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Pat McCrory 4Sometimes, you have to wonder how Governor Pat McCrory prioritizes the issues to which he will devote his attention.

Right now, the General Assembly is in the midst of one of the most momentous — and potentially damaging — stretches in recent state history. An interminable and increasingly destructive budget impasse, the serious consideration of a radical series of constitutional amendments, a plan to sell off the state’s award-winning publicly-controlled system for delivering health insurance for people in need to Wall Street corporations and a proposal to expedite the privatization of public schools are all on the front burner on Jones Street. Add to this that the legislative session is about to go into double/triple overtime and one might reasonably conclude that now is THE time for the Governor to be exerting leadership and driving the agenda.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Instead, here is what the Guv has apparently made his top priority, according to Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“Gov. Pat McCrory on Wednesday called on the state Senate to pass a historic tax credit plan that has languished in the legislature since March.

House Bill 152 would create a scaled-back version of the tax credit, which expired at the beginning of the year as part of a Republican-led tax reform effort. The new credits would pay property owners less than the original program, with an expected annual cost to the state of $8 million. The available credit would be larger in the state’s poorest counties.

The House passed the bill in a 98-15 vote on March 26, but the Senate referred it to the Ways and Means Committee, which never meets.

‘I’m getting impatient, that’s why I took off my tie,’ McCrory told a group of about 100 tax credit supporters. ‘We shouldn’t even have a fight about it. … We need action today. Go to the legislature!’

McCrory’s cultural resources secretary, Susan Kluttz, said she’s made 73 trips to 52 towns across the state to solicit support for the tax credits.”

You got that? At a time of great upheaval in which fundamental decisions are being made about the future of North Carolina, the Governor is spending vast amounts of his time campaigning for what is, at best, a tiny side issue. This isn’t to say that restoring the historic tax credits wouldn’t be a nice thing to do, but good grief! Seventy-three trips for a tax credit that amounts to spare change in a $21 billion budget?

C’mon Governor. We know General Assembly leaders frequently opine that you are all but irrelevant, but you could at least try to insert yourself into the debates that really matter. The historic tax credit campaign at a time like this is simply embarrassing.

Commentary

NC Policy Watch presents a Crucial Conversation luncheon —

Sweepstakes industry corruption: How far does it go? What should be done?

Click here to register

Featuring Bob Hall, Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina

Bob Hall, Executive Director of Democracy NC

It’s been almost a decade since the efforts of a determined group of nonprofit watchdogs, led by Democracy North Carolina Executive Director Bob Hall, helped expose the corruption of former North Carolina House Speaker Jim Black. In addition to driving Black from office, those efforts helped spur a number of improvements to state laws governing campaign finance, gifts to public officials, lobbying disclosures and many other important areas.

Now, however, corruption has reared its ugly head again and there are real questions as to whether the existing structure for enforcing state campaign finance laws can respond adequately to the challenge. As detailed in a letter Hall delivered to federal and state prosecutors earlier this month, several of North Carolina’s most important political leaders were the recipients of large and potentially illegal campaign contributions from individuals affiliated with the controversial “sweepstakes” industry in 2011 and 2012. Strangely and surprisingly, however, officials at the State Board of Elections chose not to follow up on Hall’s findings. Now Hall and his colleagues are appealing to the U.S. Attorney and Wake County District Attorney to take a second look.

Join us as Hall explains his findings, what Democracy NC is asking prosecutors to do and the overall state of political corruption in North Carolina politics today.

Click here to register

When: Tuesday, August 25, 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

Now that experts have had at least a few hours to begin to analyze the North Carolina Senate’s radical ALEC-inspired proposal to impose permanent, constitutional changes to North Carolina’s budget and tax structure, some remarkable findings are emerging.  Consider the following from the numbers wonks at the Budget and Tax Center:

TABOR results“If the spending formula had been in place beginning in 1992, when the only state, Colorado, to have such limits implemented it, North Carolina would have experienced massive and permanent annual losses of revenue and many of our most valued investments of the past two decades would have been impossible to make. For example:

  • A top notch early childhood education program that reaches North Carolina’s kids in all 100 counties and the establishment of pre-Kindergarten programming.
  • A water and sewer line system that serves rural communities and thousands of homes.
  • A workforce training system and targeted economic development that supported rural communities and small towns as they addressed the decline in manufacturing

In fact, 15 percent of the public investments made since 1992 would not have been possible under the restrictive and flawed formula that allows only for population plus inflation growth, failing to take into account changing demographics such as a growing senior population or costs that increase faster than inflation like health care.  In good times and bad times, North Carolina’s investments would have been arbitrarily constrained well below what would have been possible. This type of damage is why Colorado chose to suspend their spending formula.

The impact over the past twenty years would have been even worse in combination with the proposed constitutional cap on the income tax rate at 5 percent. Fewer dollars would have been available to pay for high quality schools, roads and bridges and community economic development to ensure the economy works for everyone in our state.”

Commentary

This morning, it’s the Fayetteville Observer that’s blasting the North Carolina Senate’s radical plan to enshrine artificial and debilitating spending caps in the state constitution. Here’s the excellent conclusion:

“What happens in the next big financial turndown if revenues drop precipitously and there isn’t enough money to maintain our public schools? Do we just start firing teachers, because a temporary tax increase would be unconstitutional? It could happen.

And what if the condition of our transportation infrastructure continues to decline? What if our roads and bridges and railways become dangerous and need more work than the budget will allow? Do we just shrug, because a larger budget increase is unconstitutional, and let bridges topple and interstate highways crumble?

We’ve had temporary tax increases before, with “sunset” dates attached, and they’ve gone away after the problem was solved. The truth is that North Carolina lawmakers have traditionally been a pretty parsimonious lot, especially when we compare our taxes with those in other regions of the country. We’ve also gotten something out of that spending in the past: a robust economy, a well-educated workforce and, not all that many years ago, a reputation as the “good roads state.”

Putting budget handcuffs on our lawmakers, instead of trusting them to do what we pay them for, could consign all of that to history’s dustbin.”

Click here to read the entire editorial.

News

Solitary confinementJust in from the ACLU of NC:

“A coalition of human rights groups yesterday sent a letter asking the United States Department of Justice to open an investigation into the use of solitary confinement in North Carolina prisons. The letter comes weeks after President Obama ordered the Justice Department to review the use of solitary confinement across the country and criticized the practice in a major speech on criminal justice reform.

The 15-page letter – signed by North Carolina Prisoner Legal Services, the American Civil Liberties Union’s National Prison Project, the ACLU of North Carolina, the University of North Carolina School of Law Human Rights Policy Seminar, the UNC Center for Civil Rights, and North Carolina Stop Torture Now – chronicles the recent deaths of several inmates held in solitary confinement in North Carolina, as well as the mistreatment and horrific conditions suffered by countless more. One of those prisoners, Michael Anthony Kerr, a 53-year-old former Army sergeant diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, died of dehydration in March 2014 after spending 35 days in solitary confinement. In the letter, the groups document North Carolina’s failure to provide adequate resources for prison mental health services and explain how inmates with mental illness are disciplined for manifestations of their illness and often released directly to the community after months or years in isolation.

‘Understaffed, underfunded, and plagued by arbitrary standards, insufficient oversight, and inadequate resources for inmates with mental illness, North Carolina’s solitary confinement regime must change,’ the letter reads. ‘However, governmental efforts and calls from the media and the public have resulted in little meaningful reform. Every day that the status quo endures without intervention, North Carolina’s system for housing inmates in solitary confinement claims more victims to needless suffering and death.’

The letter is available at https://acluofnorthcarolina.org/files/letters/SolitarylettertoUSDOJ.pdf

Background: On any given day, as much as 14 percent of North Carolina’s 37,500 prison inmates are locked away in solitary confinement—often for such minor offenses as using profanity. There, they are isolated for 23 to 24 hours a day, without sunlight, fresh air, or contact with human beings. More than one in five of those prisoners placed in isolation require some type of treatment for mental health issues.”