Richard Burr 2This week’s LOL, through-the-looking-glass moment in conservative politics revolves around the antiquated Senate “blue slip” process whereby home state Senators like North Carolina’s own Richard Burr can unilaterally and without explanation block federal court nominees — even ones they’ve endorsed previously to the President.

As Think Progress contributor Ian Millhiser reports, proposals in the U.S. Senate to temper the rule (as was done previously by Republican Senator Orrin Hatch when he once chaired the Senate Judiciary Committee) are meeting strong resistance from…Senator Orrin Hatch:

“Rolling back the Senate’s so-called ‘blue slip process’ would be ‘disastrous,’ according to an op-ed written by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) on Friday. Which is somewhat of a surprising position for Hatch to take, since he largely abandoned this blue slip process in 2003. Read More

This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right in its characterization of the push by state legislative leaders to plow ahead with their school voucher scheme despite the certainty of lengthy litigation over the issue and the existence of a court injunction against it:

“It really is time to stop calling those who run the N.C. General Assembly conservatives. They are not conservative. They are reckless.

There’s a long list of actions that demonstrates their disregard for what defines the truly conservative. They hand out extravagant amounts to the wealthy in tax cuts and leave the state strapped for basic services. They turn down billions of dollars in federal support for the jobless and the health needs of the working poor. They ignore the principles of sound investment by cutting spending on public schools and higher education. They trample constitutional ideals regarding voting rights and civil rights. They shirk their obligations to be careful stewards of the environment.

The list could go on, but the case is concisely illustrated in the latest turmoil over school vouchers.” Read More

To the surprise of some of its own members, a legislative task force studying alternative ways to compensate teachers in the state put forth a report today asking the General Assembly to consider a short-term goal of significantly increasing the salaries of entering teachers and those teachers who are most likely to leave–which would be teachers with less than ten years of experience.

That recommendation mirrors Gov. Pat McCrory’s recent teacher pay proposal that would reward only beginning teachers in the state with significant pay raises, bringing their salaries up from $30,800 to $35,000 by 2015.

But task force members who were not lawmakers — teachers, principals, and other education stakeholders – were taken aback  by the report that bears their names, indicating their feedback wasn’t taken into account during the report’s development.

“Why were we brought here? I don’t sense the education professionals on this panel had much input in the report,” said Timothy Barnsback, President of the Professional Educators of North Carolina (PENC). Read More

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 4.17.51 PMThe Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released the fourth year report on projections of the cost of the Affordable Care Act.  The news is good and consistent with the trend over the previous four years: CBO now projects $104 billion less in costs under the Act than it did last year.  The reduction in costs is due to a variety of factors but two big ones stand out.  First, plans being offered under the health exchanges have significantly lower premiums that were originally anticipated, largely a result of narrower networks of providers and tighter management of health care in the plans – a trade-off that has resulted in big savings.  Second, all health costs – both in government programs like Medicare and Medicaid and in the private sector – are projected to grow  more slowly than just last year.  The CBO points out that this is becoming a trend:

A notable influence is the substantial downward revision to projected health care costs both for the federal government and for the private sector. For example, since early 2010, CBO and JCT have revised downward their projections of insurance premiums for policies purchased through the exchanges in 2016 by roughly 15 percent, and CBO has revised downward its projection of total Medicaid spending per beneficiary in 2016 by roughly half that percentage.

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This tax season marks the final year North Carolina taxpayers will file their income taxes under the state’s old tax code. By next year the increased tax load for many North Carolina taxpayers will be apparent as a result of the tax plan passed by state leaders last year.

Today, the Budget & Tax Center released a report that highlights how the tax plan passed last year shifts the responsibility of paying for public investments to middle- and low- income taxpayers while providing generous tax cuts to the wealthy and profitable corporations. The report highlights various elements of the tax plan that fundamentally changes the state’s tax system and, subsequently, who pays taxes in North Carolina.

The tax plan passed last year replaces the existing graduated personal income tax rate structure with a flat tax rate that will largely benefit wealthy taxpayers who will now pay a much lower income tax rate. A number of tax provisions that benefit middle- and low-income families – such as the personal exemption and child and dependent care credit – are eliminated under the tax plan. Read More