Uncategorized

TeachersHeadline-hunting legislative leaders got what they wanted and needed (for now) with yesterday’s latest budget announcement. They wanted the story to be first and foremost about big teacher raises and it appears pretty clear that they got that. Media outlets around the state are reporting that central component of the proposed budget agreement this morning and millions of North Carolinians are waking up to the news — even if it’s frequently tinged with skepticism.

The problem with this story, of course is that, by all indications, the pay raise is being purchased at an enormous price — i.e. big cuts everywhere else –including education — along with tiny and inadequate pay raises for other public employees (including education personnel).

In short, though many details remain to be seen, the central and disastrous driving force behind this year’s budget — last year’s regressive and backward-looking tax cuts remain in full force. As budget analyst Tazra Mitchell wrote here yesterday:

There are better choices available that will put North Carolina on a stronger path to recovery for children, families, and communities across the Tarheel state. For starters, lawmakers need to face the reality that we can’t afford further tax cuts and stop the income tax cuts that are scheduled to go into effect next January. Doing so will save approximately $100 million in the current fiscal year and $300 million in the 2015 calendar year. These revenues would go a long way towards reversing the most damaging cuts that were enacted in the aftermath of the Great Recession. That’s a short-term fix.  A longer term fix requires restoring the progressive personal income tax structure so that revenues are stable and more adequate.

The only saving grace of the budget is this: the message it sends to progressives. As dreadful as the budget is — both for the near and long term — it does serve to remind progressives of the power of advocacy. Read More

In a joint press conference Tuesday, N.C House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro-Tem Phil Berger gave a broad outline of their recently-reached compromise on the state’s $21.3 billion budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis (right) and N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger (left) at Tuesday budget press conference

N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis (left) and N.C. Senate leader Phil Berger (right) at Tuesday budget press conference

The Republican legislative leaders used the half-hour press conference to outline what the budget would do (teacher and state employee raises, avoid kicking some elderly and blind off of Medicaid) but didn’t delve deep into details abgoutwhat cuts could be seen in other arenas.

WRAL’s Mark Binker has a good run-down on what’s known about the budget proposal here. Click here to read Tillis and Berger’s press release.

The state’s teachers would get average raises of 7 percent, working out to approximately $3,500 per teacher, at a cost of $282 million. The teacher salary schedule would also be compressed from 37 steps to six steps, said Berger, the Senate leader.

Read More

This week has already featured several prominent pieces on North Carolina’s unemployment insurance cuts with the final assessment that many jobless workers have likely been harmed and a more balanced approach to trust fund debt based on evidence not ideology was needed.

On Sunday, the New York Times featured a piece by Justin Wolfers of the Brookings Institution that made clear the evidence just isn’t there to support claims made that North Carolina is experiencing an economic boom and job growth resulting from the unemployment insurance cuts. And while he correctly points out that there is too little evidence to draw conclusions about what is happening in the economy, Wolfers fails to acknowledge that the harm to jobless workers from the cuts is significant enough to raise alarm.

Yesterday, Jared Bernstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities followed up in the Washington Post by highlighting this very fact: there has been very real harm from the cuts created for jobless workers who now have fewer weeks to find a job in a labor market with too few and fewer dollars to meet basic needs, as the Budget & Tax Center documented in our recent report.

And then the Economic Policy Institute released a report looking across the country at states that cut unemployment insurance benefits. The report concludes that these decisions were not fiscal in nature but political and have had no appreciable impact on labor force improvements and been completely lopsided in their approach, effectively requiring jobless workers to pay employer’s debt. Here are a few of their key findings that are illustrative for North Carolina:

  • States with solvent unemployment insurance trust funds (the funding mechanism for the unemployment insurance system paid into by employers) before the Great Recession were less likely to borrow from the federal government.  A states’ experience was not a differentiating factor for states borrowing activities.
  • States that remained solvent had not cut UI-dedicate state taxes nearly as deeply as did other states during the 2001-2007 period of recovery and expansion.
  • Eight of 35 states chose to address their unemployment insurance trust fund debt with cuts rather than taking a balanced approach. What most of the eight states share is a recent history of not supporting safety-net programs not more drastic fiscal challenges.
  • Across the eight states, unemployed workers lost an average $252 per week of curtailed benefits just so states could save roughly nine cents per covered worker per week in UI-state taxes.
  • There was no visible improvement in state labor market outcomes—when looking at employment-to-population ration—following cuts to UI duration.

Bottom line from all this national attention, North Carolina policymakers made the wrong choice and jobless workers are being hurt as a result.

Veteran Washington Post columnist Dana Millbank gets things just about right in this new essay about the stubborn refusal of the state’s conservative political leaders to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Millbank’s column was inspired by Belhaven mayor Adam O’Neal’s march to Washington that was designed to highlight the plight of his small town that lost its hospital thanks the state’s Medicaid decision:

O’Neal arrived on Capitol Hill carrying his hiking pole and wearing trail shoes, shorts and a “Save our Hospital” T-shirt. He was accompanied by about 250 supporters, most affiliated with labor unions, and by civil rights leaders. The hospital closure disproportionately affects African Americans. But Gibbs is white, and so is Crystal Price, who, with her young son, joined the mayor on the stage.

Price, 27 and an employee at Wendy’s, has no health coverage and spoke tearfully about her cervical cancer. “They don’t want to expand Medicaid, so families like mine .?.?. have to decide if we’re going to pay for our children’s health care or our own,” she said. “How many have to bury their loved ones, and how many children like my own will have to grow up without a parent because you want more money in your pockets?”

For O’Neal, any ideological doubts about Obamacare are dwarfed by the disgrace of a young working mother unable to get cancer treatment.

“I mean, that’s wrong,” he said. “Conservatives — everybody — should think that’s wrong.”

Read Millbank’s entire column by clicking here.

Falls LakeIt’s last-minute sausage making time down on Jones Street and lawmakers are doing their worst to ram through a raft of measures that are of, by and for the well-heeled special interests. See for example the 54-page “technical corrections” bill that was passed by the House last week and that’s scheduled to blitz through the Senate Rules Committee this morning.

On the environmental front, the last-minute mischief is taking many forms, including, as reporter Craig Jarvis of Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning, another industry-designed threat to clean water. This is from Jarvis’ story entitled “Stream buffer protections rewritten by industry, DENR“:

A plan to update regulations that protect streams and rivers was adopted last year after a nearly five-year process that incorporated input from a wide range of interests.

In just five months this winter, the McCrory administration rewrote those rules with the help of private companies that had a financial stake in the outcome – including the company where state Department of Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla once worked….

Environmental groups that had been following the development of the new rules for years were surprised to find out the rules had been rewritten at all. They didn’t find out about it until this month, when a low-profile bill surfaced in the General Assembly that would authorize replacing the rules with the version written by the seven-member group.

“I didn’t even know they had met or issued a report,” said Heather Jacobs Deck, riverkeeper with the Pamlico-Tar River Foundation, who was involved with the original rules. “That was a shock. We had no idea. It was a little frustrating to know at the end of the process there were tweaks and other changes. We weren’t part of it.”

None of this is to say that there might not be good reasons to update the rules in this complex and important area. But the fact that the McCrory-Berger-Tillis team is plunging ahead without even informing — much less consulting — the state’s incredibly knowledgeable and dedicated environmental advocacy community is a testament to the bad faith that the state’s conservative political leadership has long brought (and continues to bring) to what ought to be its sacred duty to preserve our air, land and water.

Read Jarvis’ entire story by clicking here. Read the bill in question by clicking here.

more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/28/4036052/stream-buffer-protections-rewritten.html#storylink=cpy
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/28/4036052/stream-buffer-protections-rewritten.html#storylink=cpy