Commentary

As Governor Pat McCrory travels the state this week touting a billion dollar bond proposal for highway improvements and transit investments over the next 25 years, the Charlotte Observer reminds readers that the state is facing a serious revenue problem.

The editorial board doesn’t hold back in Thursday’s column entitled: Become Alabama in 12 easy steps.

Here’s an excerpt:

(News item: State revenues in North Carolina decreased by more than $200 million in July and August, the first two months of the fiscal year, when compared with the same months in 2013. That’s also $50 million short of state budget projections, the (Raleigh) News & Observer reports.)

Twelve Easy Steps to Becoming Alabama:alabama-close

1) Slash taxes, as N.C. Republicans did last year when they cut both the corporate tax rate and the personal income tax rate, with the most significant benefits going to wealthy North Carolinians.

2) Tell citizens this is tax “reform,” not simply tax cuts.

3) Explain, too, that this will help “job creators” grow our state’s economy, despite the fact that history shows there is little to no link between tax cuts and economic growth. The reason for this is that businesses add jobs when they believe doing so will help them grow and make more money. They do not need a tax break to want to make more money, and they won’t add jobs until it’s economically advantageous to do so, regardless of tax breaks.

4) Do not explain that last part to voters.

5) Cut spending, as N.C. lawmakers have had to do to offset the hundreds of millions in lost tax revenue. These cuts can be made in a number of ways, such as trimming health and welfare benefits for poor people, or cutting unemployment benefits for those without a job.

6) Subtly blame these poor and unemployed people for needing government “handouts.”

7) Bonus Tip: One especially fertile target for spending is education. Freeze higher education pay and cut education budgets, despite increases in enrollment. Cut the money that’s spent per student in classrooms and raise teacher pay only after it’s politically destructive to ignore it. Then cut critical education needs like teacher assistants to help pay for those salaries, and fund the rest of the permanent pay increase with one-time only sources of state revenue.

8) Hope no one notices that last thing.

9) Wave off signs of trouble, as new state budget director Lee Roberts did this week when asked about the state’s alarming two-month revenue shortfall. Roberts said it was too early to worry, despite the N.C. Budget and Tax Center estimating that revenue will be down $300 million in 2015 and at least a half-billion dollars next year, when new tax cuts go into effect.

Read the full editorial online at The Charlotte Observer.

Commentary

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.

News

North Carolina’s Health and Human Service Secretary Aldona Wos will be at the state legislature today, rolling out her plan to restructure the $18 billion state agency as well the state Medicaid program that provides healthcare for more than 1.5 million North Carolinians.

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

Wos, in a 14-page letter addressed to the heads of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, reiterated to lawmakers that she came into her $1-a-year job to find the state’s largest agency in disarray.

“As you know, I inherited a department with a well-documented history of serious and chronic problems,” she wrote. “We have been on a path toward a sustainable department over the last 20 months and we have built the foundation for a stronger Medicaid program.”

She hopes the restructuring of Medicaid program will to fend off proposals in the legislature by Senate Republicans to move Medicaid, the massive $13 billion program that provides health care to low-income children, seniors and disabled residents – to its own standalone agency.

Wos, a wealthy Greensboro physician and prominent Republican fundraiser appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory in January 2013, has had a rocky tenure as the head of the DHHS, with controversies swirling over her granting big salaries and contracts to associates and McCrory campaign workers. Her first year on the job also saw botched rollouts of two technology projects that led to lengthy delays in medical providers getting paid for Medicaid services and in thousands of low-income families accessing food stamps

Read More

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.