ICYMI, the editorial page of the Greensboro News & Record pulled no punches this weekend in an editorial excoriating state senators for their last minute proposal to hamstring local governments when it comes to use of the sales tax for public services and structures at the local level. Here’s an excerpt from “Oddest idea yet”:

Republican state senators canceled a floor vote on a confusing sales-tax bill Thursday until they could get their stories straight. Which means it might not return.

Of all the heavy-handed directives the legislature has pushed down on local governments in the past couple of years — airport and water system takeovers, de-annexations, local redistrictings, elimination of privilege licenses — this one might be the most illogical.

The measure, which originated in the Senate Finance Committee without notice Wednesday, was presented as a means of giving counties additional tax flexibility. With voters’ approval, they could add to the local sales tax, designating revenue to schools or transportation projects.

But the strings attached tied everything in knots.

The legislation put restrictions on how new revenue could be spent — for education or for transportation, but not for both. It put a cap on the local sales-tax rate. And, perhaps most baffling, it required that if a county raised the sales-tax rate, it would have to raise it all the way to the cap….

The half-baked sales-tax bill, which also includes unrelated provisions boosting economic development efforts, was yanked from the calendar before the Senate adjourned for the weekend. Senators will return to Raleigh Monday, but the wacky sales-tax proposals ought to vanish as quickly as they appeared.

For more information on the proposal in question, click here for succinct summary.

Health-Reform-SBAs Adam Linker explained last week when he debunked the latest conservative mythology surrounding the Affordable Care Act, the law continues to succeed despite its imperfections and the endless, hysterical attacks of the President’s political opponents.

Today, there’s still more confirmation of this undeniable reality from Washington state. As The Olympian reported this morning, the state’s uninsured rate has been plummeting:

State insurance officials say fewer than 9 percent of Washington residents still don’t have health insurance.

That’s a significant improvement from numbers before the Affordable Care Act went into effect.

The state Office of the Insurance Commissioner counted 970,000 uninsured Washington residents last year. That number is now 600,000 or about 8.65 percent of the state population.

Agency spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis told The Olympian (http://is.gd/p2XsBG ) two factors are driving the improvement: enrollment in Medicaid and sign-ups for private insurance, but inside and outside of the new state health insurance exchange.

The insurance department reports the individual market has grown to more than 327,000 policies. That represents about 81,000 more insured people than before Oct. 1, when Washington’s Health Benefit Exchange opened.

The exchange also helped sign up nearly 350,000 people for free insurance through Medicaid.

Despite the many successes here, at last check, North Carolina’s uninsured rate remains significantly higher.

Teacher pay is at the heart of the 2015 budget negotiations right now—and if you’re wondering why, consider this: in 64 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, a school system is that county’s largest employer.

WUNC reporters Dave DeWitt and Keith Weston put together a fascinating infographic that highlights this reality, noting that in 24 more counties, the school system is the second-largest employer. In only 12 counties are school systems not in the top two.

Why is this so important?

Well, after the General Assembly’s session last summer, legislators went home and likely heard from many of the employees (i.e. teachers) who worked for the single largest employer (the school system) in that legislator’s district. That political pressure clearly changed some minds regarding teacher raises, especially in an election year.

But a raise for teachers also has a longer-lasting impact beyond November.

If you think of a raise as an economic stimulus, more money in the pay checks of 95,000 teachers (spread out from Manteo to Murphy) will mean more middle-class people buying groceries, going on vacations, etc. And that will have a real, immediate economic impact on the state as a whole.

Lawmakers continue to work through a budget stalemate that is heading in the direction of providing teachers with a pay raise of somewhere between 6 and 8 percent — the first significant salary increase in six years.

But the General Assembly could end up paying for that raise by laying off thousands of teacher assistants who not only provide much needed services in the classroom, but outside of it too — many of them double as school bus drivers.

Check out DeWitt and Weston’s infographic by heading over to WUNC’s website.

June’s jobs numbers are out for North Carolina, showing that the state has held on to its unemployment rate of 6.4 percent for the second straight month.

Jobs-buttonThe national unemployment rate was 6.1 percent for June.

The North Carolina numbers for June released by N.C. Commerce Department show a much lower unemployment rate than a year ago, when unemployment was at 8.3 percent and one of the highest rates in the nation.

This month’s job report (click here to read) also shows the state’s labor pool is still shrinking, with 8,577 less people working in June than May.

Over the last year, the state’s labor force has shrunk by nearly 12,000, while the ranks of unemployed dropped by about 90,000 people, according to North Carolina job numbers.

That difference (a shrinking labor pool corresponding with a much larger drop in the numbers of the unemployed) has lead some economists to attribute North Carolina’s drop in its official unemployment rate not to a healthy economy, but to large numbers of long-term unemployed people dropping out of the workforce completely after last year’s cuts to unemployment benefits.

“There is zero evidence that cutting unemployment benefits in North Carolina did anything to spur job growth,” wrote Washington-based economist Dean Baker in an editorial in the News & Observer earlier this month. “There is much evidence that it led those who saw their benefits end to give up looking for work and to drop out of the labor force.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/11/4000035/zero-evidence-that-benefit-cuts.html#storylink=cp
Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/02/13/3619704/benefit-cuts-pushed-people-out.html#storylink=cpy

Gov. Pat McCrory and state legislative leaders disagree, and say those changes to the unemployment system and North Carolina’s subsequent rejection of federally-funded long-term unemployment help has put North Carolina in a better economic position.

“Yes, there are some people who probably took jobs they didn’t want instead of staying on unemployment,” McCrory said earlier this week in an interview with Charlotte’s WFAE radio program (discussion begins at 35:00).

“By the way, in my career, I’ve taken jobs that I don’t want,” McCrory said.  He added, “but it gets you in the door, it gets you working and it gets you off the government payroll.”

Click here to read the entire release on North Carolina’s jobs report for June.

Death penalty(Cross-posted from the blog of the NC Coalition for Alternatives to the Death Penalty).

By Kristin Collins

Yesterday, a California court confirmed what we have known in North Carolina for years: The death penalty is so dysfunctional as to be not just unconstitutional, but futile.

The ruling said of a system in which inmates sit on death row for decades, and only a tiny percentage of those sentenced to death are ever executed:

“… for too long now, the promise has been an empty one … It has resulted in a system in which arbitrary factors, rather than legitimate ones like the nature of the crime or the date of the death sentence, determine whether an individual will actually be executed.”

Lest anyone offer the “simple” solution of executing people more quickly, let’s pause to remember the more than 140 innocent people who have been freed from death row. Seven of them were in North Carolina, and some spent more than a decade on death row before their innocence was recognized.

North Carolina’s system is no different from California’s. Since 1977, when the modern death penalty began, nearly 400 men and women have been sentenced to death, and only 43 have been executed. Read More