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Senate leaders are looking at major cuts to health and human services programs that serve the poor, disabled and elderly in order to pay for teacher raises and fund Medicaid to required levels.

DHHSThe North Carolina chapter of the AARP has a good rundown here on what some of the proposed cuts will do, and the group says it is “disheartened to see the Senate budget proposal doesn’t value our state’s older adults and those who are blind and disabled.”

The state’s doctors are also concerned about the cuts to Medicaid system, and how it will affect some of the most vulnerable North Carolinians.

Robert Seligson, the head of N.C. Medical Society, denounced the state Senate’s budget proposal Thursday, saying it offers “no solution to the big challenges we’re facing in Medicaid.”

“Patient care under the Senate plan will suffer, especially for the aged, blind and disabled citizens of our state, who will no longer be eligible for Medicaid if the Senate has its way,” Seligson said in a statement.

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Yesterday evening, members of the Senate Finance Committee gathered to consider a modified version of House Bill 1050 (HB 1050) which includes repealing the local privilege tax. A repeated claim by proponents of the tax repeal is that additional revenue from the local sales tax – resulting from the tax plan passed last year – will make up for the revenue lost from repealing the local privilege tax.

A closer look at a fiscal note provided by the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division, however, highlights that the math simply doesn’t add up to support this claim.

Fiscal Research estimates that a full repeal of the local privilege would result in nearly $63 million in less revenue for cities and counties across the state. Revenue from an expanded local sales tax is projected to bring in an about $10.9 million in additional annual local revenue and sales taxes from online sales via Amazon is expected to bring in around $2.9 million – for a total of $13.8 million in local revenue from an expanded sales tax.

Local Privilege Tax Repeal

It is clear that $13.8 million in additional local sales tax revenue is not sufficient to replace $63 million in lost revenue from the repeal of the local privilege tax. Less revenue means local governments will likely be further challenged with providing its residents with core public services and an attractive quality of life.

This morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it just about exactly right with a full-length  editorial on the return of Moral Monday protesters to the state capital and the conservative legislature’s heavy-handed attempt to muzzle them:

“Tuesday, the marchers will return, following Memorial Day. And Republicans may be sure they’ll be back, Monday after Monday. More enlightened leaders might talk to the protesters (who include blue collar workers, teachers, lawyers and doctors) to at least hear their viewpoints.

Alas, the Republicans now in charge on Jones Street prefer ignorance of the opposition, the better to do their damage to average North Carolinians without facts and conscience getting in the way. They’ll stumble on, wreaking legislative havoc as they seek to destroy what’s left of environmental regulation and to cut taxes even more for the wealthy, who benefit most from their actions.

Meanwhile, a movement grows, literally across the country, thanks to the hearty souls who have dared to go to the considerable trouble of arriving at the Legislative Building knowing they’ll face only disrespect from those who are supposed to serve them….

These protesters have done a public service, pure and simple. They have spoken eloquently and loudly, even when they do not speak at all.”

Today’s protest start at 12:00 noon on Halifax Mall behind the Legislative Building. Read the entire N&O editorial by clicking here.

An editorial in this morning’s edition of the Greensboro News & Record rightfully echoes many of the themes in Tuesday’s edition of the N.C. Policy Watch Weekly Briefing in its critique of new rules governing access to the state Legislative Building entitled “Protests muzzled.” As the N&R notes:

“Demonstrators took a practical precaution when they entered the legislative building Monday evening. They taped their mouths shut.

How else could they make sure they didn’t ‘act in a manner that will imminently disturb the General Assembly, one of its houses, or its committees, members, or staff in the performance of their duties,’ as prohibited by the new rules approved last week?

….the overly sensitive definition of disturbance and the reference to an ‘imminent’ disturbance leave too much to personal whim. Interpretation can be as strict as someone in authority wants it to be. When it comes to dealing with people who convey dissatisfaction with the authorities, the rules might be applied very strictly indeed.

These rules tell the public there will be little tolerance for verbal expression by visitors. They had better just remain silent from the time they enter until they leave — and the sooner they leave, the better….

Of course demonstrators should not be allowed to create a real disturbance in the legislative building. They should not make so much noise that committee meetings or floor sessions are disrupted. They should not block anyone’s way.

That kind of real trouble occurred rarely, if at all, last year. But it bothered lawmakers just the same to have people come into their building and protest their policies.

Except, of course, it’s not their building. It belongs to the people, who have a right to express themselves about policies that affect them. When they come in, they shouldn’t have to tape their mouths — not even figuratively.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

A reporter’s recorder was confiscated Tuesday at the state legislature, after a state senator announced that all recording devices had to be registered in order to be used at the public meeting.

N.C. Sen. Rick Gunn

Commerce committee chairman state Sen. Rick Gunn, a Burlington Republican, made an announcement  at the meeting that all recording equipment had to be registered with the legislature’s sergeant-at-arms staff.

The committee, held in a packed committee hearing room where audio is not automatically streamed for the public, was in the midst of hearing about “fracking,” the controversial process to extract natural gas from the earth.

One reporter, N.C. Health News Editor Rose Hoban, then had her audio recorder seized by the sergeant-at-arms after Gunn made his comments.

“’Did you have it registered?,’” Hoban said she was asked when she inquired where her recorder was.

Hoban, who has covered the legislature for several years, said she has never been asked previously to register audio equipment. The state open meetings law specifically allows recordings of public proceedings, finding that “any person may photograph, film, tape-record, or otherwise reproduce any part of a meeting required to be open.”

Gunn reversed himself halfway through the meeting, after word about his ban had been reported on Twitter.

“I rescind my comment about the recording equipment,” he said.

Gunn would not answer questions posed by N.C .Policy Watch after the meeting, and walked away from reporters questioning him about his comments.

The state legislative passed new rules last week about how the public can access the legislative building, a reaction to the weekly arrests at the Moral Monday protests last year by those upset over the agenda of conservative Republican leaders. Democrats have said the new rules are designed to discourage the protests, while Republican leaders say the rules offer clarification requested by judges in the wake of the arrests.

The new rules open up public access on the second floor of the building, where several legislative leaders have offices, and also define singing, clapping, shouting and using a bullhorn as potential “disturbances” that could mean ejection from the building.

Phillip King, the sergeant-at-arms for the state Senate, said Tuesday afternoon he would get clarification on what the rules regarding recordings are, but as of Wednesday morning he had not offered any further information.

He did say some at the legislature have been worried recorders are being left in rooms to record candid, and potentially embarrassing, conversations. King said his staff found multiple audio recorders last session and at committee meetings held in the interim that have never been claimed.

“Had we not picked it (a recorder) up and it had recorded some off-to-the cuff comments that were not meant for the public, at non-public meetings,” King said, “it could have been bad for whomever was in the room.”