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Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque will wait until February for a jury trial on charges of stealing $300,000 from two federally-funded economic development groups he ran.

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Former N.C. Rep. LaRoque

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican, was scheduled for an October trial in a federal criminal courtroom in Greenville. The trial was pushed back to Feb. 2 because of delays in getting transcripts from a previous trial, according to an order filed in federal court this week.

A jury had convicted LaRoque in June 2013 of a dozen charges related to the theft, but U.S. Senior District Court Judge Malcolm Howard set aside those verdicts and ordered a new trial after finding out a juror in the case did home Internet research, a violation of court rules.

LaRoque, a former co-chair of the powerful House Rules committee and a self-declared “right hand man” for N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, has maintained he is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing, and said he was owed the money federal prosecutors contend he stole.

He resigned from the state legislature in 2012, after an indictment of federal charges accusing him of taking $300,000 from two federally-funded nonprofits he ran and using the money to buy cars, a Greenville skating rink, expensive jewelry and replica Faberge eggs for his wife.

The federal investigation began after N.C. Policy Watch published a 2011 investigation into LaRoque’s non-profit work, which found that he was paid generous salaries as high as $195,000 a year to run organizations that for years only had one or no other employees. The boards of his non-profit were also stacked with immediate family members and he signed off on giving low-interest loans of federally-sourced money to close business and political associates.

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Another week and another foot-in-mouth incident for a conservative North Carolina politician. Last week it was House Speaker Thom Tillis and his crack about “traditional voters.” Now this week it’s former State Representative and current state GOP Vice-Chairperson Carolyn Justice in an awkward attempt to defend Tillis. This is from a story on yesterday’s Washington Post “She the People” blog entitled “North Carolina Republicans try — despite themselves — to win minority voters”:

“Last week, before the RNC announcement, Carolyn Justice, vice chair of the North Carolina Republican Party, said in an interview on “Charlotte Talks” on WFAE, the local NPR affiliate, that critics of the Tillis ‘traditional’ voter comments were just misinterpreting what the man she called “the most non-prejudiced human I have met” said. In a tough Senate contest, “We’re going to go for every little thread we can pull?” she wondered.

Then she went on to give an example of how anyone’s words can be twisted. ‘I can tell you lots of things that Mr. Barber has said; if I look at it with a jaundiced eye, I can see communist behind every curtain.’”

The story goes on to report how Justice — to questionable effect — tried to quickly backtrack from the Barber-is-a-commie implication of her statement: Read More

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The House plan to fund teacher raises with increased lottery revenues continues to meet with widespread derision. ICYMI, the Greensboro News & Record weighed in over the weekend:

“When it comes to raising teacher pay, the state House has almost trumped the Senate for bad ideas.

The Senate offers 11 percent salary hikes, on average, but only for teachers who surrender tenure rights. And about half of the money comes from laying off thousands of teacher assistants.

The House provides 5 percent raises with no strings attached and without eliminating teacher assistants. Unfortunately, to pay for it, the House bets that the state lottery can pull in an additional $106 million next year. To make that happen, it authorizes the Lottery Commission to double its spending on advertising.

What a lesson for our children.

The trouble is, the lottery appeals most strongly to people who can least afford to pay. Furthermore, it provides an unreliable revenue stream. When North Carolina’s participation in a state lottery was debated in 2005, opponents used both arguments. And nearly all Republicans in the legislature voted against it. But Democrats were in the majority then, and they enacted the lottery.

Now, not only do Republican House leaders aim to rely on lottery revenue to fund an ongoing obligation — teacher salaries — they want to drum up more of it….”

Read the rest of the editorial by clicking here.

 

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Raleigh’s News & Observer joins the growing list of voices to condemn the state House’s decision to attempt squeeze more money out of the vulnerable by increasing lottery advertising efforts to raise teacher pay:

“What’s next for Republican leaders of the state House? It’s a tantalizing question because their ideas, or perhaps that should be notions, about what to do to raise teacher pay are truly strange.

Sorry, but it’s hard to take seriously the House’s pay hike plan for teachers. The House’s proposed budget would give teachers about 5 percent more by boosting advertising for the state lottery. The idea is that more advertising will lure more people into the games, and their losses will become the teachers’ gain.

How is Speaker Thom Tillis going to address other revenue shortfalls? A rabbit out of the hat maybe? Or perhaps he’ll charge for a traveling stage show wherein he saws Gov. Pat McCrory in half.

A good many Republicans and Democrats seemed to be doing a double-take when it came out that the lower chamber’s budget figured to bump lottery advertising to 2 percent of sales instead of 1 percent. With more marketing, officials figure, the lottery would bring in substantially more money. The last fiscal year figure for net proceeds was about $480 million.”

Read the rest of the editorial by clicking here.

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Fort BraggThere’s word from the General Assembly that the consumer finance industry is unhappy with state law designed to help protect active members of the military from exploitation. In case you’ve forgotten, the consumer finance industry runs more than 400 storefront shops throughout North Carolina that make loans featuring high interest rates and fees. The loans are often packed with junk insurance products and customers are also routinely “flipped” from one loan to another.

The provision at issue (G.S. 53-180.1) was enacted last year as part of legislation that gave the industry the authority to significantly raise the amounts it charges for loans. While failing to protect the rest of us from these predatory lending practices, the General Assembly was shamed into including some modest protections for military service members, whose paychecks are often targeted by the industry. The provision requires lenders to make sure that they do not extend loans to lower ranking enlisted personnel without at least notifying their commanding officers. It also prevents lenders from trying to collect on loans via phone or email from service members or their spouses while the service member is deployed to a dangerous area.

Now, less than a year after the protections were enacted, it appears that at least some lenders want the law (or its enforcement) weakened. For some time, it has been rumored that industry lobbyists have been working on such an effort and recently, insiders report, an industry representative confirmed the rumor.

In addition to raising the real prospect that junior service members could be exploited before heading off to Afghanistan or some other dangerous venue, such a potential change also raises important political issues in the Senate race between Senator Kay Hagan and House Speaker Thom Tillis. Read More