Commentary

Is this the worst thing North Carolina has done to vulnerable people in modern times?

Unemployment insuranceThere are clearly a lot of strong contenders in the dark contest mentioned in the headline above. The state’s ongoing decision to deny healthcare to hundreds of thousands of struggling people is a tough one to beat. So are the decisions to underfund and privatize our public schools, demolish our state environmental protection agency, enact laws to institutionalize discrimination against LGBT North Carolinians, spur the spread of deadly weapons, disenfranchise tens of thousands of people, further erode the reproductive freedom of women, target and demonize immigrants and a dozen others.

As a press conference that took place across the street from the General Assembly made clear yesterday, however, there has been no attack on people in need that has been more direct and devastating in its impact in recent years than the 2013 decision by Gov. McCrory and state lawmakers to raze the state’s largest and most important middle class safety net program — its unemployment insurance system.

Senator Bob Rucho

Senator Bob Rucho

The numbers highlighted at yesterday’s event were truly stunning. Since the massive cuts were approved early in 2013 (cuts that a national expert has described as the most devastating unemployment cuts enacted by any U.S. state in the 80 year history of unemployment insurance) the programs has all but ceased to exist.

Consider the following:

  • Only 1 out of 10 unemployed workers in the state is now collecting unemployment insurance. Prior to 2013, the number was 1 out of 3.
  • The average benefit for those lucky enough to be amongst the 10% has plummeted to $235. This represents just 27% of the state’s average weekly wage.
  • The maximum benefit period has been slashed from 26 to 13 weeks. It may be cut further in the coming months. Despite this, nearly a third of all unemployed workers in the state have been unemployed for more than 26 weeks.
  • In 2005 — the last year North Carolina had comparable unemployment rates to the present —  the state paid out $867 million to unemployed workers to help keep their heads above water. Last year, the state paid out about 25% of that amount.
  • North Carolina is now last in the nation in the time it takes for unemployment benefits to start flowing.

When asked by reporters about these data yesterday, one of the chief legislative architects of the cuts, Senator Bob Rucho of Charlotte, rejected out of hand the idea of revisiting the 2013 changes. Perhaps this is because Rucho, the chair of the Joint Legislative Oversight Committee on Unemployment Insurance, has never once allowed his committee to even hear from an unemployed worker in any of the committee’s 16 meetings it has held since October of 2013.

The bottom line: North Carolina has paid off the debt to the federal government it ran up during the great recession and amassed a surplus in its unemployment insurance trust fund. Having done this, it has cut already low taxes on employers, but not made any changes at all to its bottom-of-the-barrel benefits. At some point, the state would probably be better off it is just got down to brass tacks and had an honest discussion about whether it even wants to have an unemployment insurance system at all. As things stand now, it is mostly just pretending.

News

Several GOP lawmakers in San Diego for ALEC conference, with state footing bill for some

With a state budget nearly a month overdue, several Republican lawmakers headed to California this week to attend a conference with close ties to some of the nation’s largest corporations.

alecAt least three of the lawmakers will have their $700 registration costs for the American Legislative Exchange Council and a $104 per diem paid for by taxpayers, according to staff in the N.C. General Assembly’s legislative services division.

N.C House Speaker Tim Moore, state Sen. David Curtis, of Lincoln County, and state Rep. Hugh Blackwell, of Burke County, all requested reimbursement from the legislature.

The lawmakers will not receive the $104 per diem they generally get for being in session, and instead will get the travel per diem, which is the same amount.

It’s not all that unusual for the state legislature to pitch in for conferences like ALEC, which promotes free markets and limited government, or another annual conference by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).

ALEC, however, has come under criticism in recent years, for its close ties to some of the nation’s largest corporations, with questions raised about the level of corporate influence making its way into Congress and state capitals through pieces of model legislation pushed by the group. Several high-profile companies have left ALEC, including Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, General Electric, Google and Microsoft.

There are other lawmakers from North Carolina attending the event in addition to the trio who will be reimbursed by the state, though they may be paying for the conference themselves or through campaign funds.

WRAL reported that state Sen. Bob Rucho, of Mecklenburg County, and the following House GOP members are headed to San Diego for the ALEC conference: state Reps. Mark Brody of Union County; John Fraley, of Iredell County Craig Horn of Union County; George Robinson of Caldwell County Stephen Ross of Alamance County; Jason Saine of Lincoln County; Sarah Stevens of Surry County.

The ALEC schedule lists Saine as a panelist for a discussion Friday about technology creating efficiencies in government.

“What I’ve found is that the meetings are very much just informative. You learn a lot of things,” Moore told WRAL.  “I know some of the groups coming out and criticizing ALEC, a lot of them are the same groups that criticize us because we want to lower taxes. But I frankly believe that’s what most North Carolinians want.”
Commentary

Has confrontational senator finally gone too far?

Senator Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County

Senator Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County

At some point, you’d think it would have to catch up with Senator Bob Rucho. The quick-tempered Charlotte lawmaker who once resigned (temporarily as it turned out) as chair of the Senate Finance Committee in a huff and who infamously tweeted in December 2013 “Justice Robert’s pen & Obamacare has done more damage to the USA then the swords of the Nazis,Soviets & terrorists combined,” has run into trouble again this week. This time, however, the controversy involves more than just his temper and his virtual mouth — it involves how he is performing his official duties. As Brian Sewell of Appalachian Voices explained in a post entitled “A Crass Abuse of Power in the N.C. Senate” the other day, the latest offense involved Rucho’s failure to abide by Senate rules in ramming through a bill the other day to wreak havoc in the state’s renewable energy industry.

Now, this morning Charlotte Observer editorial page editor Taylor Batten lays out the grisly details in a post entitled “Do rules not apply to Bob Rucho?”:

“We’ve watched for years as Bob Rucho’s thirst for power has grown insatiable. With each bit of authority he was given, the state senator and retired dentist from Matthews became increasingly brazen.

Now, even some of his fellow Republicans in the Senate have had enough.

Rucho declared a bill had passed in his Senate Finance Committee Wednesday even though a voice vote suggested it had failed. Rucho may have violated Senate rules by not allowing a show of hands instead of the voice vote despite a request for one from a committee member.

Two of Rucho’s fellow Republicans on the committee objected. Craig Jarvis of the News & Observer reports that Sen. Jerry Tillman, a seven-term Republican from Archdale, told Rucho, ‘It wasn’t even close’ after the voice vote. And Sen. John Alexander, R-Wake, also voted against the bill and was frustrated with Rucho’s heavy-handedness. Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat, called Rucho’s act ‘a crass abuse of power.’ Read more

Commentary

Could Supreme Court’s Alabama gerrymandering decision put GOP’s NC maps in jeopardy?

Gerrymandering

Image: Southern Coalition for Social Justice

In case you missed it, the U.S. Supreme Court took actually issued a promising 5-4 ruling yesterday in the challenge to Alabama’s racially gerrymandered redistricting plan.

Moreover, as the good folks at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice explain in the statement below, the decision could have a significant and positive impact in the challenge to the unconstitutional “Rucho plan” now in effect in North Carolina:

“U.S. SUPREME COURT’S DECISION IN ALABAMA REDISTRICTING CASE HAS IMPLICATIONS FOR NORTH CAROLINA’S REDISTRICTING PLANS

In a win for voting rights advocates, the U.S. Supreme Court today put the brakes on using explicit racial criteria in redistricting. The 5 to 4 decision constrained the cynical use of the Voting Rights Act to justify race-based redistricting that minimizes the voting strength of minority voters—a strategy employed by several Southern states in the 2010 redistricting cycle.

The Court ruled that race predominated in the Alabama legislature’s redistricting of state house and senate districts when it moved black voters into majority-minority districts in order to prevent the percentage of minority voters from declining. Read more

Commentary

Did GOP shoot itself in the foot by repealing voter preregistration for teens?

Senator Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County

Senator Bob Rucho of Mecklenburg County

Sometimes, one has to admit that the forces of the universe are possessed of a wicked sense of humor. Witness this story in today’s Washington Post and the new study on which it is based. According to both, preregistering teens to vote so that they become eligible upon turning 18 does in fact increase participation and turnout — exactly what advocates for the practice have been saying for years.

Here, however, is the LOL kicker from the Post story:

“You might think that anything that increases the turnout of young people would inevitably benefit Democrats, since young people lean toward the Democratic Party.  But that is not what Holbein and Hillygus found.  Although preregistration tended to add more Democrats than Republicans to the rolls — simply because more young people registered as Democrats — it actually reduced the Democratic advantage among those young people who actually voted.”

You got that, Senator Rucho? By repealing teen preregistration as they did in the Monster Voting Law of 2013, North Carolina Republicans quite likely hurt themselves.

As you will recall, when pressed for an explanation for the move to repeal teen preregistration, Rucho, the Senate architect of the proposal said that the old law had been “very confusing” to his high school-aged son. And while this explanation was widely dismissed at the time as a rather transparent bit of excuse making, the new study seems to confirm that maybe Rucho was being straight. After all, by all indications, failing to understand how voting and voting laws law really work is something that runs in the Rucho family.