds of days on which it’s hard to have too many dedicated public employees keeping our highways and byways clear and drivers safe.

That said, one must wonder just how engaged state Transportation Secretary Tony Tata is in the discussion of the issue. Last night, as the brunt of the winter storm was blasting North Carolina, the Secretary was right where you’d expect him to be: plugging his latest novel and offering foreign policy advice on Fox News. He (or his publicist — it’s never clear who is on the account at any time) was even tweeting about it last night while DOT road crews were out there risking life and limb for their fellow citizens.

The bottom line: Let’s hope North Carolina’s DOT workers all have a productive and safe day out there today serving their fellow citizens. And if state leaders are really serious about doing away with redundant and/or less productive employees in the giant department, they might do well take a close look at one particular employee who is taking home $136,000 in taxpayer bucks each year even as his attention is frequently focused on matters quite unrelated to his job.

Commentary, News

For those thinking about attending tomorrow’s scheduled state Supreme Court has oral arguments on the state’s school vouchers law, the court has rescheduled until NEXT Tuesday due to the inclement weather. let’s hope the justices spend some of their time reading op-eds like this one that ran in Greensboro News Record over the weekend. As the paper noted:

“A grant of $4,200 doesn’t give a poor family an “equal opportunity” to send its child to the same school that a wealthy family can afford. For example, tuition at Greensboro Day School for children in grades 1 through 4 is $18,400, leaving the voucher family $14,200 short.

Equality is the first false promise of this program. The second is that any private school is as good as or better than a public school. Yet, the state doesn’t hold participating private schools to any standards. They don’t have to offer small class sizes, teach an approved curriculum or hire certified teachers — or even teachers who pass a criminal background check….

When it comes to the public schools, the legislature demands accountability. It places A-F grades on public schools to let everyone know how they’re performing. Of private schools that receive public funding, the legislature demands nothing. They get free money and a free pass. Why?”