News

State BarThe North Carolina State Bar has reversed a prior panel ruling and cleared attorney Cassandra Stubbs of ethics violations alleged to have occurred during her representation of death row inmate Marcus Robinson in his Racial Justice Act challenge.

Stubbs is the second of Robinson’s attorneys to have her name cleared, after charges were lodged against her and attorney Gretchen Engel for allegedly providing inaccurate affidavits to Superior Court Judge Gregory Weeks during Robinson’s case.

Weeks ultimately ordered in that case that Robinson’s death sentence be reduced to life without parole after finding that racial bias permeated his jury selection, and has said that the affidavits at issue did not impact his decision, according to WRAL.

In July 2015 a State Bar panel admonished Stubbs for violating rules of professional conduct,  but two months later a separate panel cleared Engel of ethics violations in connection with the same affidavits.

In her hearing, Engel said her failure to correct the affidavits was an oversight and not intentional.

Once Engel was cleared, Stubbs asked the State Bar panel to reconsider her case, which it did yesterday — issuing this order dismissing the complaint against her.

Commentary

Coal ashThe Greensboro News & Record has a good editorial this morning in which it lauds the state Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the General Assembly’s overreach in its turf battle with the Governor over control of the state coal ash commission.

But the editorial concludes with this warning to the Guv:

“It’s the governor’s responsibility. Now he’s got to prove that legislators of his own party were wrong to distrust him with this important task.”

NC Budget and Tax Center

News that revenue is up in North Carolina doesn’t mean that we have what is needed to meet our state’s growing needs. In fact, total state revenue for the second quarter of fiscal year 2016 was below the level of revenue raised for the same period prior to the end of the Great Recession, fiscal year 2008, when adjusted for inflation.

By contrast, a majority of states experienced state tax receipts (adjusted for inflation) that exceeded their respective peak levels before the end of the recession in the third quarter of 2015, based on BTC’s analysis of most recent state tax collections data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau.* North Carolina ranked 34th worst among states, with tax revenue below its peak quarter prior to the end of the recession. The recent revenue outlook report from the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division highlights that we still have not reached this peak revenue level.

News from state officials that as of December 2015 revenue was up over the year still does not signal that North Carolina is collecting revenue in line with our state’s growing needs.

State leaders’ insatiable appetite for tax cuts largely explains why state tax revenue for North Carolina has yet to return to its peak pre-recession level, despite an improving national economy. The huge, costly tax cuts passed since 2013 greatly reduced annual revenue that otherwise would have been raised under the old tax system. Once all tax changes are fully implemented, annual revenue loss will total more than $2 billion dollars.

The massive revenue loss from tax cuts challenges our ability to make investments in the foundation that help move our state forward. State leaders claim that providing all teachers a meaningful raise is unrealistic. State funding per student for public schools remains below its pre-recession spending level when adjusted for inflation. State funding for our public universities is 16 percent below pre-recession spending while tuition and mandatory fees increased by nearly 43 percent during this period. Tuition at community colleges has increased by 81 percent since 2009. More than 6,400 fewer state-funded slots are available for NC Pre-K than in 2009 despite more than 7,200 children being on NC Pre-K wait lists last year. State support to help promote economic development in rural and distressed communities across the state has been cut drastically in recent years. Inadequate state support to help unemployed and underemployed North Carolinians retool and retrain in order to secure better paying jobs to support their families persists. These are examples of foregone opportunities to invest in our people and our future. Read More

Commentary

It’s been 56 years since the sit ins in my hometown of Greensboro energized the civil rights movement in the U.S.

Since then, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 made it possible for de facto segregation to stop in places like lunch counters and other public accommodations, banned employment discrimination, and it began the process for equality in the workplace. (Though much remains to be done.)

Image by Cewatkin. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Pictured: The A&T Four Statue in Greensboro commemorating the participants of the first sit-ins at a Woolworth store. Image by Cewatkin. (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Meanwhile, Brown v. Board ended de facto segregation in schools, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 opened the electoral process to Black and minority voters.

The list goes on for the progress we’ve made as a country toward a better future.

And yet…

Where are we now?

Read More

News

virt-chartLast month, we reported on the troubling withdrawal rates reported in North Carolina’s pilot program for virtual charter schools, including the news that these online programs, led by for-profit companies, are not required to return their public funding despite dropouts.

Coupled with longtime reports of poor academics in virtual charters across the country, public education advocates have decried the use of public funding to support the schools.

Now comes a report last week in The Spokesman-Review about the very low graduation rate—about 20 percent—out of public-authorized virtual charters in the state of Idaho.

Read More