News

SCOTUS redistricting mapsOn tomorrow’s calendar of petitions for review by the U.S. Supreme Court is Dickson v. Rucho, the challenge to the state’s 2010 redistricting plan.

The groups and individuals who initially sued lawmakers in state court — contending that the plan constituted an unlawful racial gerrymander — filed papers in January asking the justices to review the state Supreme Court’s 2014 decision upholding the plan.

Since then, the nation’s highest court decided a similar case out of Alabama — applying a different analysis than that used by our state justices and sending that state’s plan back to the trial court for further review. (For more on the relationship between the Alabama and the North Carolina cases read here.)

The Court ruled that race predominated in an Alabama redistricting plan which moved black voters into majority-minority districts in order to prevent the percentage of minority voters from declining, and that such race-based redistricting must be strictly scrutinized.

Five days later, the court likewise sent a case raising similar issues regarding Virginia’s 3rd Congressional District, Cantor v. Personhuballah, back down for further review.

The challengers of the North Carolina plan — relying in part upon the analysis in the Alabama decision — contend that our state maps should also be strictly scrutinized and rejected as race-based gerrymanders.

Citing the Alabama opinion, they argue:

Certiorari must be granted in this case to end the use of irregularly shaped race-based election districts in North Carolina because “[r]acial gerrymandering strikes at the heart of our democratic process, undermining the electorate’s confidence in its government as representative of a cohesive body politic in which all citizens are equal before the law.”

They also point out that state lawmakers’ use of “mechanical racial targets” led to the drawing of districts that were “even more bizarrely shaped” than those examined by the justices in the Alabama case — as illustrated in the image above. (The enacted district as opposed to alternatives is in the bottom right corner.)

NC Budget and Tax Center

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy released a study this morning highlighting the current contributions of undocumented immigrants through state and local taxes. In North Carolina, undocumented immigrants pay $278 million in state and local taxes currently. These tax dollars help the state invest in public schools and various other public services.

From the report:

Like other people living and working in the United States, undocumented immigrants pay state and local taxes. In addition to paying sales and excise taxes when they purchase goods and services (for example, on utilities, clothing and gasoline) undocumented immigrants also pay property taxes directly on their homes or indirectly as renters. Many undocumented immigrants also pay state income taxes.5 The best evidence suggests that at least 50 percent of undocumented immigrant households currently file income tax returns using Individual Tax Identification Numbers (ITINs) and many who do not file income tax returns still have taxes deducted from their paycheck.

Under President Obama’s executive actions, that would provide a pathway to temporary status for children who arrived here without documents and parents of US citizens, the contributions of North Carolina undocumented immigrants would increase to $372 million.

At that time, undocumented immigrants would be paying an effective tax rate of 8.3 percent compared to the 5.3 percent paid by the top 1 percent of North Carolina taxpayers whose average income is $1 million. It turns out all those paying taxes in North Carolina face an upside-down system.

This Tax week it is important to recognize that everyone in NC pays taxes. The Executive Actions on immigration that would provide temporary status to currently undocumented immigrants would increase state and local tax revenue at a critical time in NC.

Commentary

Governor Pat McCrory’s notorious hyper-sensitivity to criticism was on full display yet again yesterday. The Guv went to the trouble of issuing a special statement in response a mild and understated barb from President Obama about the well-documented decline in North Carolina’s commitment to public education.

Here’s what the Prez said:

“Funding now here in this state, and teacher pay, is ranking as low as it gets. And so part of it is just pointing that out and hopefully understanding this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re Republican or Democrat. You should want to make sure schools are successful and have … teachers who are motivated and have professional training but also are making enough of a living that they can afford a middle-class lifestyle.”

Rather than letting the remark go as he would have been smart to do, McCrory tried to respond with a snippy comment in which he touted his Rube Goldberg teacher pay raise plan of last year and basically said that Obama had no idea what he was talking about.

The fact of the matter, though, is that Obama was quite correct. North Carolina spending on public education is still well-below pre-Great Recession levels. And while, some teachers did get a desperately overdue raise last year, it in no way made up for the years of layoffs, class size hikes, losses of support personnel and numerous other indignities visited on our public schools because of the state leadership’s ill-advised tax giveaways to the well-off.

The bottom line: As usual, the Governor overreacted to a gentle bit of criticism and in so doing, only served to focus more attention on the policy failures over which he has presided.

Commentary

This morning’s edition of the Greensboro News & Record has a fine editorial (“Whose property is it, anyway?”) that takes down one of the most pernicious aspects of fracking that was unaddressed by the state’s new law allowing the controversial energy drilling procedure: “forced pooling”:

“Forced pooling began with good intentions. It was meant to limit the number of wells and make sure that landowners weren’t denied payment for oil and gas lying below their property. Unfortunately, the practice can be turned against them.

Natural gas may lie below many properties. Owners can pool their interests to command a good price and limit how many wells are drilled. But, if a few owners won’t go along, they could block some of their neighbors from the pool or force the drilling of additional wells, raising costs. Laws in many states can compel them to join, awarding them a fair share of the proceeds and in some cases assigning them a portion of the costs.”

The editorial explains that Virginia just defeated a bill that would have allowed the practice there and and urges support for legislation by Rep. Bryan Holloway that would ban forced pooling in North Carolina too. One would think that such a measure — which Holloway rightfully defends as being about property rights — would be a no-brainer for conservatives, but it’s funny how sweet-talking by big energy companies has a way of trumping ideology for those on the right.

An informal poll on the N&R website yesterday found that readers opposed forced polling by a ratio of about 15 to 1. We’ll see who state legislators are listening to in the coming weeks: average people and landowners or fat cat energy lobbyists. Stay tuned.

News

BOEMGovernor Pat McCrory reiterated his support for offshore drilling to the U.S. House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources Wednesday. But McCrory told the congressional panel the federal government’s 50-mile imposed buffer zone “unnecessarily puts much of North Carolina’s most accessible undiscovered resources under lock and key.”

McCrory testified that the strict application of that buffer zone could place as much as 40% of North Carolina’s potential offshore energy reserves “out of play”:

NCPW-CC-2015-04-07-oil-rig-flickr-tsuda-CC-BY-SA-2-0-150x150‘I urge the BOEM (Bureau of Ocean Energy Management)to reduce the proposed coastal buffer zone off the North Carolina coast. A reduced buffer would keep North Carolina’s coast land ocean activities undisturbed, maintain the view from our 320 miles of ocean beaches and shoreline, protect marine life and preserve the availability of potential resources.’

 

Gov. McCrory told the subcommittee while he respects those who may disagree with his position, he believes there is “widespread support” across North Carolina for offshore leasing, exploration and development.

Click here to read McCrory’s full statement, including his position on revenue sharing.