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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

It was North Carolina Thom Tillis who infamously described his political plan for North Carolina as an effort to “divide and conquer” those who opposed the conservative move to repeal much of the progress of the 2oth Century, but this morning it sounds like it will be Tillis’ frequent political nemesis, Senate leader Phil Berger, who will be pushing the “divide and conquer” strategy in the days to come.

According to news reports, the Senate will roll out a new proposed budget today that will offer public school teachers sizable raises in exchange for giving up their career status (i.e. their right not to be fired without at least some good reason). And while details are still emerging, it seems a certainty that such a potentially costly plan will be funded with new and painful cuts to other important public structures and services (e.g. health care for the poor, higher education and the justice and public safety system).

In other words, it appears the Senate will propose a “divide and conquer” budget today — one that divides and pits teachers against each other and that divides and pits public education against other vital public functions.

Meanwhile, over in the House, Speaker Tillis is probably consulting with his legal team over his options to sue from copyright infringement.

Thom TillisNorth Carolina House Speaker Thom Tillis headlined a press event at the General Assembly this morning that was supposed to be about kicking off the 2014 legislative session but that, at times, felt a lot like a part of Tillis’ U.S. Senate campaign.

There will plenty of time for dissecting the details of what was said at the event, but there was at least one familiar conservative talking point repeated by Tillis that deserves to be debunked immediately and often.

Namely, it is utterly absurd for legislative conservatives (or anyone else for that matter) to argue — as the Speaker did at at least one point — that Democrats imposed more significant cuts on state services (like public education) back in 2009 and 2010 than have been imposed since the GOP assumed control of the General Assembly  in 2011 and the Governor’s mansion in 2013. This is like blaming FDR for the plunge in federal spending during the Great Depression.

Earth to Speaker Tillis: Yes there were large and problematic state budget cuts in 2009 and 2010, but that’s mostly because state revenues had literally dropped like an anvil as a result of the global Great Recession. Read More

Yesterday it was the CEO of one of the nation’s largest fast food chains and today it’s Mr. 47% –  the 2012 Republican presidential nominee. As the Los Angeles Times reports:

“Former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Friday called for an increase in the federal minimum wage, splitting with party leaders and some top business groups on what’s expected to a major issue in this year’s midterm elections.

‘I … part company with many of the conservatives of my party on the issue of the minimum wage,’ he said in an interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

‘I think we ought to raise it because, frankly, our party is all about more jobs and better pay, and I think communicating that is important to us,’ he said.

It will be fascinating to see if Republican officials choose to follow the lead of their former party standard bearer (and former far right presidential candidate Rick Santorum — who also endorsed a hike) or instead remain true to the Koch Brothers and the far right think tanks that question even the existence of the minimum wage. North Carolina House Speaker and U.S. Senate candidate Thom Tillis seems to have made his bed with the latter camp for now. Stay tuned.

This morning’s lead editorial in Raleigh’s News & Observer gets it right in its characterization of the push by state legislative leaders to plow ahead with their school voucher scheme despite the certainty of lengthy litigation over the issue and the existence of a court injunction against it:

“It really is time to stop calling those who run the N.C. General Assembly conservatives. They are not conservative. They are reckless.

There’s a long list of actions that demonstrates their disregard for what defines the truly conservative. They hand out extravagant amounts to the wealthy in tax cuts and leave the state strapped for basic services. They turn down billions of dollars in federal support for the jobless and the health needs of the working poor. They ignore the principles of sound investment by cutting spending on public schools and higher education. They trample constitutional ideals regarding voting rights and civil rights. They shirk their obligations to be careful stewards of the environment.

The list could go on, but the case is concisely illustrated in the latest turmoil over school vouchers.” Read More