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As Raleigh’s News & Observer reported this morning, a study committee at the General Assembly appears to be in the process of advancing a legislative proposal for the 2015 session that would reverse a controversial Utilities Commission decision from last fall that provided a windfall to big utility companies.

As I explained in the Weekly Briefing last October, the ruling allowed utility companies the option to keep charging consumers for income taxes that the companies no longer paid as a result of recent corporate tax cuts. The ruling was especially controversial in that it came in the form of a direct about-face from a previous 6-1 Commission decision from just months before. In the latter ruling, three new McCrory appointees joined with the Commission chair to overrule the previous decision — a move that sparked bitter dissent from three holdover Perdue appointees.

According to news reports, most companies have not actually been collecting the windfall. Only Dominion North Carolina Power — which serves a swath of northeastern North Carolina — has been pocketing the cash thus far. Nothing, however, would prevent Duke and the other big guys from following suit at some point unless the courts and/or the General Assembly step in.

This brings us back to the Revenue Laws Study Committee which included language in its draft report to the 2015 session reversing the decision yet again — see pages 4-6. This morning’s N&O story — especially the headline (“NC lawmakers to end policy letting utilities overcharge customers”) indicated that the draft report would be adopted today and that the legislature would pass the legislation into law.

A closer look, however, shows that such an optimistic take may well be premature. Read More

Commentary

Conservative politicians whose campaigns are funded by corporate interests love to talk about the “genius of the market” and “clamping down on burdensome business regulations.” And while there are no doubt many important virtues associated with both of those concepts, here’s what the genius of the market and business deregulation produce much too often in modern America: exploitation and rip-offs.

A new WRAL news story last night explored a classic example: the targeting of military personnel by scamming, high-cost sales outlets like USA Living. As reporter Monica Laliberte explained:

USA Discounters targeted the military with its patriotic vibe by posting advertisements on a Fort Bragg website and sponsoring military events. The company sells everything from furniture and TVs to jewelry and appliances and even car rims. It promises military members are “always approved for credit.”

Trill’s contract included fees of $1,057 for a warranty and $828.84 for debt cancellation, which covers the debt if something happens to him. The finance charge was $2,065.47. All paid, the furniture that was priced at $5,000 would ultimately cost him $10,513.88.

The next time someone feeds you the line about burdensome business regulations (like next week across the Thanksgiving table, for example) tell them about scams like this in which American heroes are targeted every day. And then remind them that this is why we have to have business regulation in America; not just to protect consumers (because if companies will rip off military families, you know they won’t hesitate to do the same to anyone else), but also to level the playing filed for businesses that operate ethically and honestly. After all, as the veteran/victim in the WRAL story noted:

“Is this the world we fought for? I mean, is this really what you fought for?” Trill said. “Everybody’s scamming everybody. Everyone’s trying to dip into your pockets for a little bit extra. It absolutely makes me sick.”

Commentary

corporate20welfareThe phenomenon of big special interests literally buying public officials via the obscene spectacle of modern elections has become so ingrained in our culture these days that nearly everyone has become numbed by and immune to the whole thing. It’s gotten to the point that when a political operative goes on TV to brag about how much special interest money he forked over to elect a candidate, we’re more shocked by the operative’s, uh, demeanor than we are by his message.

In the interest, therefore, of reminding folks of what we’re really talking about, you are hereby urged to read (or re-read if you’ve already glanced at it) last week’s New York Times story entitled “Lobbyists, Bearing Gifts, Pursue Attorneys General.” The story is the first in what appears to be a new series entitled “Courting Favor,” and it tells in straightforward and disturbing terms just how blatant corporate mouthpieces have become in their efforts to — there’s no other way to say this — buy and bribe public officials. This is from the story:

Attorneys general are now the object of aggressive pursuit by lobbyists and lawyers who use campaign contributions, personal appeals at lavish corporate-sponsored conferences and other means to push them to drop investigations, change policies, negotiate favorable settlements or pressure federal regulators, an investigation by The New York Times has found. Read More

Commentary

The national nonprofit news site Pro Publica has a lead story out of North Carolina this morning about Baker Mitchell — the arch-conservative political operative who runs a chain of charter schools. This is the lead from the story, which is also front-paged this morning on Raleigh’s News & Observer:

“Baker Mitchell is a politically connected North Carolina businessman who celebrates the power of the free market. Every year, millions of public education dollars flow through Mitchell’s chain of four nonprofit charter schools to for-profit companies he controls.”

The story goes on to explain in great detail (much of it previously reported on NC Policy Watch) about how Mitchell has figured out a way to merge his right-wing political views with a skill for making boatloads of money at the public trough.

All in all, it is another powerful indictment of how the originally benign phenomenon of charter schools has been largely captured by the far right and money grubbers and thereby corrupted and perverted.

Read the entire story by clicking here.

Commentary

The good people at Inequality.org have stashed several nuggets of powerful information in today’s edition of Too Much: An online weekly on excess and inequality that will make you want to pound the table, but the story on the newest edition of Forbes magazine’s richest 400 gazillionaires is perhaps the most amazing — especially this little vignette on one of the richest of the plutocrats, former Oracle CEO Larry Ellison:

Take Larry Ellison, the third-ranking deep pocket on this year’s Forbes list. Ellison just stepped down as the CEO of the Oracle business software colossus. His net worth: $50 billion.

What does Ellison do with all those billions? He collects homes and estates, for starters, with 15 or so scattered all around the world. Ellison likes yachts, too. He currently has two extremely big ones, each over half as long as a football field.

Ellison also likes to play basketball, even on his yachts. If a ball bounces over the railing, no problem. Ellison has a powerboat following his yacht, the Wall Street Journal noted this past spring, “to retrieve balls that go overboard.”

And if Ellison’s ridiculous wealth doesn’t get you a little fired up, check out this graph from the same story showing just how rapidly he and his peers are leaving the rest of us in their wake:

Billionaires graph