Commentary

A new poll from the nonpartisan organization NC Child shows that a large majority of North Carolinians support closing the health insurance coverage gap that was created when the Governor and legislature declined to use available federal funds to expand Medicaid eligibility. This support extends to Independents and Republicans. The poll found that overall 72 percent of North Carolinians support closing the coverage gap. Among the Independents who often make the difference in close elections support is 62 percent. The same percentage of Republicans want to close the gap.

You can read the analysis from NC Child here.

We know that support or opposition to closing the coverage gap can depend on how you ask the question. This poll was a pretty straightforward description of the Medicaid gap and the policy option before the Governor and legislature. Here’s how the poll was worded:

In North Carolina, more than 350,000 adults, most of them working, cannot afford health insurance on the wages they are paid in industries like retail, construction, and food service. Their incomes are too low to qualify for the tax credits available through the Affordable Care Act and too high to qualify for Medicaid. They are stuck in the ‘insurance coverage gap.’ The Legislature and Governor McCrory could fix the coverage gap by creating a special North Carolina plan in partnership with the Federal government. Do you think North Carolina should make a plan to fix the health insurance coverage gap, or not?

We’ll have to see whether this changes the minds of political leaders. After elected officials in a number of conservative states saw similar polls and watched federal funds flow to other regions they decided to take action to protect their residents and boost rural health care. Let’s hope our politicians have a similar reaction.

News

Saying that the General Assembly violated the separation of powers clause of the state constitution when it empowered lawmakers to make appointments to commissions that performed largely executive functions, the state Supreme Court today backed the governors who challenged what they called a usurpation of power by the legislature.

The battle between the branches of government came to a head in the fall of 2014 after lawmakers created the Coal Ash Commission, Oil & Gas Commission and Mining Commission and authorized the House speaker and Senate president to appoint most of the members on each.

Gov. Pat McCrory, joined by former governors Jim Hunt and Jim Martin, then filed suit against the speaker and president, alleging that lawmakers had overstepped their authority in limiting the governor’s appointments to commissions that functioned under the province of the executive branch.

But the legislative leaders claimed absolute authority to make those appointments, saying that the state constitution clearly gave them that power.

A three-judge panel ruled for the governors in March 2015, holding that state lawmakers had violated the separation of powers clause of the state constitution.

In a 6-1 decision written by Chief Justice Mark Martin, the court ruled that the statutes in question did not violate appointment provisions of the state constitution but did nonetheless extend executive functions to the legislature in violation of the separation of powers clause.

Martin wrote:

When the General Assembly appoints executive officers that the Governor has little power to remove, it can appoint them essentially without the Governor’s influence. That leaves the Governor with little control over the views and priorities of the officers that the General Assembly appoints. When those officers form a majority on a commission that has the final say on how to execute the laws, the General Assembly, not the Governor, can exert most of the control over the executive policy that is implemented in any area of the law that the commission regulates. As a result, the Governor cannot take care that the laws are faithfully executed in that area. The separation of powers clause plainly and clearly does not allow the General Assembly to take this much control over the execution of the laws from the Governor and lodge it with itself.

In a dissenting opinion, Justice Paul Newby wrote that the General Assembly acted well within its authority when it enacted the challenged statutes.

Read the full decision here.

News
(Source: Common Cause NC)

(Source: Common Cause NC)

Perhaps you haven’t been paying much attention yet to the upcoming election cycle, but here’s a fact that every voter who cares about the state of democracy in North Carolina should know.

In almost a third of North Carolina’s 170 legislative districts, only one candidate has filed to run for an open seat — meaning that there will be no competition in both the primary and general elections in those districts.

The reason?  Gerrymandering.

Here’s more from the folks at Common Cause North Carolina:

The driving force behind this lack of competition is gerrymandering, the longtime practice of partisan politicians drawing the state’s voting maps to heavily favor one party or the other. In turn, opposing candidates have little or no chance of winning in these districts — deterring many potential contenders from even bothering to run and leaving voters with no choice on their ballot.

Just one candidate filed for office in these 54 legislative districts, effectively deciding the outcome of these elections before a single ballot is cast. In all, almost a third of North Carolina’s 170 legislative seats will have no competition in both the primary and general elections.

Over 3 million North Carolinians reside in the 41 state House districts that lack any competition this year, and nearly 2.5 million live in the 13 state Senate districts where just one candidate is running.

In the 54 days leading up to the March 15 primary, the group is taking a daily look at each of the 54 NC General Assembly districts where just one candidate is running for office.

Here’s today’s focus, Mecklenburg County’s House District 99:

(Source: Common Cause NC)

(Source: Common Cause NC)

And here’s state Sen. Jeff Jackson on why this lack of competition is a dangerous thing for North Carolina voters:

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You can follow Common Cause as the group counts down the Forgotten 54 here  or on Twitter at @CommonCauseNC.

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Commentary

As reported here on Wednesday by N.C. Policy Watch Education Reporter Billy Ball, North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson is calling for state teachers to receive a 10% raise. Yesterday, in response, House Speaker Tim Moore shot down the idea, saying it was unrealistic.

Here, in two simple graphs, is an explanation of why Atkinson is right and Moore is wrong. The graphs come from Altered State: How 5 years of conservative rule have transformed North Carolina, the special N.C. Policy Watch report released late in 2015.

The first shows how teacher pay in North Carolina has been falling further behind the national average.

Teacher pay 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The second shows where the overwhelming majority of the massive tax cuts enacted by the Governor and the General Assembly in recent years have gone — i.e. the wealthiest North Carolinians.

Tax cut winners

Commentary, News

Governor Pat McCrory and other state leaders continue to tout the Carolina Comeback, their name for the economic recovery in the state.

But the numbers tell a different story with workers earning less and many people in rural counties unable to find a job at all.

Economist Jared Bernstein, a Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, was in Raleigh recently to talk about the state and national economy and how policymakers can help struggling families.

“You have to invest in the future. And investing in the future doesn’t just means creating a business climate that business like by cutting their taxes,” explained Bernstein. “Once you start whacking away at your tax base so that you can improve this idea of business climate in the near term, you really risk undermining the ability to drive future productivity in the long term.”

Bernstein joins us this weekend on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon.

Click below to hear Bernstein explain why North Carolina’s politicians should spend less time talking about business climate rankings and spend more time focused on public investments.

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