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Note: This post has been updated to include comment from Moore’s legislative office.

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore has a new job, after he was hired this week to serve as the attorney for Cleveland County, where he lives.

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore

One of his tasks in the county position will be to “[a]dvise the Board and Manager on proposed legislation,” according to a copy of Moore’s contract, which was obtained by N.C. Policy Watch.

That could raise questions about whether the new job poses a conflict of interest for Moore, a Kings Mountain Republican. As head of the state House of Representatives, Moore has considerable influence and insider knowledge about state budget negotiations as well as other pieces of state legislation that affect counties around the state.

Moore’s legislative staff said that his county-based job will be limited to offering advice on proposed legislation in the county, and not any state legislation.

The House Speaker job tends to be a time-consuming one, though all members of the legislature are considered part-time lawmakers with many still running businesses or going to jobs in their home districts. Moore makes $38,151 a year as House Speaker.

The Shelby Star noted that when Moore was hired Tuesday at a county commission meeting, he made reference to his position in the state legislature.

“Moore joked about having another job that gave him ‘some insight’ about what is going on in the state and communities but still had a law practice to keep up,” the Shelby Star wrote in an article about Moore’s hiring.

State ethics law prevents those in public positions, like lawmakers, from using their public position to bring “financial benefit to the covered person or legislative employee, a member of the covered person’s or legislative employee’s extended family, or business with which the covered person or legislative employee is associated.”

Clayton Somers, Moore’s chief of staff, said Friday afternoon that Moore sought an informal ethics opinion before taking the job, and that the legislation referred to in the contract was only county-based proposals, not state legislation.

“He is not going to advise the county on any state legislation,” Somers said.

Moore will receive a $25,000 annual retainer, and will bill the county $250 an hour for whatever work he does serving as the legal adviser to the county commission, according to a copy of his contract obtained from Cleveland County by N.C. Policy Watch.

The job will require Moore to attend commission meetings, consult with the county commission and county manager as needed and prepare legal documents and contracts, in addition to offering advice about pending legislation.

“It just doesn’t look good,” said Jane Pinsky, the head of the N.C. Coalition for Lobbying and Government Reform, about Moore’s new contract employee job with the county.

Even if the arrangement is legal and Moore operates in an ethical manner, it can still leave the public with the impression that those in political power are able to easily secure jobs because of their public roles, she said.

“It’s one more thing that people think if you’re one of the good old boys, there’s a benefit to that,” Pinsky said.

News

Stephen LaRoque will find out his fate tomorrow, as a federal judge decides whether he should spend time in prison for stealing  $300,000 from a federally-funded non-profit.

LaRoque, a former Republican state representative from Kinston who served in a leadership position, plead guilty earlier this year to the theft, shortly before a second trial was expected to start on criminal charges that he used two economic development non-profits he ran to fund a lavish personal lifestyle.

LaRoque-PCCourt testimony for this first trial, in which convictions were thrown out because of juror misconduct, showed that LaRoque transferred money to and from the bank accounts of the East Carolina Development Company to pay for things like cars, replica Faberge eggs for his wife, a Greenville ice skating rink and a Zamboni ice resurfacer.

LaRoque had denied any criminal wrongdoing at the trial. Instead, he said he was owed the money as part of his salary from the non-profit run by a board made up for several years of himself, his wife and brother.

The non-profit group was funded with millions in U.S. Department of Agriculture funding, as part of an anti-poverty rural lending program intended to offer loans to small businesses in rural area unable to obtain financial backing on their own.

The sentencing hearing will begin at 9 a.m. at the federal courthouse in Greenville, in front of U.S. Senior District Court Judge Malcolm Howard.

LaRoque, who was indicted on federal charges in 2012, following a 2011 N.C. Policy Watch investigation, agreed to pay back $300,000 in restitution in exchange for his guilty plea.

He faces a range of 2 years to 30 months in prison though Howard, the federal judge, could also opt to sentence LaRoque to probation, the punishment that LaRoque and his attorney are asking for.

“Stephen LaRoque is a broken man,” wrote Keith Williams, a Greenville defense attorney, in a memorandum asking for a probationary sentence. “After years of criminal prosecution, his political career is over, his financial standing has shriveled, and he and his wife face serious health issues as they advance in age.”

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UNC law professor Gene Nichol

UNC law professor Gene Nichol

The University of North Carolina’s Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity, in order to comply with a February decision by the university’s system governing board, shut its doors last week.

The privately-funded center based out of the Chapel Hill law school, UNC Board of Governor Chairman John Fennebresque explained in an editorial, “was unable to demonstrate any appreciable impact on the issue of poverty.”

But many had trouble believing that reasoning, speculating that the center’s closing was an attempt to censor Gene Nichol, the tenured law professor who heads the poverty center and a vocal critic of policies passed by the Republican-led legislature and Republican Gov. Pat McCrory.

The UNC Board of Governors gets its appointments from the state legislature, and its ranks include several major contributors to the political campaigns of state Republicans.

But the work at the poverty center isn’t finished, Nichol wrote in the Institute for Southern Studies last week.

Funding for the center’s work has continued, and even increased, after the controversial closing of the center, and Nichol will now head the N.C. Poverty Research Fund.

From Nichol, in the Institute for Southern Studies:

I’ve been blessed with a long and varied academic career. But none of my efforts has approached the extraordinary honor of working, side by side for the past seven years, with North Carolina low-income communities and the dedicated students, professors, advocates and providers who seek to serve them. Together, we have sought to focus a meaningful light on the challenges of poverty and to push back against policies that foster economic injustice. Those efforts, as you know, have led the UNC Board of Governors to close the Poverty Center. But poverty is the enemy in North Carolina. Not a tiny, privately-funded Poverty Center.  Heather Hunt and I have no words to match the gratitude we feel for the astonishing support the Poverty Center has received, in recent months, from thousands across North Carolina and the nation.

As the Poverty Center closes, the Law School now launches the North Carolina Poverty Research Fund. Thanks to the generosity of North Carolina foundations, and engaged and committed citizens from across the country, the new Fund will allow us to hire student, faculty and post-doctorate scholars to assist us in probing the causes of, and solutions to, economic injustice – and to publish, extensively, the fruits of our research. Donors have indicated repeatedly that they are unwilling to see the crucial work of the Poverty Center driven from the halls of the university. The Fund will assure that it continues, and that it continues in Chapel Hill. Censorship has poor track record. It won’t prevail here either.

Poverty is North Carolina’s greatest challenge. In one of the most economically vibrant states of the richest nation on earth, 18 percent of us live in wrenching poverty. Twenty-five percent of our kids. Forty percent of our children of color. We have one of the country’s fastest rising poverty rates. A decade ago, North Carolina had the 26th highest rate among the states. Now we’re 10th, speeding past the competition. Greensboro, the federal government tells us, is the hungriest city in America. Charlotte has the nation’s worst economic mobility. Over the last decade, North Carolina experienced the country’s steepest rise in concentrated poverty. Poverty, amidst plenty, stains the life of this storied commonwealth. Even if our leaders choose to ignore it.

You can read the rest of Nichol’s comments here.

NC Budget and Tax Center

With lawmakers set to hammer out a final state budget, North Carolinians are hearing a lot of misleading claims about the inability to afford important investments in the state’s economic future. Unmentioned is that the state’s constrained finances – at a time when the economy is improving – stem from the decision to sharply cut taxes over the past three years instead of building a strong foundation for lasting growth.

So when policymakers say that making investments in one area of the budget limit the ability to invest in other areas, they are right in lamenting limited resources. But they are offering false choices because they leave out the fact that the limits on resources available to help North Carolinians build a secure future come from House and Senate leadership prioritizing tax cuts over investments that drive the economy forward. And these constraints are likely to continue far into the future because the proposed House and Senate budgets include tax cuts that cost anywhere from $650 million to $1 billion over the next two years, depending on which version of the budget the two houses eventually agree to enact.

By locking themselves into these false choices legislators fail to acknowledge that halting further tax cuts would help ensure that schools have the resources they need and that important supports are available to promote healthy and safe communities.

Let’s sort out some of these false choices and shed light on how different it could be if the state had taken the common-sense path of avoiding such damaging tax cuts.

  • Classroom Teachers vs. Teachers Assistants. Today, our schools have nearly 4,800 fewer classroom teacher positions and more than 7,000 fewer state-funded teachers’ assistants than in 2009, which is especially bad considering there are 43,000 more students in our schools. The Senate budget drastically reduces funding for teachers’ assistants and provides some additional funding for classroom teachers. But neither the House nor Senate budget would restore the number of teachers and assistants to the 2009 level. Without tax cuts, North Carolina could invest in teachers and teachers’ assistants, providing the next generation a better shot at getting the skills to compete in a global economy.

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The Senate’s budget proposal for the next two years had some significant health policy changes packed into it, namely a proposal to peel Medicaid oversight away from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services and open the door for managed-care management of the $14 billion program.

House and Senate Republicans have spent the last few years debating what to do with Medicaid and how to address routine budget overruns from the federally-mandated program that provides health care coverage for low-income, seniors, the disabled children and some of their parents and the disabled.

House members favor keeping Medicaid within DHHS, and phasing in changes that would open up the Medicaid program to management from non-profit groups (called ACOs, or accountable care organizations).

Sen. Ralph Hise, the Republican senator from Spruce Pine who has long pushed for a managed-care solution to Medicaid, said that beginning the Medicaid reform process and moving Medicaid administration into a stand-alone division would allow the legislature to better predict and cap costs for what is the state’s largest program. (Scroll down to watch video of Hise talking about the Senate budget proposal.)

The Senate proposal does have room for ACOs, with options to have managed-care companies offer state-wide coverage while also having six regional divisions that will have slots for ACOs to work, Hise said.

Any changes to the state Medicaid program will need federal approval as well.

The Senate budget, which is expected on the floor for a vote tomorrow, would also cut ties with Community Care of North Carolina, a provider-led network that had been credited with keeping Medicaid costs down by closely managing patient cases, and pairing high-risk patients with primary care physicians. The contract with the state would end by Jan. 1. The cut will amount to a $32 million cut in the 2015-16 budget year, and savings of $65 million in the second year.

There were plenty of other note-worthy details in the budget proposal, with some re-investments in some areas of the budget, and cuts in the others. To read the 504-page budget, click here. The accompanying money report is herehere.

Among the proposed changes were proposals to:

  • Eliminate 520 slots in the state’s pre-kindergarten program, which currently offers early education offerings to 28,700 low-income children.
  • Get rid of the state’s “certificate of need” process by 2019, in which hospitals and medical centers need to make a case to state regulators for adding surgical or other specialized medical offerings, in favor of a more free-market approach that’s been a cause long championed by conservative groups in the state.
  • Extend the foster care age to 21, offering more help for children instead of cutting them off from state services at age 18.
  • Shut down the Wright School, a part-time residential facility in Durham County that provides inpatient help for children with severe disabilities and behavioral issues.
  • Get rid of the Office of Minority Health in DHHS (cut of $3.1 million). Senate Republican leaders said Monday the elimination would allow more money to flow through to actual services that affect minority populations including teen pregnancy and sickle cell programs, but Democrats argued an office dedicated to looking at overall health disparities between racial groups was important.

N.C. Health News has a great rundown as well about what’s in (and what’s not in) the budget. You can read that here.

 

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