Commentary

Predatory loansIn case you missed it over the weekend, the New York Times ran a thoroughly logical editorial that rightfully called for federal regulation to crack down on the scam artists who sell payday loans and other similar debt traps in numerous states across the country.

As the editorial rightfully notes, it’s all well and good to propose and enact laws like the “Military Lending Act,” which seeks to prevent our military personnel from getting caught up in these rip-offs, but the same logic obviously applies to other vulnerable consumers as well:

“Poor and working-class people across the country are being driven into poverty and default by deceptively packaged, usuriously priced loans. The obvious solution is a national standard for consumer lending. Both the House and Senate have bills pending that would adopt the 36 percent standard for all consumer transactions, including those involving payday loans, mortgages, car loans, credit cards, overdraft loans and so on.”

And while North Carolina has done a better job than many states in protecting its citizenry from the scammers, there’s plenty that comprehensive federal regulation which sets a ceiling on rates would do to benefit us — not the least of which is the way it could cut back on the flood of money spent by the loan industry on buying political influence and corrupting our politics.

The bottom line: What’s good for protecting our service members is good for protecting all consumers. If Congress had even a smidgen of courage, it would enact such legislation ASAP.

 

2015 Fiscal Year State Budget, NC Budget and Tax Center

State revenues are coming in $62 million under projection for the first three months of the fiscal year, according to the Fiscal Research Division’s (FRD) new General Fund Revenue Report. This report provides an assessment of revenue collection performance for the state on a quarterly basis and is particularly important considering the state’s inadequate and unsustainable budget (a point that has been fleshed out in this Budget and Tax Center’s blog series). The growing cost of the 2013 tax plan further challenges state lawmakers ability to rebuild what was lost in the aftermath of the Great Recession.

Despite state revenues having not yet fully recovered from the downturn, lawmakers overhauled North Carolina’s tax code last year in a way that significantly reduced state revenue. In its first year of implementation, the tax plan is already costing far more than expected. Fiscal Research Division estimated that in FY2015, the plan would cost $512.8 million—but it is already costing $191 million more than that. By the end of the fiscal year, the revenue shortfall could reach as high as $600 million—for a total cost of the tax plan of more than $1.1 billion—according Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates using up-to-date taxpayer data (see the chart below).

In other words, the $62 million revenue shortfall in the first quarter of the state’s fiscal year foreshadows what’s to come by the end of the fiscal year, assuming ITEP’s estimates turn out to be accurate. Read More

News

From the coal ash clean-up to the future of fracking, this summer’s short legislative session provided state legislators with numerous opportunities to weigh in on key environmental policies. Now the North Carolina League of Conservation Voters is out with its 2014 Legislative Scorecard, allowing citizens to see how each House and Senate member ranked in making decisions that ‘respect the environment.’

Here’s more from the NCLCV report:

This session began with high hopes and ended with major letdowns. With issues like education and Medicaid dominating the discussions this summer, environmental issues seemed to take a continual backseat at the General Assembly. The environment became more of a bargaining chip than an important issue, and procedural manipulation was a common theme throughout session.

Amendments were killed left and right by substitute amendments; environmental bills were carelessly rushed through the chambers at lightning speed; and provisions passed that actually weaken current environmental and health law.

On a “good” note, some of the worst proposals failed because the House and Senate couldn’t agree on a variety of issues. Unfortunately, the bills that did pass were still bad,and continued to roll back the sound environmental policies that have protected North Carolina for decades.

Partisan polarization in voting on environmental issues reached a new depth during 2014. The score gap between Republican and Democratic averages was 75 points in the House for the combined 2013-14 session, while it was 72 points in the Senate. This carried to a new extreme the alarming shift which began with the advent of new legislative leadership in 2011.

This year’s scorecard also includes a midterm report card for Governor Pat McCrory (see page 14). Click on the image below to read the entire report.

NCLCV-SCORECARD

Commentary

Gay marriage 2So, if the “religious beliefs” of a public official (like, for instance, a register of deeds) cause him or her one to oppose interracial marriage or, say, marriage between heterosexuals who are incapable of procreation, should that public official have the right to decline to issue marriage licenses to such couples?

According to the ironically-named North Carolina Values Coalition, the answer to that question is, by all appearances, “yes.” How else to explain the group’s efforts late last week to “inform” public officials throughout the state that they are free to decline to issue licenses to same-sex couples if to do so would violate “their conscience”?

Happily, the good people at Equality NC are speaking up to refute this nonsensical propaganda. This is from a release the group distributed late last Friday: Read More

News

vote2In case you missed it, Dahlia Lithwick had this wonderful post last week in which she noted the irony underlying a recent Arkansas Supreme Court decision rejecting that state’s voter ID law.

The court there based its ruling upon an 1865 decision protecting a confederate soldier’s right to vote under the state’s constitution — which required only that voters be U.S. citizens of a certain age, registered to vote, and living in the county where voting. As Lithwick noted, “modified versions of four of these qualifications (being a U.S. citizen, a resident of Arkansas, at least 18 years old, and lawfully registered to vote) are still the law in Arkansas.”

She added:

Just to be perfectly clear as to what just happened here, the Arkansas Supreme Court relied on a post–Civil War case restoring the franchise to former Confederate soldiers, including some who had slaughtered former slaves, to strike down a new voter ID law that would have suppressed the vote of minorities.

Lithwick credited University of Richmond Law School Professor John Pagan with pointing out the court’s precedent, and passed along this comment from Pagan in an email message to her:

My great-great grandfather, who served in an Arkansas regiment of the Confederate Army from 1861-65, was disenfranchised under the 1864 statute held unconstitutional in Rison. That the restoration of his voting rights by judicial decision in 1865 should provide the constitutional basis for preventing the disenfranchisement of enslaved people’s descendants in 2014 has to be one of the most remarkable turnabouts in the legal history of the South.