Commentary

Today’s big top-of-the-fold story in Raleigh’s News & Observer will be the subject of next Tuesday’s N.C. Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon. As the N&O reports:

“Millions of dollars poured into North Carolina political campaigns in recent years in a futile attempt to keep the video sweepstakes industry legal – much of the money at the direction of a man later charged in Florida with racketeering.

The free-wheeling spending on politicians, lawyers and lobbyists has raised suspicions, although one probe, by the state elections board, found no campaign finance violations. Campaign and ethics watchdogs hope state or federal prosecutors will pick up the trail and investigate more deeply.

The elections watchdog group Democracy North Carolina, whose complaint prompted the two-year elections board inquiry, now wants the U.S. attorney and the Wake County district attorney to determine whether laws against corruption, bribery or other offenses were broken, and for authorities to take another look at potential election law violations.”

Come join us next Tuesday as we get the full scoop on this troubling and thus far under-reported story with the watchdog behind it — Bob Hall of Democracy North Carolina:

Bob HallSweepstakes industry corruption: How far does it go? What should be done?
Featuring Bob Hall, Executive Director of Democracy North Carolina

Join us as Hall explains his findings, what Democracy NC is asking prosecutors to do and the overall state of political corruption in North Carolina politics today.

Click here to register

When:Tuesday, August 25, at noon — Box lunches will be available at 11:45 a.m.

Where: Center for Community Leadership Training Room at the Junior League of Raleigh Building, 711 Hillsborough St. (At the corner of Hillsborough and St. Mary’s streets)

Click here for parking info.

Space is limited – preregistration required.

Cost: $10, admission includes a box lunch.

Questions?? Contact Rob Schofield at 919-861-2065 or rob@ncpolicywatch.com

News

Wake County school board member Bill Fletcher wants the General Assembly to understand one thing: teaching assistants are critical to the classroom.

Fletcher, the lone registered Republican on the school board, spoke out at Tuesday evening’s board meeting clearly frustrated the state budget, now seven weeks overdue, could force the county to cut hundreds of TAs.

“These aren’t paper pushers. They are qualified professionals, helping children learn and teachers teach,” explained Fletcher.

“Legislature, listen please. These are valuable people. They contribute mightily to the success of our children and our schools, and we need them.”

Fletcher’s remarks came as the school board made the difficult decision to suspend its driver’s education program until they know whether the program will be funded in the final state budget.

About 12,000 of Wake County’s teenage drivers go through the school system’s drivers ed program annually.

Click below to hear board member Bill Fletcher in his own words:

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Commentary
State Rep. Nelson Dollar

State Rep. Nelson Dollar

If you had any doubts about the kind of long-term damage to state government that would be wrought by the ALEC-inspired “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” constitutional amendment (aka “TABOR”) recently endorsed by the North Carolina Senate, take a look at yesterday’s new budget agreement between legislative leaders and the Governor.

As Colin Campbell of Raleigh’s News & Observer reported this morning, the new agreement would provide for growth in state spending of about 3.1% over last year — 0.4% more than the 2.7% that the story reports would have been possible (i.e. the rate of inflation plus population growth) were a TABOR amendment in place.

But here’s the rub: Even with a hike that’s above the TABOR threshold, the new budget will not be able to deliver even the modest and still inadequate pay increases and service improvements that were contained in the House’s version of the budget. This is from Campbell’s article

“While the House called for all state workers to get a 2 percent raise, House senior budget writer Nelson Dollar said that’s now unlikely with less money to spend.

‘It’s $420 million less, so obviously what the House was looking at in terms of raises and in terms of investing in education will not happen,’ said Dollar, a Cary Republican.”

A TABOR constrained budget would, obviously, be even more inadequate.

The obvious and incredibly sobering bottom line therefore: If North Carolina puts TABOR into the constitution,we are all but guaranteed that teachers and other state employees will never get another decent raise again unless the state literally does away with some major function of government to free up the necessary funds.

No wonder Colorado legalized pot. People need something to ease the pain of being the only Americans forced to live under such a disastrous amendment.

Commentary
Christine Kushner

Christine Kushner

A new letter to the editor from Wake County school board chair Christine Kushner does a nice job of debunking the typically off-base claims of former school board member John Tedesco that appeared in a recent Raleigh News & Observer article.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Tedesco is now claiming that he and his fellow conservative members who (along with former Superintendent and novelist A.J. Tata) tried so mightily to destroy Wake County’s longstanding and successful efforts to diversify its schools, have been vindicated by the current board’s decision not to institute yet another massive and disruptive reassignment of students since coming to power.

As Kushner writes:

“The current Wake County school board brought stability to a system that was in chaos under the leadership of former board member John Tedesco, who was widely quoted in your article.

Your piece did not highlight the resegregating effects of Tedesco’s 2011 countywide choice plan, which also broke the school system’s overextended transportation system. When the current board did away with Tedesco’s choice scheme, members did not uproot children from their school assignments the way Tedesco and his colleagues did in their 2010 and 2011 plans. Instead, the board instituted a ‘stay where you start’ policy to bring much-needed stability to families after several tumultuous years.

As for Tedesco’s embrace of community diversity, Read More

Commentary, News

The growing grassroots movement to pay American workers a living wage got a nice boost last night. The Greensboro News & Record explains:

“The minimum wage for city employees is going up.

The City Council voted 7-2 Tuesday to increase minimum wages to $10 an hour for regular and seasonal employees, except for those at the Greensboro Coliseum, and $12 an hour for employees who also receive benefits.

Councilmen Tony Wilkins and Justin Outling voted against the plan, which also sets a goal of raising the minimum wage for city employees to $15 by 2020.”

You can watch TV coverage of the vote in this Fox 8 story.

Meanwhile, advocates who have been pushing for the  action for years praised the Council’s decision. This is from a statement by the good people at Working America:

“Carolyn Smith, North Carolina state director for Working America, praised the city workers for banding together and pushing the City Council to take up the issue.

‘This is a step in the right direction for Greensboro and working families,’ Smith said of the planned increase. ‘What we’ve heard from city workers is that they love Greensboro; they’re loyal to their jobs, but they struggle to take care of their families. This vote moves us closer to creating a family wage that will strengthen our community and gives businesses an incentive to follow suit.’

‘It’s great to see elected leaders standing with the women and families of Greensboro,’ Smith added.”

Let’s hope last night’s action helps spur many similar actions in the weeks  and months ahead.