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Pat McCrory press eventGovernor Pat McCrory is reportedly considering calling the General Assembly into special session to put more money into one of the state’s primary business incentive schemes, the Job Development Incentive Grant program, or JDIG.

Commerce Secretary Sharon Decker says the state is pursuing several big economic development projects and is bumping up against the $22.5 million cap on JDIG grants.

If all this sounds familiar, it should. Decker was openly calling for special session two months ago. Here’s what she told the N.C. Economic Development Board in August.

Decker told board members that money in the popular JDIG incentives fund would run out by late October without legislative action to increase the cap. The state, she said, is pursuing a large project that would take 80 percent of the fund’s balance, leaving little cash for about 30 other projects – and roughly 10,000 jobs – that are “in the pipeline.”

“We won’t get all of those jobs even with the Job Development Investment Grant, but I can assure you we will get fewer of them if we don’t have it,” Decker said.

….Decker wants a special session to be called soon. “Several folks have said to me, ‘Can you wait until the (2015) long session?’ We can’t, in my opinion,” she said.

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Commentary

In case you missed it over the weekend, be sure to check out this this editorial in the Wilmington Star News: “Special interests invited to drilling meeting but not public.” As the paper rightfully explains, the McCrory administration’s latest gaffe when it comes to protecting our environment was as offensive as it was familiar.

The paper summarily dismisses and rebuts state Environment and Natural Resources Secretary John Skvarla’s disingenuous excuses for excluding environmental advocates from the meeting:

“His staff told reporters and representatives of environmental groups that they couldn’t come in because of concerns that their attendance might arouse allegations of conflict of interest in the permit process. And attendance by special-interest groups funded by the petroleum industry would not?

What is clear is that state officials seem very comfortable shutting out people who may have some pertinent questions about safety and environmental measures regarding oil and gas exploration. Thursday’s meeting seems to be part of a pattern of excluding people who have serious concerns about the potential for pollution, dangers to marine life and public health problems and even geological ramifications if North Carolina is opened to oil and gas exploration, as Gov. Pat McCrory and legislative leaders want.”

The authors conclude this way:

“North Carolinians of all political stripes are concerned about their natural surroundings and about their families’ health. Keeping secrets from them will not win their trust, or support for drilling.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

Commentary

With massive majorities in both legislative houses and a governor who would poses little more than an occasional speed bump — if that — to their plans for reactionary change, North Carolina’s far right movement appears poised to roll back the clock a few more decades when the new General Assembly convenes next January. On virtually every issue — from taxes to health care to education to an array of social issues — North Carolinians should get ready for a new onslaught of reactionary laws.

School vouchers for every student? Constitutional spending caps to eviscerate public spending? An attempt to confer “personhood” on embryos? New efforts to merge church and state? Just name the extreme/outlandish idea and you can pretty much rest assured that there will be a proposal to implement it and that many such efforts will succeed.

Some, of course, depends on who the new House Speaker turns out to be and just how far he (it will almost assuredly be a “he”) wants to push things. If it’s a McCrory ally or someone like him, it’s conceivable that there could me some moderation. If, on the other hand, it’s a reactionary true believer like Paul Stam or someone of his ilk, things could get very grim very fast.

Observers looking for some inklings of hope in all of this might want to consider some of the ballot initiative results from other states last night in which even very conservative voters made clear that here not ready to go that far. In both Colorado and North Dakota, for instance, voters overwhelmingly rejected “personhood” amendments that would have  conferred constitutional rights on fertilized eggs. In other states, voters strongly supported increases in the minimum wage.

Perhaps these votes will be interpreted by the far right powers-that-be in North Carolina as demonstrations of the obvious truth that voters are not nearly as reactionary they are and that, as much as they’d like to, pushing the envelope with a truly extreme agenda could backfire. Unfortunately, when you’re dealing with true believers, it’s just as likely that they will see 2015 as their “big chance” to do what they’ve always wanted. Based on the performance during the last four years, the latter scenario seems the most likely.

Commentary

Medicaid expansionIn case you missed it over the weekend Ned Barnett of Raleigh’s News & Observer had an on-the-money column about the latest  bizarre claim from the McCrory administration that we can now expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act because they have “fixed” what was a “broken” system. As Barnett notes:

“It’s good news that the governor is now open to doing the right thing about Medicaid expansion. Even Tillis now says he might favor it. Refusing to do it could cost the state $51 billion in lost federal money over the next decade, according to a report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

But this change of position shouldn’t pass without a look at the rationale for not doing it in the first place. Wos’ reign at DHHS has been marked by massive provider payment problems, an exodus of staff, plummeting morale and expensive consultants hired to fill in the gaps. Now she’s saying that the administration of Medicaid has been fixed and it’s ready to take on a half-million new recipients.

If that turnaround is true, Wos has accomplished an amazing feat of introducing efficiency and accountability. Yet there’s nothing to suggest that is the case. DHHS under Wos remains an agency riddled by vacancies and burdened by a reputation for administrative dysfunction that has discouraged top applicants. But the Medicaid program itself was never “broken”. It has operated in North Carolina for decades and in recent years has successfully held down administrative costs compared with the national average. Medicaid’s “out-of-control costs,” which Republican legislators say busted the state budget, reflect wishful budgeting. Simply putting a number in the budget won’t hold down costs. People need treatment, and when there’s a recession Medicaid rolls grow. With the economy now improving, Medicaid costs are coming in under budget.”

In other words: It’s great that McCrory and Wos want to expand Medicaid and even fine if they want to delude themselves about the reasoning, but anyone who’s been paying attention knows their claims and rationales are bogus.
Commentary

Art Pope 3Phil BergerThe talk about Medicaid expansion for North Carolina in 2015 from political leaders without much power to do anything about it continues. Gov. McCrory and his HHS Secretary keep talking about expansion as does, rather amusingly, lame duck Speaker/U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis. Obviously, expansion would be a terrific thing and is horrifically overdue as the current absurd obstructionism is literally costing thousands of lives per year — all in the name of nothing but conservative ideology.

Sadly, however, neither of these stances by McCrory or Tillis will amount to a hill of beans come next legislative session unless the real conservative bosses in North Carolina politics give their assent. Those two bosses, of course, would be Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and the most important conservative power broker in state politics, Art Pope. After all, the General Assembly has already passed a law to prevent McCrory from doing the deed without their approval and, for all we know, Tillis could well be reduced to trolling the halls of the General Assembly next year as a lobbyist or McCrory lackey.

Meanwhile, there are few if any positive signals from Berger and Pope to be found. Berger says he’s still opposed and Pope…well, his hirelings continue to spout mean-spirited nonsense and gibberish on the subject.

Of course, all of this could change. The powers-that-be in the health care industry want expansion and understand the tremendous good it would do — both for people and in need and, perhaps even more importantly from the corporate perspective, their profits. Add to this the fact that conservative majorities in the General Assembly could be slightly smaller next year and there’s certainly reason to hope that the politics on the issue will continue to improve.

That said, when you’re dealing with true right-wing believers who don’t even bat an eye as their policies literally result in thousands of unnecessary deaths per year, it’s hard to see what’s going to bring about the change of heart. Moreover, at this point in his governorship, Pat McCrory gives literally no indication that he has the ability lead or shape the debate.