Commentary, News

State lawmakers are back in their home districts this weekend having wrapped up the nine-month legislative session on Wednesday.

What will they remember as the highlights? What opportunities did they miss?

Orange County Rep. Graig Meyer believes lawmakers did not do enough for educators in this year’s budget. He calls the $750 one-time bonus teachers and state employees will receive “a cynical political ploy.”

Meyer also finds fault with the leadership’s decision to further cut the corporate tax rate:

“We’re giving another two percent decrease in the corporate tax rate. That means if you are an individual, you’re going to pay 2.5 % more taxes on your income than Google or any other profitable corporations is going to pay on their income,” explained Meyer.

“And I guess that most corporations in North Carolina would happily have just left that tax rate where it was, if it meant we could have brought our teacher pay up to the national average.”

Meyer also weighs in on the state’s decision to privatize Medicaid this session, but not expand the program to cover more uninsured North Carolinians.

Click below to hear an excerpt from Meyer’s recent radio interview with NC Policy Watch’s Chris Fitzsimon. A podcast of the full interview is available here.

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Death penaltyIt’s hard to follow the death penalty case of Richard Glossip, the latest inmate headed to execution by the state of Oklahoma, without wondering if his prosecution, conviction and, if it happens, death by lethal injection could have been bungled any more than has already happened.

Glossip, who had no arrest record and no history of violence, was sentenced to death for a murder he didn’t commit. His conviction was based upon testimony from the actual murderer, Justin Sneed, who’d bludgeoned the victim with a bat.  In exchange for a life sentence, Sneed testified that Glossip made him do it.

Oklahoma’s Court of Criminal Appeals overturned Glossip’s first conviction because his lawyer was inept, and the case against him grew weaker by the day afterwards.

As related by Lincoln Caplan in this New Yorker piece, the prosecution then agreed that no physical evidence linked Glossip to the crime scene. Nonetheless, he was convicted and sentenced to death a second time based upon a different factual account given by Sneed — one of eight different accounts he has told, according to Glossip’s lawyers.

After Oklahoma botched the execution of another death row inmate last year through the use of a three-drug cocktail, the U.S. Supreme Court stayed Glossip’s scheduled execution while the justices considered a challenge to the use of those drugs.

The high court then sustained the use of that cocktail in June, holding in a 5-4 opinion  that Glossip’s attorneys had failed to identify any alternative drug that the state could use.

Attempts at a stay based upon evidence showing innocence, including to the U.S. Supreme Court — which issued a denial over a dissent by Justice Stephen Breyer — proved fruitless, and Glossip was set for execution late yesterday.

At the last minute, though, Oklahoma’s governor issued a stay based upon yet another snafu:  the state had the wrong drug.

All of which leads to this question:  At what point should the state pull back and reconsider whether the death penalty is deserving in a case?

More importantly, at what point does the U.S. Supreme Court say enough is enough?

Caplan argues in his piece that if an abolition of the death penalty by the high court comes soon, Glossip might just be the reason:

It provides a case study in the unreliability of the application of the death sentence. Glossip’s current lawyers have raised serious doubts about his guilt, which make his conviction dubious and his death sentence unjust. His counsel in his first trial was reprehensibly bad. His counsel in his second trial exceeded the very low standard for ineffective counsel, but did a poor cross-examination of Sneed, the main witness against Glossip. From the decision to charge Glossip with a capital crime to some unsavory tactical moves in the second trial, the prosecution was overzealous and may have crossed the line into misconduct.

As Caplan notes, four of the justices are already there, including Breyer, who in his dissent in the June Glossip opinion openly invited a constitutional challenge to the death penalty.

And some experts now suggest that Justice Anthony Kennedy may be ready to cross over, in light of recent statements by Pope Francis that echo Kennedy’s own words in a 2014  opinion overturning the death sentence of an intellectually-disabled Florida man: “The Eighth Amendment’s protection of dignity reflects the Nation we have been, the Nation we are, and the Nation we aspire to be.”


UNCsystemNorth Carolina’s conservative political leaders and their appointees appear to be making ever more headway in their ongoing effort to “run state government like a business.” The only problem is that the business model they evidently have in mind is something out of the Donald Trump empire.

As a group of UNC system professors (including occasional NC Policy Watch contributor Michael Behrent of Appalachian State) explained this morning, in an excellent essay in Raleigh’s News & Observer, state leaders are bestowing big salaries and big salary hikes on university administrators even as they slash investments in higher education, ratchet up tuition and leave faculty pay stuck in the mud.

“Another steep cut in state education budgets? These days, little could surprise North Carolinians less. However, something unexpected recently happened: The UNC Board of Governors – whose 32 members were all appointed by the Republican legislature – contemplated a rare spending spree: They voted to allow generous pay raises for top university administrators.

The UNC president and chancellors could increase the compensation ranges for “vice presidents, vice chancellors, deans and other administrators.” Using a new model recommended to the Board of Governors by a consulting firm, the pay range for a vice president for research and graduate education, for instance, would be between $242,829 and $388,526.

If your gut tells you this sounds excessive, you’re right. It is.

In this era of relentless state disinvestment from public education, such administrative pay raises will inevitably be financed by North Carolinians’ tuition dollars. Moreover, pay hikes for administrators exacerbate one of the most outrageous and unnecessary trends in contemporary higher education.”

The essay concludes this way: Read More

NC Budget and Tax Center

The General Assembly used a few of the last hours of the 2015 session to cut back how long unemployed North Carolinians in economically distressed counties can receive food assistance. Even though this weeks’ labor market data show that 9 out of 10 counties have more out of work people than job openings, the new rule would cut unemployed people off regardless of how hard it is to find work. The change could take food off more than 100,000 tables across North Carolina, and will pull money out of already struggling local economies, a doubly bad deal.

The one-sentence provision in the ratified bill (see section 16.a) permanently prevents the state from seeking to extend food assistance for people who can’t find work in their local economies, except in times of emergency. The federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) allows states to temporarily waive a three-month time limit for unemployed childless adults who live in areas where few jobs are available.77 waiver counties - Updated for Blog Post

Recognizing that cutting off food aid to areas where there aren’t enough jobs hurts entire local economies, North Carolina sought this waiver for 77 of our 100 counties earlier this year. If the Governor signs this measure and SB119 into law, the ban on the waiver would go into effect in July 2016. Without the modest support of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), between 85,000 and 105,000 North Carolinians would be subject to the three month-time limit and potentially will not be able to purchase food at their local grocery stores, depressing consumer demand further and driving use of food banks already stretched to capacity. Read More

Commentary, News

If you weren’t able to attend NC Policy Watch’s Crucial Conversation with Barmak Nassirian of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, that full program is now available online.

This week’s event featured  Nassirian, Director of Federal Relations and Policy Analysis at AASCU, discussing the for-profit college industry and why it has become rife with sketchy operators who take advantage of vulnerable consumers.

Please watch and then share this special presentation:
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