Commentary

Attempted giveaway puts exclamation point on Pat McCrory’s pathetic departure

Pat McCrory

Pat McCrory

Has anyone checked to see if there are any missing towels or dishes from the Governor’s Mansion? Given the latest revelation about the last minute efforts of former Governor Pat McCrory to bestow $166,000 in publicly-funded parting gifts on some of his cronies during his final hours in office, it seems as if it might be worth checking. This is from a story in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer by reporter Craig Jarvis:

“On his way out of office, Gov. Pat McCrory ordered accrued vacation and bonus leave payouts to his 10 Cabinet secretaries — money they would not otherwise have been entitled to receive.

Gov. Roy Cooper’s administration has tentatively halted the payments, which could have amounted to as much at $166,000.

The top executives were exempt from state personnel regulations, and so were not eligible to receive the payouts under typical circumstances.

McCrory on Dec. 29 wrote to the state controller and the interim director of the Office of State Human Resources telling them to send the payouts “as if they were regular state employees,” retroactive to their first day of employment in the exempt position.

‘These irregular payments have been brought to the attention of the administration and halted pending further review,’ Cooper spokesman Ford Porter said in an emailed response when asked about the letter on Thursday.

The Cooper administration says the payments authorized by McCrory could have totaled as much as $166,000.”

Of course, McCrory’s embarrassing and tone deaf actions are not terribly surprising. One of his first acts as Governor in 2013 was to bestow large pay raises on several of high-level appointees, even as he soon thereafter proposed and approved budgets that left rank and file state employees woefully underpaid. And, of course, just days before his latest act, McCrory took the craven step of approving legislation that sought to strip powers from the office he occupied — all to abet the legislature’s newly launched war on his successor.

All in all, this latest revelation should be seen as a fitting conclusion to four desultory years in office for a small and perpetually over-matched politician who never really fully grasped the office he held — much less mastered it. Whether or not his buddies get their cashola, this story should serve as one last powerful reminder of how lucky North Carolina is to have the McCrory era in the rear view mirror.

Commentary

Just when conservatives thought the fallout from HB2 couldn’t get any worse…

Margaret Spellings

Margaret Spellings

At some point, you’ve got to think that Phil Berger, Tim Moore and their fellow conservative authors of HB2 will be saying to themselves, “What in the heck have we done and why? No matter how much the religious right fawns over us, this simply has not been worth it.”

Let’s hope both men moved another few inches closer to that moment yesterday when their own handpicked President of the University of North Carolina — an official who has her own history of dunder-headed stances toward LGBT equality — once again weighed in to remind them, politely but forcefully, of the need to repeal their discriminatory law.

In case you missed it, UNC boss Margaret Spellings told Emery Dalesio of the Associated Press that HB2 is driving away smart people who would have otherwise come to work for UNC.

“A North Carolina law limiting the legal protections of LGBT people has hampered the public universities that drive the state’s economic growth, University of North Carolina President Margaret Spellings said Wednesday.

Spellings said recruited candidates have ruled out moving to North Carolina because of the law, and that she’s unaware of any academic talent embracing a North Carolina move because of the law called House Bill 2.

‘I know people have withdrawn their candidacy,’ Spellings told The Associated Press during an interview Wednesday. ‘But how many? To what effect? Were they not coming anyway? We’ll never know.'”

After describing the law and some of the background surrounding it, the article continued:

“‘They believe it’s had some unintended consequences for the state,’ said Spellings, who was President George W. Bush’s Education Secretary and began leading the 17 public university campuses three weeks before the law passed.

‘Obviously the legislature knows what we know. That’s why they had a special session. That’s why they are trying to come to some solution. That’s why the governor and the legislative leaders are apparently talking,’ she said….

Spellings has said the campuses must obey the law, but won’t change any policies or enforce the bathroom requirements.

‘We’re in a competitive world and our competitors have used this issue against us to some extent,’ she said Wednesday. ‘If I’m in Georgia and I’m in a competitive bidding war for a world-class faculty member, I’m going to say, if this is a transgender or gay person, “Is this an environment where you’re going to live and work?” So I think anecdotally there’s some of that going on.'”

Spellings, of course, is just the latest in a long and growing list of conservative establishment types to send a message to Berger and Moore that enough is enough already. Last month’s special legislative session made clear that the votes are there in both houses of the General Assembly to repeal the law. The only question at this point is whether Berger and Moore are willing to allow such a vote and risk ticking off their respective right wings. Let’s hope Spellings’ statements bring such a development that much closer to fruition.

Commentary

Real people are in the Medicaid coverage gap

The numbers are out there. For over three years the numbers have been reported on everything from how many people with diabetes could receive the medications they need to control this chronic condition to the number of jobs that could be created in each county. The numbers even show how some of the most vulnerable like children or even those that served the United States could finally gain access to the care they need if state lawmakers expanded Medicaid.

Unfortunately, the numbers have not influenced leadership in the legislature. Since the numbers and reports did not convince state lawmakers, perhaps the faces and stories of real North Carolinians will help lawmakers understand that the Medicaid Blockade hurts real people.

One real person is Kent. He is a construction worker for a small family-owned business. In fact, reports show that approximately 59,000 North Carolinians in the coverage gap have jobs in construction. Another real person is Roosevelt. He is one of the 12,000 veterans that would benefit is leadership in the General Assembly would expand Medicaid. Both of these men make too much money to be eligible for Medicaid under North Carolina’s current stingy standards, but not enough to be able to afford to but insurance in the marketplace. Roosevelt’s situation is made even more ridiculous and outrageous by the inaccessibility of Veterans Administration healthcare services.

The bottom line: It is a shame that men and women who served the country cannot get the health care they need when they need it. The Medicaid blockade is hard to justify when it impacts up to 500,000 real people. State lawmakers need to acknowledge that real people make up the numbers. They should listen to Roosevelt and others like him when they say, “I’m a human like you. I’m a citizen like you. Please do right by the people who have helped you.”

Commentary

The drumbeat against ACA repeal grows as new and disastrous numbers highlight the risk

Donald Trump speakingAt some point, you’ve got to think that Donald Trump and the members of Congress driving the ACA repeal bus are going to stop and ask themselves “what in the heck are we doing?” The latest numbers from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (remember, CBO serves a Congress that has been Republican-controlled for some time) provide a remarkable and dire warning signal. This is from the an article in yesterday’s New York Times:

“Repealing major provisions of the Affordable Care Act, while leaving other parts in place, would cost 18 million people their insurance in the first year, a report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said on Tuesday. A repeal could increase the number of uninsured Americans by 32 million in 10 years, the report said, while causing individual insurance premiums to double over that time.

The budget office analyzed the probable effects of a Republican bill repealing the law like the one approved in Congress, but vetoed early last year by President Obama.

The C.B.O. report, released after a weekend of protests against repeal, will only add to the headaches that President-elect Donald J. Trump and congressional Republicans face in their rush to gut President Obama’s signature domestic achievement as they try to replace it with a health insurance law more to their liking.”

Republicans panned the report and claimed that they plan to replace the ACA, but as the article also notes:

“But that replacement bill has yet to be produced, and existing Republican plans, such as one drafted by Representative Tom Price of Georgia, now selected to be Mr. Trump’s secretary of Health and Human Services, have yet to be scrutinized by the budget office, the official scorekeeper of legislation.”

In other words, on one of the most important and complex — if not, the most important and complex — domestic policy issues in 21st Century America, the GOP’s current plan is to run the risk of endangering the lives of millions of citizens, while offering up nothing more than  vague promise to do something else that they can’t explain and no one understands.

Come to think of it, that sounds pretty much like the Trump approach on just about every issue at this point. What could possibly go wrong?

Commentary

What’s at stake as legislative leaders double down on Medicaid blockade

Last week, conservative leaders at North Carolina General Assembly launched a legal attack against Gov. Cooper’s efforts to expand Medicaid. In so doing, these lawmakers went against the desires of 72 percent of North Carolinians who want to fix the health insurance gap by expanding Medicaid. Suing both the federal and state Department of Health and Human Services to prevent expansion hurts all of North Carolina. Instead of recognizing and accepting the health, social, and economic benefits of Medicaid expansion, state lawmakers are trying to extend the life of the Medicaid Blockade.

It is difficult to understand why policymakers continue to block efforts to close the coverage gap considering that up to 500,000 people could gain health coverage. A study released in 2014 examined both the preventive outcomes of expansion and the adverse health outcomes if North Carolina did not extend coverage to adults in the coverage gap. The study reported that Medicaid expansion could help prevent approximately 1,000 deaths per year. Further, Medicaid expansion could allow for nearly 27,000 people to receive medications to manage diabetes and allow approximately 12,000 women to receive mammograms.

Considering that most state lawmakers want to promote job growth and increase business activity throughout North Carolina, it is hard to believe that they continue the Medicaid blockade despite the projected economic benefits. One report shows that up to 43,000 jobs could be created by 2020, 13,228 of which are jobs in rural counties of the state. North Carolina’s vulnerable and rural hospitals would also experience an economic boost if Medicaid is expanded. In just one year, one hospital group reported a drop of $35 million in uncompensated careArkansas and Michigan are two states that reported decreases greater than 50 percent in uncompensated care. A more recent qualitative study reported that reductions in uncompensated care and the boost to health provider budgets allows for promotes increase in ways to improve on quality of care.

North Carolina has had the opportunity to improve the health and financial standing for children and families, low-wage workers, veterans, and rural residents since 2014. Tragically, state lawmakers continue to block the positive short and long-term impacts Medicaid expansion will have on our state. At some point in the near future, it seems certain that they will regret this decision.