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Be sure to check out Tazra Mitchell’s excellent essay over on the main Policy Watch site this afternoon: “Governor McCrory’s flat budget proposal ignores research and reality.” As Tazra explains, the state is cutting essential services to provide enrollment growth increases in education and health care. As a practical matter, everything else remains frustratingly and destructively stuck in neutral:

“With his 2015-2017 budget, Governor McCrory chose to ignore the need for reinvestment in public education, health, safety, and the other programs that improve well-being for us all. Total state investments under his 2016 fiscal year budget proposal would be 6.1 percent below pre-recession levels, adjusting for inflation. North Carolina’s lived experience shows us this is the wrong way to go—in past economic recoveries, state investments returned to and exceeded pre-recession levels far more quickly. Our former leaders understood that investing in the infrastructure of opportunity spurs economic growth.

Governor McCrory’s spending plan, in large part, freezes state investments at a time when his priority should be to roll back harmful budget cuts enacted since the downturn. His budget for the 2016 fiscal year increases year-to-year spending by nearly $439.8 million, or two percent, but the costs of enrollment growth in public schools, the UNC system, and the Medicaid/Health Choice programs are estimated to slightly exceed that year-to-year increase. That means every new dollar, on net, is dedicated to funding enrollment growth rather than replacing budget cuts that stifle economic mobility or pursuing new initiatives to position the state competitively.

And despite promises that the 2013 tax cut for the wealthy would deliver a huge boom to the economy, North Carolina has experienced nothing of the sort. Job growth has largely followed national trends in recent years, but we still have not gotten back to the level of employment—when accounting for population growth—that was the norm before the recession. Wages in North Carolina have slipped further behind the national average and are not even keeping up with inflation, which means many people’s paychecks do not go as far as they did before the downturn.

So the promise of an economic boost from tax cuts has failed to pan out, but state leaders are sticking with those cuts rather than reinvesting in the long-term building blocks of opportunity and prosperity like schools and environmental protection.”

Click here to read the entire article.

News

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Rep. Renee Ellmers showed up to a panel at the South By Southwest conference Sunday to talk about how big data can transform poverty policy. Ellmers, who was also here on Saturday to talk about broadband competition in the communications space, appeared at this panel in place of Rep. John Delaney (D-MD), who sponsored a Social Impact Bond bill last summer that was one of the topics of discussion.

Ellmers spoke alongside Kevin Corinth of the conservative American Enterprise Institute and Michele Jolin, Managing Director of America Achieves.

The repeated theme of the session focused on making results-oriented, evidence-based policy solutions.

Corinth emphasized divorcing emotion from policy decisions and the importance of crafting legislation that works for people rather than causes.

Ellmers agreed that there is “a lot of emotion on both sides” of the political spectrum and that a results-oriented effort presented a bipartisan opportunity to address issues like poverty, homelessness and mental illness.
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NC Budget and Tax Center

Last week, Governor McCrory unveiled his two-year budget proposal for July 2015 through June 2017. He has since touted how his plan reinvests in the public services and programs that are essential for economic opportunity and quality of life. However, a close look at his 2016 fiscal year (FY2016) spending plan reveals that he fails to reinvest in a meaningful way in the critical public structures that benefit us all. Genuine progress will continue to be hampered until state lawmakers build a tax system that can adequately match the needs of a growing economy.

Governor McCrory’s proposed budget for FY2016 increases year-to-year spending by nearly $439.8 million, or 2 percent. This is in sharp contrast to past recoveries when state investments were far quicker to return to, and advance beyond, pre-recession levels. Enrollment growth in public schools, the UNC system, and the Medicaid/Health Choice programs is estimated to exceed the year-to-year increase in spending in the governor’s proposal, totaling nearly $442.6 million in FY2016. That means every new dollar increase, on net, is dedicated to funding enrollment growth (see chart below).

It also means that non-enrollment expansion items in the proposal are made possible by cutting or allowing spending to expire for other vital programs that are already stripped bare from previous underinvestment. That’s like rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship. Read More

Commentary

In case you missed it this morning, be sure to check out Adam Linker’s op-ed in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer. As Linker writes:

“Health insurance for more than a million North Carolinians is at stake, and Gov. Pat McCrory has two options: He can take the initiative to protect the people he has sworn to represent or he can sit back and let external forces decide our destiny.

Nearly 560,000 people have signed up for Affordable Care Act plans in North Carolina, and many of them receive tax credits to help pay their premiums. Thanks to outreach efforts by nonprofits, insurers, insurance agents and hospitals, our state ranked fourth in Affordable Care Act signups nationally.

Despite these impressive results, there are still more than 500,000 people, many of them the working poor, who do not qualify for North Carolina’s Medicaid program and who do not earn enough to purchase private insurance. Health reform set aside money for our state to provide this population with coverage through Medicaid, but first state leaders must consent to using these funds for that purpose. So far the governor and state legislature have left the money in Washington.”

Unfortunately, of course, Governor McCrory has failed to act. As Linker explains, however, it’s not too late:

“Now comes the governor’s moment.

He, along with legislative leaders, could change course and circumvent the Supreme Court by re-establishing state control over our insurance marketplace. In fact, most of the pieces are already in place. Our Department of Insurance is proactive about reviewing insurance policies. Our health care and insurance communities meet regularly and could easily form an oversight board. Our outreach and enrollment efforts are national models. All we need is for the governor to work with legislators to vest these organizations with the power to form a state marketplace.

McCrory then could release a state-specific plan to tap federal Medicaid funds to expand coverage to 500,000 additional people. This would boost local economies still staggering from the Great Recession. It would allow tens of thousands of women access to preventive screenings like mammograms and pap smears. It would allow thousands of people suffering from the disease of addiction to obtain the long-term treatment they need. Read More

Commentary

McCrory contradictionsGovernor Pat McCrory announced a disastrous and destructive decision yesterday in an interview with an AP reporter. When asked whether he would recommend closing the insurance gap that currently leaves a half-million North Carolinians too poor to qualify for Obamcare subsidies and too well-off to qualify for Medicaid, the Guv said: “I will not make any recommendation as to whether or not we extend insurance for the uninsured until the court case because there are so many ramifications of the court case.”

As the story also noted: “The court’s oral arguments are next month and a ruling is expected in the summer, about when the legislature traditionally seeks to adjourn. That could push any legislative action on a recommendation to 2016.”

This means that a half-million struggling North Carolinians will have to wait at least another year for the health insurance they were promised and deserve. In all likelihood, thousands will die unnecessarily. Meanwhile, tax dollars paid by North Carolinians will flow to other states in which Governors (many of the Republican) have had the vision and courage to put human life ahead of politics.

The decision comes after months of dithering by the Governor and in spite of the clear signals sent by his Department of Health and Human Services officials that Medicaid expansion is both the right thing to do and essential to save lives.

The bottom line: If this is truly is his final word on this matter, Pat McCrory has now, officially, made the worst and most destructive decision of his governorship — a decision that puts supposed concerns about bureaucratic hassles ahead of saving human lives. Meanwhile, millions of people in Ohio and Arizona and other conservative states  enjoy access to decent and affordable health insurance on our nickel. Let’s hope and pray the U.S. Supreme Court does the right thing this summer, but whatever happens then and thereafter, Gov. McCrory has now seized the mantle from former chief naysayer Senator Phil Berger and cemented his legacy as the person who denied decent and affordable health care to a half-million of his fellow Tar Heels unnecessarily.