Today’s edition of the Weekly Briefing examines a mean-spirited proposal approved by state lawmakers in the final days of the 2015 session to take meager food benefits away from hungry people. The provision is reason enough for Governor McCrory to veto House Bill 318.

Amazingly, however, this is not the most controversial portion of HB 318. The bill also contains a major new attack on immigrants that really amounts to an attack on public health and safety. The editorial page of the Charlotte Observer explains:

“House Bill 318 would forbid local governments from ordering their police forces to de-emphasize or stop the enforcement of federal immigration laws. Such ‘sanctuary city’ provisions are in place formally and informally in dozens of cities and counties across the country, including Charlotte.

It’s not news that Republican lawmakers in North Carolina want to tell cities how to do their business. But the bill, which Gov. Pat McCrory is likely to sign into law this month, also shows a fundamental misunderstanding of immigration law and how it’s enforced.

Sanctuary cities have become a flashpoint in the immigration debate in recent months, thanks in part to some misinformed rhetoric that the governor parroted last week. Said McCrory: ‘As governor, I believe that every law enforcement officer is sworn to uphold not only the laws of North Carolina, but also the laws of the United States … including our immigration laws.’

But police in sanctuary cities aren’t ignoring the law, and they’re not hiding undocumented immigrants from the clutches of federal agents. What those cities have chosen to do is not use their resources – meaning officers and jails – to serve the purposes of federal programs. That means officers are not asking people their immigration status at traffic stops – and therefore not being obligated to bring undocumented workers in. It also means when undocumented immigrants are arrested for unrelated crimes, many of these cities have chosen not to keep them jailed solely to wait for federal agents to arrive.

It’s a decision cities make for philosophical and budgetary reasons. Either way, it’s legal. The Constitution says that while federal law usually supersedes state law, states are not required to enforce laws that are exclusively federal in nature (such as immigration). In Printz. v. United States, which involved background checks of gun purchases, the Supreme Court said that “the Federal Government may neither issue directives requiring the States to address particular problems, nor command the States’ officers … to administer or enforce a federal regulatory program.”

The author of that opinion? Conservative icon Antonin Scalia.

The editorial goes on to explain that McCrory and conservative lawmakers are using baseless scare tactics to imply that such sanctuary laws somehow prevent the arrest of dangerous criminals — something that is patently false. Let’s fervently hope the words of his hometown paper cause the Guv rethink his position on this issue.

Click here to read the entire editorial.


We’ve reported on several of the unwise cuts imposed or forced by state lawmakers and Governor McCrory in the past year — from cuts in child care to the courts to basic school supplies. This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer highlights another ill-conceived and likely dangerous decision: the cuts to driver’s education in our schools. As the editorial notes:

“It is one of the most foolish budget-cutting tricks pulled by the Republican-led General Assembly. To help balance the state budget – a budget in serious trouble, thanks to shortfalls in revenue from taxes – GOP lawmakers intend to cut state funds for driver’s education.

The responsibility to pay for the lessons will fall to local school districts, which can ill-afford to make up the difference. Some will have to charge each student $65 for the program, which won’t cover the cost, so districts will have to dig into their budgets for the money. And this for a program required by the state. Districts must offer driver’s ed to every student in public, private and home schools. In Wake County, about 12,000 students a year go through the program.

Offering the training is a no-brainer. Statistics show a higher incidence of fatal collisions for those who don’t take driver’s education. That alone should have made driver’s ed hands-off for lawmakers. But paying for driver’s education also provides a good safety service for families and a reasonable hope that better-educated drivers are better drivers and more familiar with the rules of the North Carolina road….

The problem is that with excessive tax cuts, Republicans have painted themselves into a corner. If they stand by their cuts, they’re going to not just have to defend what they’ve already done, they’ll have to find new places to save money, and those places are most likely to be in public education….

So the tax-cutters in the legislature will create tax-raisers in the counties. The people of North Carolina are smart enough to know a shell game when they see one.

School systems and parents will pay for drivers ed one way or the other. But by passing the funding obligation downward, the state fosters a system that will help fewer young drivers.”

Read the entire editorial by clicking here.

NC Budget and Tax Center

An insightful interactive map created by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows the extraordinary growth in imprisonment rates nationwide. For North Carolina, the number of individuals under state or federal correctional authority nearly tripled from 1978 to 2013, increasing to 356 from 214 individuals per 100,000 residents over this time period. This growth in the state’s imprisonment rate is accompanied by increased state corrections spending – rising from $538 million in 1978 up to $1.7 billion in 2013 when adjusted for inflation.

Growth in the state’s imprisonment population has been costly for North Carolina and nationally. More and more state dollars for state corrections spending has contributed to fewer dollars available for public schools and other public investments that serve as the foundation of economic growth. In 2011, state lawmakers passed the Justice Reinvestment Act, which aims to manage the state’s prison population growth by creating better outcomes for offenders and, in turn, reduce recidivism. However, the state’s ongoing revenue crisis resulting from costly tax cuts and continued budget cuts limit opportunities for proven, cost-effective initiatives, such as drug treatment courts.

What is clear is that state corrections operations in North Carolina consume a significant amount of resources, and individuals, at the expense of other important public investments.


The Associated Press published this disturbing report this afternoon about the release of an autopsy of a mentally ill prison inmate who died of thirst.

Anthony Michael Kerr, 53, died when he was found unresponsive in March while being transported from a state prison in Taylorsville to Central Prison in Raleigh.

The article (by AP’s Michael Biesecker) also reported a state pathologist couldn’t determine if the death was of natural, accidental, or homicidal causes. The pathologist wasn’t given information by prison staff about when Kerr last ate or was given something to drink.
From the AP article.

In the North Carolina Medical Examiner’s Office report, pathologist Dr. Lauren Scott says a senior prison official allowed a “witnessed review” of an internal review into Kerr’s death, though the medical examiner’s office was not permitted to keep a copy. Scott wrote that the report left unanswered key details about the circumstances leading to Kerr’s death, including when the inmate last had access to food and water.

Because of the lack of information, the pathologist wrote that she was unable to make a determination about whether Kerr’s death should be classified as natural, accidental or homicide.

“Mr. Kerr’s psychiatric history was significant for schizoaffective disorder for which he was not receiving any treatment at the time of his death,” Scott wrote. “It was not possible to make any firm conclusions regarding the inmate’s nutrition and fluid intake, and whether or not his mental health and/or external factors played a role in the dehydration.”

Scott noted abrasions on Kerr’s forearms were “consistent with restraint devices.”

You can read the entire article here.

Falling Behind in NC, NC Budget and Tax Center

Governor McCrory signed a final budget into law for the current 2015 fiscal year, which runs from July 2014 through June 2015, this morning. The $21.1 billion budget includes new spending initiatives – largely pay raises for teachers and state employees – but fails to include additional revenue to sustain this spending in the long-term. Contrary to fueling North Carolina’s economic comeback, as Governor McCrory claims, the final budget continues to fund core public services at diminished levels, well below pre-recession levels, and compromises the ability of the state to get ahead and prepare for the future.  Moreover, it puts North Carolina on a fiscally irresponsible path that will continue to create budget challenges in the years ahead, largely as a result of the tax plan that was little debated and discussed in the final budget.

North Carolina faces a revenue challenge, and actions taken within the final budget make this reality clear. The final budget signed by the Governor spends every available dollar and uses dollars from last year’s budget as a result of the Governor requiring agencies to cut their respective budgets. No funding is available to build up the state’s Savings Reserve fund, which is meant to position the state to weather a future economic downturn. Furthermore, the budget relies on one-time funding sources that, once depleted, cannot be replenished with such low revenue and shifts funding for core public investments such as K-12 education to lottery receipts and early childhood programming to federal block grants.

Such budget decisions are driven largely by the tax plan the governor signed into law last year, which significantly reduces revenue available for public investments. Revised analysis by the General Assembly’s Fiscal Research Division estimates that the income tax rate cuts in the plan will cost at least $200 million more annually than initially expected – more than $1 billion less in annual revenue once the plan is fully implemented. The Governor and state policymakers failed to account for this reality in the final budget, which means that, absent new revenue, more budget cuts to core public services are likely to occur in future years as the tax plan continues to be implemented. Another round of tax cuts is set to occur in January 2015.

Under the final budget signed by the Governor, state spending remains 6.6 percent below pre-recession levels (see chart below). Read More