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The lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer this morning rightfully laments the fact that North Carolina’s economic recovery appears to be petering out while other states rebound more quickly.

In the end, however, there’s no mystery. The persistence of unemployment points to how badly the job market deteriorated and how tax cuts and spending cuts do little to restore it. North Carolina has cut taxes in a way that disproportionally benefits higher earners while expanding taxes or removing exemptions that helped middle-income and low-income earners and retirees. Tax breaks for the wealthy tend to go into savings while a tax break for lower income earners would have gone directly into the economy.

North Carolina’s cuts in state funding for education have an outsized impact on the economy. Unlike many states where local governments bear most of the cost of schools, North Carolina funds education primarily from the state level. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s refusal to expand Medicaid has cost the state’s economy billions of dollars in federal funds and reduced or blunted employment by hospitals.

There’s not much state government can do to escape the influence of the national economy. But states can do more to soften the effects of a national recession and speed the effects of a recovery. North Carolina should spend aggressively on education, participate fully in the Affordable Care Act and focus tax breaks lower down the income scale.

That’s not being done, and the economic pain is being extended.

Meanwhile, an editorial in the Charlotte Observer offers a glimmer of hope on this front in the form of additional confirmation from the McCrory administration that it has finally recognized one of its biggest blunders when it comes to pumping dollars into the state’s economy — the failure to expand Medicaid:

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Commentary
DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

Multiple newspapers have called for North Carolina’s Secretary of Health and Human Services Aldona Wos to resign or be fired during her first 20 months in office. Now, one of the first to speak out has done so again.

One year ago this week, the Henderson Daily Dispatch said the following:

Aldona Wos must immediately resign her position as the secretary of our state’s Department of Health and Human Services. If she does not, Gov. Pat McCrory has to make the decision for her.

Now, this week, after indulging in some amusing sports analogies, the paper renewed its plea/demand:

Wos’ department isn’t having a one-time issue. It has been a train wreck from the beginning.

She’s made bad hires that cost taxpayers in payouts against potential claims, put personnel in positions for which they are not prepared and awarded quarter-million dollar consulting work to her husband’s firm….

Taxpayers are bleeding from horrific mismanagement. Wos would have been long gone in any business other than politics. North Carolinians deserve better.

Hat tip: Logan Smith at Progress NC

Commentary

Charlotte light rail.jpgThere are too many details to be fleshed out and examined to provide a definitive assessment of Governor McCrory’s new proposed state transportation plan that he unveiled yesterday.  For instance, the summary talks about expanding mass transit and building new light rail — both encouraging signs — but it’s too early to say whether these ideas are just polite nods in that direction or real signals of an intention to move away from paving the entire state, one new interstate lane at a time.

One thing that can be said for certain at first blush however is this: It’s encouraging to see the Governor talking optimistically about public investments for the common good. After almost nothing but right-wing bluster about slashing public structures (and the spending that supports them) in education, health care, environmental protection and several other important areas, it’s nice to hear the McCrroy administration at least admitting that public institutions and new investments have an important role to play in the state’s future.

Of course, the idea of investing in roads has always been the one area in which most conservatives have made an exception to their rules about the supposed evils of government.  So, it seems quite possible that the new DOT plan could just be a brief interlude in the ongoing assault on all things public. We’ll know more in the days ahead as the plan gets spelled out in more detail, but until then, we’ll try to maintain a little hope that, with the General Assembly out of town and Art Pope out of the budget office, McCrory has, at least temporarily, morphed back into his civic-boosting mayoral persona of old.

News

North Carolina’s Health and Human Service Secretary Aldona Wos will be at the state legislature today, rolling out her plan to restructure the $18 billion state agency as well the state Medicaid program that provides healthcare for more than 1.5 million North Carolinians.

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

DHHS Sec. Aldona Wos

Wos, in a 14-page letter addressed to the heads of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee, reiterated to lawmakers that she came into her $1-a-year job to find the state’s largest agency in disarray.

“As you know, I inherited a department with a well-documented history of serious and chronic problems,” she wrote. “We have been on a path toward a sustainable department over the last 20 months and we have built the foundation for a stronger Medicaid program.”

She hopes the restructuring of Medicaid program will to fend off proposals in the legislature by Senate Republicans to move Medicaid, the massive $13 billion program that provides health care to low-income children, seniors and disabled residents – to its own standalone agency.

Wos, a wealthy Greensboro physician and prominent Republican fundraiser appointed by Gov. Pat McCrory in January 2013, has had a rocky tenure as the head of the DHHS, with controversies swirling over her granting big salaries and contracts to associates and McCrory campaign workers. Her first year on the job also saw botched rollouts of two technology projects that led to lengthy delays in medical providers getting paid for Medicaid services and in thousands of low-income families accessing food stamps

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Commentary

Coal ash clean upThere have been several noteworthy reactions to Governor Pat McCrory’s strange decision to simply let the General Assembly’s coal ash legislation become law without his signature last week. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger came this close to accusing the Governor of – yikes! – improper bias toward his longtime employer when he said the following in a statement reported this morning by the Greensboro News & Record:

“The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer.”

Veteran environmental advocate and Winston-Salem city councilman Dan Besse got it just about right, however, when he authored the following for the weekly newsletter of N.C. League of Conservation Voters this morning: Read More