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Governor Pat McCrory’s notorious hyper-sensitivity to criticism was on full display yet again yesterday. The Guv went to the trouble of issuing a special statement in response a mild and understated barb from President Obama about the well-documented decline in North Carolina’s commitment to public education.

Here’s what the Prez said:

“Funding now here in this state, and teacher pay, is ranking as low as it gets. And so part of it is just pointing that out and hopefully understanding this shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It shouldn’t matter whether you’re Republican or Democrat. You should want to make sure schools are successful and have … teachers who are motivated and have professional training but also are making enough of a living that they can afford a middle-class lifestyle.”

Rather than letting the remark go as he would have been smart to do, McCrory tried to respond with a snippy comment in which he touted his Rube Goldberg teacher pay raise plan of last year and basically said that Obama had no idea what he was talking about.

The fact of the matter, though, is that Obama was quite correct. North Carolina spending on public education is still well-below pre-Great Recession levels. And while, some teachers did get a desperately overdue raise last year, it in no way made up for the years of layoffs, class size hikes, losses of support personnel and numerous other indignities visited on our public schools because of the state leadership’s ill-advised tax giveaways to the well-off.

The bottom line: As usual, the Governor overreacted to a gentle bit of criticism and in so doing, only served to focus more attention on the policy failures over which he has presided.

News

The good people at Democracy NC released the following this morning:

Duke Energy Gives $3 Million to Committee Tied to Gov. Pat McCrory as He Guides Coal Ash Response

A new analysis of government records reveals that Duke Energy – the world’s largest private electric utility – began writing unusually large checks to the national Republican Governors Association while Gov. Pat McCrory and Republican lawmakers debated how to respond to the company’s giant spill of coal ash sludge into the Dan River.

In four payments from June to December 2014, Duke sent the Republican Governors Association a total of $3,050,000 – more than 10 times its previous record donation to the RGA. Duke’s contributions made it the top corporate donor to the RGA in 2014 and the second largest donor, behind the $3.5 million given by billionaire Sheldon Adelson, owner of the Las Vegas Sands.

In 2012, the RGA spent $5 million to boost the election of Pat McCrory as governor, and it is expected to be a major financial backer of his 2016 bid for reelection. Records show McCrory has attended numerous RGA events and helped the association raise funds.

“Duke Energy’s large donations raise questions about the governor’s ability to serve the public interest more than his own political interest,” said Bob Hall, executive director of the nonpartisan watchdog group Democracy North Carolina. “Critics say the coal ash regulation law passed in 2014 was too soft on Duke. Is this money the reason why?” Read More

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, Raising the Bar 2015

Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in “Raising the Bar” — a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina nonprofit leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.

Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget proposal for the years 2015-17 offers a welcome change of direction in the area of behavioral health services, which would see spending increase by 1.5 percent compared to current law. Though far from what is really needed, this modest increase would be a real turnaround from years past when lawmakers imposed significant cuts to programs and direct services as a way to balance the budget and make up for revenues lost to tax cuts. We are pleased to see the Governor’s support for restoring some funding to the health and human service budget to serve citizens with mental health, intellectual or developmental disabilities, and substance use disorder services.

In addition to stopping most of the bleeding, this money would help the state to catch up on at least some of what was lost during the recession and begin to rebuild to address current needs. Furthermore, over the past few years, lawmakers enacted provider rate cuts year after year. Under the Governor’s plan, there are no further provider rate cuts.

Some new things to take note of that we are very heartened to see: almost $24 million is invested in services for mental health treatment in our prisons. This is the first time funding has been allocated specifically for this kind of treatment. With this money, 72 beds that are not open due to budget constraints at Central Prison’s mental health hospital can be fully staffed. Additionally, behavioral health treatment units can be opened at eight high security prisons. Funding was put in the budget to support the Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities (TASC) program. TASC integrates community mental health and substance use disorder services with the criminal justice system to improve outcomes. The funding, about $1.86 million, will reduce caseloads of care managers to accommodate more referrals. Read More

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, Raising the Bar 2015
Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in “Raising the Bar” — a new series of essays and blog posts authored by North Carolina nonprofit leaders highlighting ways in which North Carolina public investments are falling short and where and how they can be improved.We need an energy system that protects our vital resources and creates sustainable jobs. The good news is that North Carolina has great potential for such a system. The bad news is that the current budget takes us further from that goal, not closer to it.

The ongoing discussions of the 2015-2017 state budget provide a useful context for analyzing the health of our state’s economy. The budget’s treatment of the environment makes clear just how shortsighted the planning for economic development is in this state. Over the last several years, rather than pursue the myriad opportunities to leverage clean technology and innovation to protect our environment and spur job growth, the state budget has ignored the need to protect our state’s most valuable resources.

Since the Great Recession of 2008, cuts to North Carolina’s primary environmental regulatory body have constituted a wholesale assault on our state’s living environment. The scale and pace of cuts to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) represent a structural dismantling of numerous regulatory bodies, diverting systems of revenue generation for the foreseeable future. If continued, these trends could spell disaster for North Carolina’s families. Instead, we should pursue a budgetary structure and job creation scenario that benefit both our economy and the planet by investing in renewable energy and energy efficiency, remediating current environmental degradation, and repairing existing infrastructure.

Our current reality, however, is far different. In 2009, 30 positions were eliminated from DENR. Over the next two years another 225 jobs were cut, but in Gov. Pat McCrory’s first year of office, while the economy was supposedly in recovery, another 131 positions went to the wayside, with 1,500 additional positions transferred out of the department over that same four-year period.

Read More

Commentary
Gene Nichol

Prof. Gene Nichol

John Drescher, the executive editor of Raleigh’s News & Observer, had an odd and flawed column over the weekend regarding UNC Law School professor Gene Nichol entitled “Gene Nichol doesn’t regret column about Pat McCrory.” (Full disclosure: Nichol used to serve on the Board of the NC Justice Center, NC Policy Watch’s parent organization).

It was odd because it awkwardly combined what was, by all appearances, a brief news report/interview with Nichol along with Drescher’s own take on Nichol’s falling out with the state powers that be  — some of which stemmed from some columns Nichol has authored for the N&O. Drescher quoted Nichol as saying he had no regrets in likening Governor McCrory to reactionary conservative governors from the Civil Rights era. As Nichol told Drescher:

“I said he was a successor to them.I do think it’s fair. I think it’s accurate. I’m not saying he’s exactly the same.”

But then Drescher went on to tack a commentary of his own into the last few sentences of the column in which he rejected Nichol’s explanation. According to Drescher:

“By going after McCrory in a personal way, Nichol made it easy for his opponents to focus on Nichol and ignore his broader, more significant message.

Professors ought to be able to write in The N&O (or anywhere else) without fear of retribution from politicians or their appointees. But they should inform us through research and lead us though debate at a high level that is focused on ideas and aspirations. In that regard, Nichol came up short.”

Hmm – let me get this straight, John. Are you really saying that “professors” should never issue “personal” barbs and only “inform us through research”? Really? Why? Indeed, what the heck does that even mean? And how do you define “research”? What was Nichol supposed to do — insert footnotes in his columns? Read More