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McCrory budgetGov. Pat McCrory held a formal signing ceremony to herald his approval of the new FY 2015 state budget this morning. The signing took place around a fancy old desk that was set up in front of some red carpeted stairs in the Governor’s mansion with a group of legislators and administration officials standing in the background. It was, in other words, a moment of gubernatorial pomp and circumstance — a moment in which the Governor was positioned to rise above the political fray and strike a statesmanlike pose.

Unfortunately, the Guv couldn’t help himself and in the middle of the ceremony — without any prompting from the media — decided to take cheap shots at his opponents. Read More

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The state unemployment rate went up to 9.2 percent in December, according to a release this morning from the N.C. Department of Commerce.

It was an increase of 0.1 percent from a month prior.

The state is still up from the national rate of 7.8 percent but is far better off than it was last year. In December 2011, unemployment was 10.4 percent.

(All numbers are seasonably adjusted.)

This comes as the state legislature gets ready to make significant changes to the state’s unemployment insurance program, in order to pay back $2.5 billion the state borrowed from the federal government in the height of the recession.

The proposal on the table would primarily change how jobless workers are affected, by scaling back the number of weeks an unemployed worker could collect benefits form 26 to 12 or 20 weeks (depending on the economy), and cut the maximum weekly amount from $535 to $350. (More here in this WRAL story.)

Businesses would see a slight increase in what they pay.

Worker advocates, including the Policy Watch’s parent organization, the N.C. Justice Center, have said the current proposal would leave vulnerable middle and low-income families without the needed safety nets after a sudden job less, with the business community not paying enough of their share.

Meanwhile, the N.C. Chamber of Commerce, which worked closely with legislators to develop the proposed plan, have described the proposal as balanced, with all sides feeling some pain to right the system. (Click here to read a chamber news release on the issue.)

Legislators are expected to take up the issue later on in the session.

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The Center for American Progress released its list of million-dollar judges — those whose 2012 election campaigns raked in that amount or more, on their own or with the help of independent spending.  Sharing the spotlight on that list is our own Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby:

North Carolina Supreme Court Justice Paul Newby was re-elected with the help of more than $2.5 million in independent spending. The state’s public financing program—long a model for states seeking to keep money out of judicial races—was overwhelmed by money from interest groups such as the state Chamber of Commerce and Americans for Prosperity, a group affiliated with the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers. North Carolina tobacco companies also chipped in hundreds of thousands of dollars after they benefited from a 2009 ruling, authored by Newby, in a dispute with tobacco farmers.

The largest donation, by far, was the more than $1 million from the Republican State Leadership Committee, a group that helped the state’s Republican legislature draft its recent redistricting maps. Civil rights groups filed a lawsuit alleging that the map disenfranchises minority voters, and the case is currently before the state supreme court. This money was instrumental in keeping a 4-3 conservative majority on the bench. North Carolina’s ethics rules say a judge should not hear a case if his or her “impartiality might reasonably be questioned,” but Justice Newby will hear the redistricting case despite the fact that he was re-elected thanks to millions of dollars from Republican groups that have a stake in the outcome.