North Carolinians are being dealt a bad hand. The deep revenue losses resulting from the 2013 tax plan is creating a reality in which there are too few dollars available to meet the needs of children, families, and communities. Budget writers are facing a self-imposed budget crisis and finding it difficult to agree on just how large the cut to public schools and public health should be to meet its priorities and balance the budget. To be clear, budget writers agree that those core budget areas should be cut compared to the enacted 2015 fiscal year budget but have yet to agree on the size of the cut.

That’s the main reason why North Carolina is more than two weeks into the new fiscal year without a revised state budget.

For weeks budget negotiators in the House and Senate have been shuffling the deck, making proposed cuts in core areas of the budget and moving that money around in order to finance much-needed pay raises. This budget shuffle is further proof the state is facing a revenue problem. Read More

The state Senate pushed its most recent proposal in committee today to move North Carolina’s complicated and massive Medicaid program to a new structure outside of the state’s health agency.

MedicaidThe Senate’s Medicaid plan  would also open up the state’s $13 billion health care program for poor children, the disabled and elderly to privatization by managed care companies, by phasing out the current fee-for-service payment system in preference of paying for a set price-per-patient (called capitation).

Today’s Senate proposal (introduced Wednesday as a committee substitute for House Bill 1181) comes closer to what House members have wanted, but still has some significant differences.

Provider and doctors’ groups voiced criticism of the Senate proposal (click here to view a summary), saying that opening up the $13 billion government health care program to privatization could lead to out-of-state companies siphoning off profits at the expense of patient care.

“The Senate’s new proposal to upend North Carolina’s Medicaid program would harm our state’s most vulnerable patients,” said Robert Seligson, the director of N.C. Medical Society, in a statement released Wednesday. “The Senate preference for corporate managed care disregards the hard, productive work over the past year to craft a consensus Medicaid reform plan that provides more financial certainty for the state without compromising patient care.”

The new Senate proposal would shift the Medicaid program out from under the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to a new Department of Medical Benefits headed by seven board members appointed by the governor and legislature.

Read More

As we reported last week, many of the children crossing the border into the United States wind up in court defending themselves — a situation that presumably does not end well for them.

The American Civil Liberties Union describes the plight of such children in a lawsuit filed in federal court in Seattle against Attorney General Eric Holder, seeking an order requiring that counsel be appointed for children in immigration court:

 Plaintiffs are eight immigrant children, ranging in age from ten to seventeen. The Government has begun proceedings to deport each of them; they will soon be called to appear before an Immigration Judge. In court, the Department of Homeland Security will be represented by a trained lawyer who will argue for the child’s deportation. But no lawyer will stand with the child. Each will be required to respond to the charges against him or her, and, in theory, will be afforded an opportunity to make legal arguments and present evidence on his or her own behalf. But in reality those rights will be meaningless because children are not competent to exercise them. Each child has attempted to find representation through pro bono legal service providers, but none of them have found anyone with the resources to take on their cases. Absent this Court’s intervention, these children will be forced to defend themselves pro se under the immigration laws – a legal regime that, as the courts have recognized, rivals the Internal Revenue Code in its complexity.

Numbers released yesterday by  the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University show as expected that represented children fare much better.

Among the conclusions in that report:

Children were not represented about half of the time (48%) they appeared in Immigration Court, although there is wide variation by state and hearing location.

Outcome if attorney present. In almost half (47%) of the cases in which the child was represented, the court allowed the child to remain in the United States. The child was ordered removed in slightly more than one in four (28%) of these cases. And in the remaining quarter (26%) the judge entered a “voluntary departure” (VD) order. (While with a VD order the child is required to leave the country, the child avoids many of the more severe legal consequences of a removal order.)

Outcome if no attorney. Where the child appeared alone without representation, nine out of ten children were ordered deported — 77 percent through the entry of a removal order, and 13 percent with a VD order. One in ten (10%) were allowed to remain in the country.

 

Pat McCrory 4This morning’s editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it just about right with its assessment of Pat McCrory’s bizarre foul-up of — of all things — the appointment of North Carolina’s poet laureate by ignoring the established processes and then compounding the error by appointing a person whom some have charitably described as “a beginner” in the field:

The state has on its college campuses a number of professional poets and teachers who would easily fit the bill as the position is described to demonstrate literary excellence and inspire it in others.

Whether McCrory intended it or not, his attitude toward this appointment raises suspicions that he’s just sort of thumbing his nose at the state’s literary community (liberals, maybe?). And he certainly was not well-served by staff members who should have known more and taken this appointment more seriously.

A good friend of NC Policy Watch, veteran North Carolina poet, author, political observer and longtime Peace College faculty member Sally Buckner of Cary, had this to say yesterday in a Facebook message:

As one who has studied our literary scene since the 1960s, I know why North Carolina is what Doris Betts called it: “the writingest state.” It’s because the literary community here is cooperative rather than competitive. Our poets laureate beginning with Sam Ragan have been major figures in making it so. And they’ve done so with little recompense. $15,000 a year doesn’t begin to pay for their travels, workshops, etc….  McCrory’s spokesperson lauds Ms. Macon’s interest in the homeless. I praise it, too–but it’s not a reasonable substitute for professional quality in poetry.

N.C. Poet Laureate Valerie Macon (Provided by N.C. Arts Council)

N.C. Poet Laureate Valerie Macon (Provided by N.C. Arts Council)

Both Sally and the N&O are right, of course — though the N&O may be giving the Guv too much credit. If he really wanted to stick it to the liberal intelligentsia he’d have had his staff find some kind of far right professor at a conservative Christian college or institute to put up for the job.

But that’s not how McCrory operates. In many ways, the appointment is actually reminiscent of the Guv’s equally bizarre decision last summer to deliver cookies to reproductive rights protesters outside the mansion. As in that episode, the Governor’s actions are like those of a distracted, partially-engaged college boy rather than a committed politician with any kind of coherent ideology or agenda.

Seen in this light, the fact that McCrory opted to select an anonymous state employee who has self-published some poetry as a kind of hobby as North Carolina’s poet laureate makes more sense. By selecting such a person the Guv has opted for someone like himself — a person who doesn’t fully comprehend his job or the fact that he doesn’t comprehend it.

Read more here: http://www.newsobserver.com/2014/07/15/4008193/a-laureate-for-nc-without-laurels.html?sp=/99/108/#storylink=cpy

State senators offered a new budget proposal Tuesday – one that included 8% raises for teachers and would fund second-grade teaching assistants. But teaching assistants in the third-grade, they would not be funded in this latest proposal.

And there’s another wrinkle, as Rep. Nelson Dollar discovered when seeking clarification on the Senate’s new numbers:

“If I’m reading that correctly, this offer would still cut TAs of that allotment roughly in half, and in addition to that…the funds that remain there, are those largely non-recurring funds?” asked the Wake County Republican.

“That is a non-recurring compromise,” responded Sen. Harry Brown.

Rep. Dollar noted that relying on one-time funding for thousands of second-grade teaching assistants would certainly create a problem next year.

But Sen. Brown said his side has made ‘key concessions’ from their initial budget proposal.

Senators and House members also remain about $30 million apart on Medicaid spending, meaning that aged, blind and disabled patients would see some services cut.

House budget conferees are mulling over the Senate’s latest plan, and are expected to come back with another proposal from their side later in the week. To hear some of Tuesday’s debate, click below:
YouTube Preview Image