Commentary

As reported earlier this week, a committee of the General Assembly will meet tomorrow to, by all indications, recommend legislation to loosen regulations on mortgage brokers. As also reported in the story, consumer advocates believe that the proposals to lower bonding requirements and do away with  the requirement of audited financial statements for regulated businesses is the direct opposite of what ought to be done. These facts remain beyond dispute.

Since the story ran on Tuesday, however, it’s come to my attention that another central premise — that tomorrow’s meeting was scheduled for the Friday before the Christmas holiday to help keep the matter flying under the radar of public scrutiny — may be in error (or, at least, an overstatement).

According to information forwarded to me last night, it does appear that various legislative deadlines and the limited availability of various members of the Committee on Banking Law Amendments on other dates played a significant role in the scheduling of the meeting for tomorrow. By all reports, the chairman of the Committee, Rep. Jonathan Jordan, has run an open process and allowed all parties and points of view to be heard as the committee has moved forward with its work.

And so, while is is clearly true that a) the proposed legislation is strongly opposed by consumer advocates as an unwise giveaway to a troubled industry, b) the scheduling of tomorrow’s meeting can’t help but minimize the public attention on what ought to be a controversial proposal and c) the best solution would have been for the committee in question to simply abandon its work on the subject (or at the least to have approached the process with greater foresight from the beginning so as to have been able to complete its work at a time in which its actions would have received a great deal more sunlight), it was incorrect to imply that tomorrow’s schedule was arranged for the sole purpose of evading public scrutiny.

NC Budget and Tax Center

One key measure to assess the strength of the recovery is to look at how nominal wages, wages not adjusted for inflation, grow over time. The reason being that low and flat nominal wage growth is an indicator that employers don’t have to offer wage increases to keep employees since the labor market market continues to be weak.

As the Economic Policy Institute indicates in their release of the Nominal Wage Tracker,  an on-line platform with useful graphics and up-to-date data, a target to aspire to is between 3.5 and 4 percent which is likely the point at which workers would start to see real benefits from economic growth. The actual year over year growth has been 2.11 percent.

Commentary

We’ve reported on several of the unwise cuts imposed or forced by state lawmakers and Governor McCrory in the past year — from cuts in child care to the courts to basic school supplies. This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer highlights another ill-conceived and likely dangerous decision: the cuts to driver’s education in our schools. As the editorial notes:

“It is one of the most foolish budget-cutting tricks pulled by the Republican-led General Assembly. To help balance the state budget – a budget in serious trouble, thanks to shortfalls in revenue from taxes – GOP lawmakers intend to cut state funds for driver’s education.

The responsibility to pay for the lessons will fall to local school districts, which can ill-afford to make up the difference. Some will have to charge each student $65 for the program, which won’t cover the cost, so districts will have to dig into their budgets for the money. And this for a program required by the state. Districts must offer driver’s ed to every student in public, private and home schools. In Wake County, about 12,000 students a year go through the program.

Offering the training is a no-brainer. Statistics show a higher incidence of fatal collisions for those who don’t take driver’s education. That alone should have made driver’s ed hands-off for lawmakers. But paying for driver’s education also provides a good safety service for families and a reasonable hope that better-educated drivers are better drivers and more familiar with the rules of the North Carolina road….

The problem is that with excessive tax cuts, Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. If they stand by their cuts, they’re going to not just have to defend what they’ve already done, they’ll have to find new places to save money, and those places are most likely to be in public education….

So the tax-cutters in the legislature will create tax-raisers in the counties. The people of North Carolina are smart enough to know a shell game when they see one.

School systems and parents will pay for drivers ed one way or the other. But by passing the funding obligation downward, the state fosters a system that will help fewer young drivers.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

News

voteNew data put out today by Democracy NC found that voter participation was higher in the state for the 2014 midterm election than it was in 2010. In general, voter turnout increased across the board for most subgroups but the most significant increase came from the group of unaffiliated voters. Of the 250,600 more people who voted in the 2014 election, almost two-thirds were Independents. Among Democrats and Republicans, the changes were slight. Even though more Democratic women came out to vote in 2014, Republican men continued to turnout in higher numbers. Since the percentage of party-affiliated voters didn’t change drastically, it certainly seems that Independent vote had a serious impact on the outcome of the election.

According to Bob Hall, director of Democracy NC, “Thom Tillis gained the edge from independent voters, conservative Democrats and the higher turnout of Republican voters,” while “Senator Kay Hagan benefited from the increased turnout of Democratic women and African Americans.”

The African American vote increased by 1.9 percentage points in the midterm election, which Hall credits to the efforts of groups including, Democracy North Carolina, the NC NAACP, Common Cause, and the League of Women Voters, who mounted yearlong campaigns to educate voters about the new voting rules.

However, Hall notes that, the increases in voter participation, both within subgroups and overall, aren’t necessarily a cause for joy. He explained that no party or group can be proud of an election where more than half the registered voters did not participate. “The loss of same-day registration cut out at least 20,000 voters,” he said, “and the end of straight-party voting and out-of-precinct voting created long lines and enormous problems that pushed away thousands of more people.”

Democracy NC’s full press release can be read here and voter turnout data can be found here.

Commentary

school_booksIn case you missed it, there is an excellent article on the main Policy Watch site today that highlights the unfortunate problems with the new history curriculum financed by the arch-conservative Koch family. The Bill of Rights Institute, funded by the Koch family and whose Board includes Koch employees, received a contract to help develop materials for North Carolina public school teachers to use in a course, required for all students, about America’s founding principles.

As Ian Millhiser, Senior Constitutional Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and author of the article, notes this could have been a great opportunity for North Carolina students to learn about important areas of American history that are often ignored by high schools. However, rather than present a balanced view, the materials push a clear Koch-sponsored agenda.

They present a selective view of history, exaggerate conflicts that have largely been resolved, emphasize subjects congenial to a conservative worldview and ignore entirely major threads of constitutional law and history. The students who learn from these materials are likely to emerge more skeptical of federal power and more sympathetic to a libertarian view of property rights. They are likely, in other words, to emerge more like Charles and David Koch.

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