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Charlotte light rail.jpgThere are too many details to be fleshed out and examined to provide a definitive assessment of Governor McCrory’s new proposed state transportation plan that he unveiled yesterday.  For instance, the summary talks about expanding mass transit and building new light rail — both encouraging signs — but it’s too early to say whether these ideas are just polite nods in that direction or real signals of an intention to move away from paving the entire state, one new interstate lane at a time.

One thing that can be said for certain at first blush however is this: It’s encouraging to see the Governor talking optimistically about public investments for the common good. After almost nothing but right-wing bluster about slashing public structures (and the spending that supports them) in education, health care, environmental protection and several other important areas, it’s nice to hear the McCrroy administration at least admitting that public institutions and new investments have an important role to play in the state’s future.

Of course, the idea of investing in roads has always been the one area in which most conservatives have made an exception to their rules about the supposed evils of government.  So, it seems quite possible that the new DOT plan could just be a brief interlude in the ongoing assault on all things public. We’ll know more in the days ahead as the plan gets spelled out in more detail, but until then, we’ll try to maintain a little hope that, with the General Assembly out of town and Art Pope out of the budget office, McCrory has, at least temporarily, morphed back into his civic-boosting mayoral persona of old.

Commentary

Phil Berger[This story has been updated -- see below] There’s been a lot of confusion about North Carolina’s confusing and complicated “Monster Voting Law” — much of it resulting from the fact many of the law’s numerous changes designed to make voting more difficult go into effect at different times. Of course, when your overall objective is to suppress voter turnout — especially amongst already marginalized groups and individuals — confusion can be a useful tool.

Just ask state Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger. who’s running TV ads touting his role in passing the voter ID provision that was included in the monster law. As WUNC radio’s Jorge Valencia reports, voting rights advocates at the state NAACP are rightfully steamed over the fact that Berger’s ad implies that the voter ID requirement is already in effect for the November election, even though it actually doesn’t take effect until 2016.

The North Carolina NAACP is calling on state Senate Leader Phil Berger to stop broadcasting an ad about a new voting law. The civil rights organization says the ad is misleading and could keep some from voting.

It’s a political campaign spot airing on TV stations in the Triad. And it gives Sen. Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) credit for a 2013 law that changed many rules about voting in North Carolina.

“Now,” the narrator says, “thanks to Phil Berger, voters must show a valid ID to vote.”

Berger himself continues: “Voter ID prevents fraud and protects the integrity of our elections. It’s common sense.”

The NAACP says that is a misleading statement. Portions of this new law are in place — such as there no longer being a possibility to register on the same day as the election and the elimination of the option to vote for one party by checking one box. But the ID portion of the bill, which will compel voters to show identification at polling stations, will not be in effect until 2016. Attorney Al McSurely said at a press conference Tuesday that Berger’s ad is confusing.

A “misleading statement” to say the least. How about “an obvious untruth that’s just the latest wrinkle in the ongoing effort to suppress voter turnout amongst voters worried about long lines and getting hassled at the polls”?

Click here to read the WUNC story and listen to the ad.

UPDATE: Though apparently denying it was in response to the NAACP complaint, Senator Berger has now amended the ad in question to make clear that the voter ID requirement does not go into effect until 2016. Raleigh’s News & Observer has the story here.

Commentary

School vouchersIn case you missed it, be sure to check out the lead story this morning over on the main Policy Watch site by Prof. William Snider, head of the Neuroscience Center at the the UNC School of Medicine: “Will voucher students learn biology?” 

If you read through the thoughtful, detailed and quite generous essay, you’ll learn that the answer to the title question is quite clearly and regrettably “No chance.”

As Snider explains, while the book certainly includes some scientifically valid material, it is also chock full of blatant falsehoods and fundamentalist Christianity masquerading as science. Not surprisingly, it attacks the evolution as “a retreat from science” and makes the claim that: “Since the day that Darwinism invaded the classroom, God’s glory has been hidden from students.”

There are numerous other falsehoods in the book that would , if more widely made a part of American science education, grievously handicap the nation’s students and its future. As Prof. Snider sums things up:

“In sum, the A Beka text as a central component of a high school biology curriculum would be suspect if it were evaluated by a state board of education. It would fail because of confusing science and religion, for misstating the theory of evolution, and because it compares unfavorably with other texts in not fully presenting modern advances in cell biology and genetics. It is difficult to envision the justification for using state funds to support curricula that do not prepare students for the modern workplace.”

Let’s hope that exposés like Snider’s continue to be spread far and wide as North Carolina continues to wrestle with the notion of using public funds to underwrite this kind of educational malpractice.

Read Snider’s entire essay by clicking here.

Commentary

Robert PittengerAn editorial in this morning’s Charlotte Observer shines a light on the noxious views of North Carolina congressman Robert Pittenger:

Is it OK for a company to fire someone solely because he is gay?

U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger of Charlotte thinks so. It’s one of “the freedoms we enjoy” as Americans, he says. Private employers should have the freedom to discriminate against employees based on their sexual orientation, Pittenger says, and government shouldn’t take that ability away.

After a town hall meeting in Ballantyne this month, a reporter from the liberal political blog ThinkProgress, Alice Ollstein, asked Pittenger if he supported laws to protect gays in the workplace. Pittenger compared the right to fire gay workers to smoking bans.

“Do you ban smoking or do people have the right to private property? I think people have the right to private property,” Pittenger told Ollstein….

In a statement to the Observer editorial board Tuesday, Pittenger stood by his comments. He emphasized that he does not discriminate in his hiring and firing, but said the question should be left to the free market.”

The editorial rightfully goes on to expose the congressman’s opinion as vacuous hogwash indistinguishable from the hateful attitudes of those who would discriminate against potential employees based on race or religion. The congressman needs to rethink his views on this matter and issue an apology ASAP.

Commentary

The fallout from our nation’s decades-long effort to slash taxes on wealthy individuals and profitable corporations (and the public structures those taxes once provided) continues to spread. The Washington Post reports that the growing gap between the super rich and everyone else is directly and negatively impacting state government budgets:

Income inequality is taking a toll on state governments.

The widening gap between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else has been matched by a slowdown in state tax revenue, according to a report being released Monday by Standard & Poor’s.

Even as income has accelerated for the affluent, it has barely kept pace with inflation for most other people. That trend can mean a double whammy for states: The wealthy often manage to shield much of their income from taxes. And they tend to spend less of it than others do, thereby limiting sales tax revenue….

Rising income inequality is not just a social issue,” said Gabriel Petek, the S&P credit analyst who wrote the report. “It presents a very significant set of challenges for the policymakers.”

Stagnant pay for most people has compounded the pressure on states to preserve funding for education, highways and social programs such as Medicaid. The investments in education and infrastructure also have fueled economic growth. Yet they’re at risk without a strong flow of tax revenue.

Meanwhile, this week’s most stunning visual of the nation’s mushrooming inequality comes from the U.S. Federal Reserve, courtesy of the good people at Too Much Online: Read More