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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?”

News

As Chris Fitzsimon reported in this morning’s “Monday numbers,” analyst Allan Freyer of the N.C. Justice Center has released a new and damning report today on North Carolina’s business incentives programs. This is from the release that accompanied the report (“Picking Losers: Why the Majority of NC’s Incentives Programs End in Failure”):

“If North Carolina continues to use incentives to pick winners and losers in economic development, the state needs to do a much better job of picking winners. More than half of all firms receiving incentive awards from the state’s Job Development Investment Grant (JDIG) program since its inception in 2002 have failed to live up to their promises of job creation, investment, or wages. These failed projects have forced the Department of Commerce to cancel those grants and even occasionally take back funds already given to these underperforming firms, according to an analysis of program reports.

Given the troubling number of failed projects, now is not the time to accept recent proposals to expand JDIG and create a new “catalyst fund” for closing new incentive deals. All told, the state has cancelled 60 percent of JDIG projects after recipient firms failed to honor their promises, with even higher rates of failed projects in the rural and most economically distressed areas of state. The disparity in performance between projects in urban and rural counties is even more striking in light of the signifi cantly lower incentive investments made in those rural areas—rural counties are seeing more project failure despite having fewer and smaller investments.

To address these problems, legislators should resist adding to the state’s incentive programs and instead focus on strengthening the performance standards that hold recipient fi rms accountable for the promises they make. Without these critical accountability measures, each one of these unsuccessful projects would have continued to receive millions in public subsidies, despite failing to create promised jobs and investment. Additionally, policy makers should improve the evaluation process for prospective JDIG projects. Currently, the cost-benefit analysis every project must undergo is clearly letting too many bad projects slip through the cracks. Future incentive grants should go to firms in targeted industries that are poised for robust growth rather than those that are in decline, and grants should be designed to bring infrastructure development and job training resources to the rural counties that most need assistance. Lastly, there is no need to create a new “closing” fund because there is already a similarly designed incentive program that governors have traditionally used to help close projects—namely, the OneNC program.”

Click here to read the entire report.

Commentary

In case you missed it, Tazra Mitchell of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center had a great letter to the editor in Raleigh’s News & Observer over the weekend that exposed the silly story state lawmakers have concocted in order to create the illusion that everything is now fine with state budget. As Tazra explains:

“Regarding the Feb. 13 news article “ NC forecasts budget surplus for fiscal year that begins July 1”: State lawmakers are making a major change to the budget process in an attempt to mask the fallout of their recent decisions. The change also allows them to claim a “surplus” that merely reflects revenue growth – and revenue growth that’s far under the long-term average.

For many decades, the starting point for the budgeting process has been the amount of resources necessary to maintain the current quality of public systems that Tar Heels expect. Starting with this “current services budget” is standard practice for virtually all responsible governing bodies across the country.

The governor and legislature now are, crudely, redrawing the starting point for this year’s budget. In fact, the funding level they declared to be “base budget” for the upcoming year is roughly $213 million less than the budget for the current year. When and if they manage to cover the additional costs of things like more students in schools, inflationary increases in health care services or cost-of-living raises for teachers and highway patrol officers, they will claim credit for their acts of generosity.

Lawmakers lowered the bar, and when they clear it, they’ll declare themselves the winners. But budget gimmicks will not hide bigger class sizes or higher tuition rates. North Carolinians have seen too much to be fooled into thinking there is any kind of “surplus” afoot.”

Commentary

Moral MarchIn an apparent effort to provide air “both sides” of the issue, Raleigh’s News & Observer posted two essays side-by-side this morning on its editorial page — one extolling the growing movement for justice in North Carolina by Rev. Barber of the North Carolina NAACP and the other an editorial criticizing it from the Lenoir News-Topic.

Setting aside for a moment the fact that this is kind of like matching LeBron James (Barber) against a high school player (the News-Topic) in a game of one-on-one, the two essays are helpful in illustrating a critical fact about the leaders of the modern Right: They just don’t get it.

According to the defenders of Jones Street at the News-Topic:

“[The protests] are pointless…because the scope of the so-called injustices being highlighted are both limited, failing to rouse outrage in general public, and easily addressed by democratic means.”

Is that so? Skyrocketing inequality and suffering (and even hunger) in the world’s wealthiest nation is a “so-called injustice”? And it can be “easily addressed”?If this is so, why have both of these problems been ignored and allowed to get dramatically worse for decades under the leadership of both political parties?

Sorry guys. It’s not that simple. The list of critically important issues held up by the Forward Together movement and given voice by Rev. Barber are a lot more than just a handful of grievances that can be fixed with a bill or two (or even an election or two). Indeed, they highlight some fundamental flaws that have emerged in our democracy that will take decades to repair — if we’re lucky. Bringing real justice to our economy is a lot different than fixing a list of broken streetlights.

It’s understandable that some folks on the Right find Barber and the movement he helps lead annoying and that they wish it would go away. Unfortunately, for them, that just ain’t gonna happen.

Commentary

Tony Tata 2It appears that North Carolina’s Transportation Secretary is really fired up and ready to battle over the state Senate’s plan to lay off 5% of his workforce as part of it’s rather odd “cut the rate first/raise it later” gas tax plan. How else to explain his decision to spend the evening immediately after the first Senate vote on the matter…er uh…going on Fox News to attack President Obama over his foreign policy?

And the passion for defending his agency just keeps on coming. Today at lunchtime, the Secretary tweeted (or maybe it was his publicist) the following semi-offensive plug for his “Hannity” appearance:

“The President needs to stop waging war on American values and immediately declare total war with ISIS….

Finally, on Tuesday February 24, when we’re guessing there might still be a few DOT-related matters happening in the state, our $136,000-per-year public servant will be…plugging his latest novel at  at an event in Chicago.

Good to see that the Secretary has his priorities in order.