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A local schoolteacher forwarded the following letter today describing her eminently reasonable budget-balancing proposal: 

Dear Governor McCrory and members of the General Assembly,

North Carolina must have a balanced budget, and I propose that all state employees, including those in the governor’s office, take drastic measures. The average NC state employee is now paid $41,926. Governor McCrory earns $141,265 per annum. Members of the governor’s cabinet, thanks to an 8.5% pay raise this year, earn $128,000 per year or more.

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The Asheville Citizen-Times had an opinion piece today about the actions this year by the N.C. General Assembly and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory. The author, who makes no bones about his disappointment in the two, is Martin Dyckman, a Waynesville resident and former editor at Florida’s St. Petersburg Times.

From Dyckman’s piece:

I covered politics throughout a long career in journalism without ever seeing a legislative session as overwhelmingly radical as that of the current General Assembly.

It’s an orgy of meanness, prejudice, nastiness, cruelty, shortsightedness, selfishness, spite, arrogance and conscious brutality. Three examples, among many, are the cynical forfeiture of extended unemployment insurance, expansion of Medicaid and repeal of the earned income tax credit. Now, they’re hatching a tax scheme that will increase the burdens of the poor and middle class, give a windfall to the wealthy and impose more destructive cuts on the schools and colleges.

The pretext for all that is to make North Carolina more attractive for investment. That is, to put it politely, enough fertilizer to enrich the soil of a thousand farms. Business goes where it can find a skilled workforce and good transportation; tax rates are far down the list. The real object, one suspects, is simply to make North Carolina a trophy for wealthy freeloaders and right-wing ideologues, to serve as an example to be applied wherever else the Democratic Party is disorganized or complacent. Raising money to run for the U.S. Senate has something to do with it, too.

You can read Dyckman’s entire editorial here.

The News & Observer had another interesting read from over the weekend, a two-part series by investigative reporter Andrew Curliss about the N.C Rural Center.

The Rural Center has traditionally been funded at the tune of $25 million a year by the N.C. General Assembly but is facing considerable uncertainly in current budget negotiations.

Curliss’ first piece (available here) looked at the how money flowed through the center to create low-wage jobs at big-box stores and that the “jobs created numbers” used by the center weren’t accurate.

His Sunday piece (click here) looked at the politics of the center, and how longtime director Billy Ray Hall has run the organization paying special attention to legislators and the politically powerful, including waiving the rules for a movie theater in state Sen. Tommy Tucker’s district and grant money that benefited Gov. Pat McCrory’s  budget director Art Pope’s family business.

From the article:

Officially, the nonprofit N.C. Rural Economic Development Center awards “job generating” grants, funded by state taxpayers, to nondescript government agencies. The city of Rocky Mount. Montgomery County. The town of Indian Trail.

From the center’s files, other stories emerge: Legislators influencing where the money goes. People and businesses from across the political landscape getting in on the deals. Political money men benefiting from taxpayer cash, spent with little notice or scrutiny.

One of the biggest names: Discount store business Variety Wholesalers, whose CEO, Art Pope, is a well-known supporter of nonprofit groups that criticize taxpayer subsidies for businesses. A former Republican legislator, he’s now Gov. Pat McCrory’s budget director.

One of the best connected: Bob Jordan, the former Democratic lieutenant governor who helped start the Rural Center and was a longtime board member. His company was recently part of a grant, but then backed out.

Curliss’ article also referenced a 2012 N.C. Policy Watch report about a Rural Center grant that state Rep. Tim Moore received but later backed out of to expand his law practice.

Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque was convicted today on a dozen charges related to the theft of funds from a federally-funded rural business lending program he ran for more than a decade in the eastern part of the state.

LaRoque, 49, a Kinston Republican, was convicted by a federal jury of

Stephen LaRoque after a 2012 court appearance.

Stephen LaRoque after a 2012 court appearance.

four counts of stealing from the federal program four counts of laundering the theft through financial transaction, two counts of concealing the theft and two counts of filing false statement on tax forms.

LaRoque showed little emotion upon hearing the guilty verdicts, according to WNCT reporter Katie Banks, who was in the courtroom.

His sentencing will be in September, and he was released on bond until then.  He faces a maximum punishment of more than 90 years in prison, along with significant fines.

LaRoque, a co-chair of the powerful House Rules Committee, had been in the N.C. House of Representatives until his July 2012 indictment, when he resigned.

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A jury could decide this afternoon if former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque stole $300,000 from federally-funded non-profits he ran or if the money was his to begin with.

Convictions on the more than dozen charges LaRoque faces could mean a maximum 90-year prison sentence.

“This case is about a simple money grap,” said Dennis Duffy, the federal prosecutor in the case, to jurors.

LaRoque

LaRoque

LaRoque’s attorney, Joe Cheshire, disagreed, saying, “”If he did, then all the money he took was his own money.”

LaRoque, 49, a Kinston Republican who stepped down from the House of Representatives following his July 2012 indictment, is accused of dipping into the bank accounts of two U.S. Department of Agriculture economic development groups to fund extravagant purchases like expensive jewelry and a Greenville ice skating rink business.

LaRoque founded both of the economic development groups, East Carolina Development Company and Piedmont Development Company, and took in nearly $2 million in compensation since 1997. The groups had taken in received $8 million in USDA loans as part of an anti-poverty program that loaned out money to small businesses in struggling rural areas.

Prosecutors contend that LaRoque saw the non-profits as his own companies, stacked the boards with his immediate family members and illegally used the federally-sourced funds to buy two cars, a house, a Greenville ice skating rink, expensive jewelry and replica Faberge eggs.

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