Commentary

UNCIn case you missed it over the weekend, ECU English professor Robert Siegel made a compelling case in Raleigh’s News & Observer for a more energetic resistance from the higher education community against the sustained attack being waged by the state’s conservative political leadership. In particular, Siegel faults UNC administrators — saying they’ve “confused access with influence.” He points to the way Wake County’s public education community fought back against the hostile takeover engineered by conservatives a few years back:

“When schools were attacked in Wake County, an outraged citizenry packed school board meetings, demonstrated on the streets of Raleigh and committed civil disobedience. That public outcry translated into door to door campaigning and phone calling that resulted in defeating five out of five board members and returning the schools to a mainstream course.”

He concludes this way:

“UNC administrators all the way up to the president and Board of Governors need to get out from behind their desks and get away from their interminable meetings. Talk to the people, not just students on your campuses. That’s preaching to the choir. Get out into the smaller towns and more rural counties. Hold town meetings. Explain to citizens the importance of higher education. Many of their sons and daughters are the first in their families to attend a college or university. Explain what this state will become if higher education fails.”

Now is the time to speak truth to power. Rent a bus and, in the spirit of great civil rights activists, speak truth to power. That would be a bus we would be proud to ride.

Read the entire op-ed by clicking here.

Commentary

Sen. Dan Soucek seems to think that allowing same-sex couples to get married is not about equality, but is giving them special rights—whatever that means. Here’s what Soucek told the Avery Journal over the weekend.

“I think the most disturbing thing about this is how it’s being stretched to not give some people fair privileges, but special rights. And how those rights are infringing on other peoples’ constitutional religious freedoms,” Soucek said.

According to Soucek, legally re-defining marriage to include same-sex unions falls under the definition of a special right.

“Marriage has always been defined throughout history one way and re-defining marriage is a special right. It’s not an equal right,” Soucek said. “Interracial marriage was an equal right because it was excluding a group. This is a redefinition. It’s a fundamentally different thing.”

So, allowing gay couples to have the same rights as other people is a “special right” because it infringes on other peoples’ freedoms?  Huh?

News

The State Ethics Commission will put a searchable database of economic interest forms back online in 2015, though without including the personal contact information of filers.

The Commission voted Friday to approve an amended version of the form – which doesn’t include home address and contact information – which will be made available  in 2015 to the public in an online searchable. A separate form with the filer’s contact information will still be considered a public record and available to the public upon request.

The state Ethics Commission began posting statements of economic interest for hundreds of public officials this summer, but took down the searchable database after fielding complaints from judicial branch officials worried about the easy accessibility of their personal information.

Statements of economic interest are required to be filed annually by state elected officials, some state employees in decision making roles and those who serve on many state boards. The forms require disclosures about sources of income, stocks and properties owned as well as information about individual’s spouses and immediate family members.

Gov. Pat McCrory was criticized earlier this year when he filed an ethics form misstating that he sold his Duke Energy stock in 2013, when the stock had been sold in the spring of 2014, after the coal-ash spill at a Duke-owned plant near the Dan River. McCrory filed an amended ethics form correcting the information, and has said his lawyer misunderstood what what time period the ethics disclosure form was inquiring about.

Also on Friday, the N.C. Ethics Commission ruled that the Academic Standards Review Commission is not considered a  covered board by the State Ethics Act, on the basis that the committee is advisory and academic standards board members are not making final decisions about policy. The academic standards group, which is meeting on Monday, is tasked with reviewing and making recommendations about replacing the state education system’s  Common Core State Standards.

NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina’s unemployment insurance debt is being paid down, but a little recognized fact is that it is workers who have contributed the most towards its repayment not employers.

The debt itself was a result of the historic job loss of the Great Recession and the tax cuts that were provided to employers during good times that left the unemployment insurance trust fund underfunded when it was needed the most. Borrowing from the federal government was the only way in which the state could meet its commitment to provide workers who had lost their jobs through no fault of their own with a temporary and partial replacement of their wages until the economy recovered.

Unemployment insurance payments not only mitigated even worse fallout from the Great Recession for workers and their families, it likely stopped a further decline in consumer spending and the resulting spiral of job loss that would have hit businesses harder and made the economic recovery even longer for everyone.

North Carolina policymakers took these economic conditions and the debt as a reason to enact some of the harshest cuts to unemployment insurance, many of which are unlike what any other state does in designing their unemployment insurance systems. Among the results: jobless workers receive just 14 weeks of unemployment insurance, half of the 26 weeks most states offer, and $300 less each month on average in benefits, far less than what is needed to maintain their spending and meet a family’s most basic needs. These changes and others delivered “savings” that translated into nearly two-thirds of the debt being repaid by workers.

The waiver that North Carolina recBTC - Changes to UI Benefitseived this week will mean that employers won’t receive a federal penalty for holding debt given that the state is likely to pay down the debt by May 2015. That penalty was the primary way in which employers were contributing to the debt repayment as can be seen in the chart above. State tax changes under the 2013 changes represented just 0.7 percent of total contributions by employers. Read More

Commentary

Tickets are going fast for two upcoming NC Policy Watch events that you won’t want to miss.

First is next week’s election post mortem Crucial Conversation: “What happened? Why? What now?” featuring Chris Fitzsimon, Dan Blue III, Tom Jensen and Carol Teal. Here are the details:

When: Wednesday, November 19, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.
Where: The North Carolina Association of Educators Building, 700 S. Salisbury St., Raleigh, NC 27601
Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.
Click here to register and learn more.

Second is our NC Policy Watch 10th anniversary celebration, which is co-sponsored by North Carolina State Senator Dan Blue, Capitol Broadcasting CEO Jim Goodmon and former Gov. Jim Hunt. Come hear from three of North Carolina’s most important leaders as our state comes to a crossroads after four years of damaging cuts to education and rolling back of progress it took a generation to make.

When: Monday, December 8, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Where: The Stockroom in downtown Raleigh.
(Click here for location information).