Commentary

Portrayal of House Speaker as moderate shows how far out of whack things have gotten

Moore_15cRaleigh’s News & Observer ran a big profile of House Speaker Tim Moore over the weekend in which it highlighted the fact that Moore’s tenure has not quite matched the hard right ideological fervor of his predecessor, Thom Tillis, or the current leadership of the state Senate. At times, he’s even worked with Democrats to help pass some measures, including the budget and the recent state bond package. In addition, he’s made somewhat less use of the abusive tactics favored by Tillis for shutting down debate and occasionally has raised the ire of some fire-breathers on the far right.

Before observers get too carried away with this portrayal, however, it’s important to note that it says a lot more about how bizarrely extreme the modern right wing has become than it does about any significant moderation by Moore. By any fair assessment, Moore’s politics remain far to the right of Ronald Reagan. Consider the following items and issues on which Moore has adhered to or advanced a downright reactionary agenda:

Medicaid expansion:  On the single most important issue before state government — a policy change already enacted by Republicans all over the country that could save thousands of lives and lift up the state economy — Moore continues to do nothing.

Public education: Moore continues to help advance the Right’s pro-voucher, pro-charters privatization agenda and has done little-to-nothing to repair the damage inflicted on K-12 funding in recent years.

Environmental protection: Under Moore’s leadership, the list of proposals to gut environmental protection just keep on coming.

Taxes: Though he has not yet completely embraced the Senate’s extreme efforts to mimic the suicidal policies of states like Kansas, Moore continues to support additional tax cuts for corporations even as the state struggles to meet its most basic needs. He’s also done nothing to repair the damage caused by the  destructive 2013 tax cuts or to reinstate the critically important Earned Income Tax Credit.

LGBT equality, reproductive rights, the death penalty, guns: And, of course, Moore has promoted the far right “social agenda” on each of these issues in 2015, including: the discriminatory “religious freedom” law for magistrates and registers of deeds, the bill to up the state’s absurd  abortion waiting period, the bill to keep death penalty drugs shrouded in secrecy and the bill to introduce concealed weapons into even more venues.

The confederate flag: Moore has done nothing to end the state’s embarrassing display of the rebel flag on license plates and has made it harder to remove confederate memorials.

The bottom line: Speaker Moore may be an affable guy who takes it a tiny bit slower than some when it comes to the most extreme components of the far right agenda, but in a world in which much of the modern American Right backs Donald Trump for President and openly consorts with groups and individuals that favor “nullification” of federal laws, this should not be confused with “moderation.” On issue after issue, Moore continues push North Carolina dramatically and rapidly backwards.

Commentary

The five worst decisions by the General Assembly in the past five years

Columnist Myron B. Pitts of the Fayetteville Observer has an excellent, if sobering, essay this morning about the North Carolina General Assembly. It’s entitled “State’s decisions, from bad to abysmal” and it attempts to rank the worst decisions made by North Carolina lawmakers over the past half decade. Admittedly, Pitts has carved out a daunting task for himself, but see if you agree with his list, which starts with the awful 2013 tax changes and runs through the death-promoting decision to deny health insurance to hundreds of thousands of people.

NOTE: As the General Assembly is still in session, the list may well have to be updated in the coming weeks. Stay tuned and feel free to offer your additions.

Click here to read Pitts’ list.

Commentary

Chief reaction to Wos departure: Relief

well-timed tissueGov. McCrory may have shed a few tears yesterday over the departure of his Secretary of Health and Human Services, Aldona Wos, but the chief reaction across the state — both within government and without — was relief and a strong feeling of “what took so you long? This morning’s editorial pages tell the story:

Here’s Wos’ hometown Greensboro News & Record in an editorial called “Good heart, bad fit”:

“As for tangible results, well, that was another matter. Despite her background as a physician and former U.S. ambassador— and her famous, sunrise-to-late-night work ethic — the sheer weight of the DHHS bureaucracy seemed to overwhelm Wos.

In time, critics on both sides of the partisan aisle began to wonder out loud if they were getting their money’s worth.

Now, after two and half years at the post, Wos is leaving, Gov. Pat McCrory announced at a Wednesday news conference in Raleigh. Standing at his side, Wos noted it was ‘time to go home.’ Although the governor tearfully praised Wos’ job performance and commitment — as he has all along — her tenure has been wracked by a series of missteps and crises, large and small…”

The N&R then goes on to list a half dozen HHS disasters under Wos’ leadership.

Raleigh’s N&O put it this way in a piece entitled “Don’t cry for me North Carolina”:

“Some Republican lawmakers were annoyed by the turmoil in the department and Wos’ inability to provide reliable numbers on the cost of Medicaid. Senate Republicans even proposed that their version of Medicaid reform would remove the program entirely from DHHS and place its management under the control of a new agency. Indeed, lawmakers doubts about Wos may well have played a role in her resignation.”

The Winston-Salem Journal called for the department to be put back on track:

“The resignation Wednesday of Dr. Aldona Wos, the embattled secretary of the state Department of Health and Human Services, was as overdue as it was unsurprising.…During the two-and-a-half years she has served as secretary, legislators of both parties, advocates and state audits have repeatedly pointed out flaws in the department’s delivery of service to some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

Charlotte Observer cartoonist Kevin Siers compares the department Wos leaves behind to the Statue of Liberty — the torch section.

Meanwhile, the Fayeteville Observer took a different approach, noting that Wos’ departure provides a perfect time to expand Medicaid:

“When he explained why he declined to adopt Obamacare’s expanded Medicaid coverage two years ago, Gov. Pat McCrory said he couldn’t do it because the system was broken. Two consecutive years into positive fund balances, it doesn’t look broken anymore, does it? Where, then, is the expansion initiative, which would bring billions of federal dollars to North Carolina, insure hundreds of thousands of residents without coverage and likely save some rural hospitals from shutting down?”

Commentary

New NC Medicaid surplus more than enough to pay state costs of expansion through 2020

Medicaid expansionFor years now, poor and working North Carolinians who would benefit greatly from Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act have been held hostage as Governor McCrory procrastinated and offered excuses. First, the Guv claimed that the Medicaid system itself was “broken” and in need of repair before it could be expanded. Then, he claimed that it would be inappropriate to act until the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of the ACA itself.

Today, McCrory is running out of excuses. The Supreme Court took care of the constitutionality question a few weeks ago and yesterday, McCrory himself laid Excuse #1 to rest.

According to a statement from the Governor’s office, Medicaid is now in the black:

“The Department of Health and Human Services reported today that the North Carolina Medicaid program ended the 2014-15 state fiscal year with $130.7 million cash on hand. This is the second consecutive year the Medicaid program has finished with cash on hand.”

What’s more, that surplus is more than enough to cover state costs of implementing expansion. As a December 2014 study from health policy wonks at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University reported (see page 15), expansion will actually save the state more than $300 million over the next five years. In 2020, however, there will be a modest net cost to the state of $91.7 million.

The obvious takeaway? Even if the state flushed away the savings that expansion will bring between now and 2020, it can easily cover the modest bump in costs in 2020 merely by socking away the current surplus.

Not surprisingly, however, the Guv is already moving the goalposts. Read more

Commentary

Time for public health action

After reading this fact sheet from the American Public Health Association (APHA), it is apparent that NC policymakers need to take action in order to improve our state’s public health. If our state legislators were assigned a grade for how they are investing in NC’s public health, it would not be a passing grade. The following statistics show there is much room for improving NC’s public health rankings:

  • Ranks 8th for prevalence of diabetes amongst adults.
  • Ranks 47th for the availability of dentists.
  • Ranks 10th for infant mortality.
  • Ranks 47th for the amount invested in each person’s public health needs. NC spends $11.73 per year per resident.
  • Ranks 5th for the number of children living in poverty.

While these numbers are unimpressive at best, there are some public health areas that NC has improved on. First, the high school graduation rate has improved, but then again the Senate budget proposes tax cuts that lower the number of teacher assistants, which could negate the progress made. Second, NC has made great progress in reducing air pollution, but then again the House wants to cut auto emissions tests in some counties.

Even though the sequester led to significant cuts in public health funding, there is federal funding available to address the poor rankings listed above. NC could receive funding to help the following:

Fifteen percent of North Carolinians are uninsured and 500,000 people are in the Medicaid coverage gap. These are people that could seek primary preventative health care that will yield better health outcomes such as prenatal and maternity care to ensure healthy outcomes after childbirth. Research has shown that children eligible for Medicaid miss fewer school days, have higher educational attainment. and their families have more financial security. There are also 150,000 people in NC in the coverage gap with mental health and substance use disorders that need ongoing treatment. The Affordable Care Act has written into law that the federal government will cover 100% of Medicaid expansion costs until 2016 and up to 90 percent of costs starting 2020. Ensuring coverage to one half million North Carolinians is one public health act that will pull NC up the rankings.