Author

News

Here’s the latest statement from advocates in response to this morning’s story about the remarkable crash in voter registrations at North Carolina public assistance offices since the beginning of the McCrory administration:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

VOTING RIGHTS ADVOCATES CALL ON NORTH CAROLINA TO TAKE ACTION AFTER VOTER REGISTRATIONS DROP SHARPLY AT STATE PUBLIC ASSISTANCE OFFICES

(Raleigh, NC) – Citing clear evidence that the state of North Carolina is failing its obligation to provide low-income residents with a meaningful opportunity to register to vote at public assistance agencies, today Democracy North Carolina, Action NC, and the A. Philip Randolph Institute (“APRI”) sent a pre-litigation notice letter to Kim Strach, Executive Director of the North Carolina State Board of Elections (“NCSBE”), as well as Dr. Aldona Wos, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (“DHHS”).

According to the letter, voter registration applications initiated at public assistance agencies have dropped dramatically since Gov. Pat McCrory took office. The number of applications originating from such agencies fell from an annual average of 38,400 between 2007 and 2012 to an average of only 16,000 in the last two years, a decline of more than 50 percent.

The notice letter—sent on behalf of the voting rights groups by attorneys from D?mos, Project Vote, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, and the Southern Coalition for Social Justice—gives the state 90 days to come into compliance with the requirements of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (“NVRA”) or face litigation.

Read More

Commentary

GunsThe Greensboro News & Record tells it like it is this morning in a polite but firm editorial regarding the controversial House bill to further liberalize North Carolina gun laws. The editorial is entitled “Doctors and guns” and it rightfully labels the proposal to gag doctors who would ask their patients about firearms in their homes an unconstitutional abridgment of the First Amendment:

“Health and safety are their business. A patient can exhibit signs indicating a risk for suicide or aggression without explicitly expressing a desire to harm himself or others. While the bill does not directly prohibit doctors from asking about a patient’s access to guns, it prevents them from informing police. Imagine a psychiatrist examining someone like Seung-Hui Cho, the 2007 Virginia Tech mass-murderer, finding him in a troubled state of mind, learning he has firearms, but being barred from telling police because of Cho’s right to ‘firearms privacy.’

Because of physicians’ free-speech rights, this measure should not survive a legal challenge. But it demonstrates how completely many state legislators have surrendered to the gun mania afflicting the country.”

The editorial concludes this way:

“The bill has other unsound provisions. It would:

• Weaken criminal background checks.

Read More

Commentary

Well, that didn’t take long. Yesterday in this space, I wrote the following about the conclusion of the Dix land sale to the city of Raleigh:

“Though they were dragged kicking and screaming to the deal, the folks on the right wing remain unrepentant. Even as Raleigh moves toward the creation of a major public ‘destination park, the privatizers and conservative ideologues continue to push to dismantle all thing public — including institutions like parks, zoos and aquariums that ought to be forever public. Don’t think for a second that yesterday’s  success will stop that effort — either in North Carolina or around the country.”

Today, the folks at a local conservative think tank were only too happy to confirm the warning by distributing an essay in which they called for making North Carolina parks “pay their own way” via the initiation of an admission fee system. After that, of course, will come proposals to sell “naming rights” to state parks (get ready for “Duke Energy Park at Umstead” or “the Smithfield Foods Park on the Eno River”)  and then, of course, the big kahuna: full privatization.

A few years back in a column entitled “Vending machine government,” I laid out what this is really all about:

“These ideologues simply hate the idea of a strong, well-funded government in which the people come together democratically and intentionally to a tackle society’s problems. Instead, they favor a weak, decentralized, privatized government modeled after our modern, consumerist private economy.

Rather than a system in which citizens hire and empower a corps of skilled and well-funded professionals to help them build a better society for all, the market fundamentalists want a government in which ‘consumers’ ‘shop’ for services and public institutions ‘compete’ for ‘customers.’

Hence, the moves to privatize pre-K and K-12 education, jack up college and university tuition, add new toll roads, eliminate public financing of campaigns, defund public health care, and enact a new package of fee increases that will extract nearly $100 million annually from persons who ‘consume’ things like services of the court system and driver’s education.”

Sadly, as this latest proposal makes clear, nothing has changed. The Right still hates the idea of strong public institutions that are free to all and remains bent on their elimination — even if they have to nickel and dime them to death.

Commentary

Tax shiftThe lead editorial in this morning’s Charlotte Observer offers a compelling explanation and critique of yesterday’s “April surprise” in which state leaders announced that North Carolina has eked out a 2% budget surplus. The bottom line explanation: the Great Tax Shift in which average folks are paying more and the rich and corporations are paying less. Here’s the Observer:

“News of a surplus is indeed cause for relief. But before GOP leaders dislocate their elbows in over-exuberant back patting, let’s look closer to see how they achieved it….

The returns are in. And the numbers don’t point to an expanding economy as the main cause of the huge swing from deficit projections to surplus. Instead, the memo [from the legislature’s Fiscal Research Division] noted that tax refunds dropped by 57 percent this year (not the 35 percent predicted). It was by far the biggest drop-off in 25 years.

Personal income tax collections surged, giving the state $375 million more than the staff expected. Some of that came from bigger collections in small business income. No surprise there, since tax reform killed the $50,000 business income exemption such establishments enjoyed.”

GOP leaders say lower tax rates will draw more corporations and jobs to the state. But the new-found surplus didn’t come from new-found corporations. Wage growth is expected to be 1 percentage point below forecast for the current budget year, the memo says, and withholding tax revenue is projected at 3 percentage points below forecast. Corporate income tax and franchise taxes moved up only slightly since the staff’s February budget projections.

That means surging collections from small businesses and individual taxpayers – not corporations – turned the deficit forecast into a surplus.”

The editorial closes this way:

“GOP leaders say refunds are shrinking because they made paycheck withholding more accurate. The state’s keeping less of your money through the year. Even if true, that doesn’t change the bottom line fact that personal income tax revenue has surged.

Make no mistake. We do believe the state needs more money for schools and other public investments. But its leaders are lifting money from everyday taxpayers’ pockets while seeking praise for supposedly putting more money in them.

And for that sleight of hand, perhaps they do deserve a round of applause.

A sarcastic one.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.