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Just in case the question occurred to you in recent days as you pondered the plan of conservative legislators to slash the state’s maximum weekly unemployment benefit to $350 (and the average benefit to around $250), these amounts aount to about one-third and one-quarter, respectively, of what the lowest paid state legislator takes home.

Right now, a freshman member of the General Assembly with no special status gets paid around $996 per week when the legislature is in session ($268 in salary and $728 ($104/day) in per diem). Along with the salary, lawmakers also receive an additional year-round allotment of $129 per week in “expenses” and free health insurance.

For Speaker of the House Thom Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, the totals are significantly higher: each receives $1,461 per week in salary and per diem plus another $326 in expenses and health insurance.

None of this is to say that the lawmakers are overpaid. There’s a strong argument that we ought to pay legislators significantly more so that more average folks without additional income would seek office. Again, the per diem allotment only runs while the legislature is in session.

Still, there’s something rather striking about men and women who are currently bringing home much larger amounts in public funds and benefits for what is supposedly part-time work (many of them hold down other jobs while serving), begrudging average unemployed people the already rather pitiful sums that they get. Remember, in addition to slashing the maximum weekly benefit to $350, the bill in question would cut the average benefit from the $29o range to the $250-$260 range.  Perhaps even more importantly, the bill also dramatically cuts the length of time an unemployed person can remain eligible and makes it harder to obtain benefits in the first place.

The bottom line: I guess we know why none of the legislators behind the bill (or Governor McCrory) is willing to take the $350 challenge.

 

Pat McCrory 4Any notion folks may have had that North Carolina’s new governor would be playing a leading role in crafting the state’s policy agenda this year seems to have already been partially dispelled on the first day of the 2013 legislative session.

Right out of the box, without any apparent involvement of Governor McCrory (or even a nod in his direction), Senate and House leaders have seized the initiative by introducing major, hard right proposals on such subjects as Read More

Thom TillisIn North Carolina, state laws written in the post-Jim Black era (see in particular G.S. 138A-32) make it illegal for lobbyists to give anything of value to state legislators. As a general matter, the state has a “no cup of coffee” rule; lobbyists can’t buy legislators a round of golf or a lunch or even a mocha latte.

Unfortunately, there remain lots of ways around this prohibition in which lobbyists can funnel cash to powerful politicians. And make no mistake, many politicians aren’t shy about explaining this to lobbyists.

Consider the latest fundraising solicitation from House Speaker Thom Tillis (pictured at left) and the North Carolina Republican House Caucus.

After inviting all-comers to pay up to $10,000 to get 12 admission tickets and a special photo opportunity with House leaders at the group’s 2013 “Opening Day Celebration” tomorrow, the solicitation says the following: Read More

You’d have thought caring and thinking Americans would have learned the lesson once and for all when five conservative justices of the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush as President in 2000. More recently here in North Carolina, the message was delivered loud and clear by House Speaker Thom Tillis when he made plain his plans to “divide and conquer” his political opponents and then went about holding an unannounced legislative session in the middle of the night to punish groups who dared oppose his plans. And in just the last few weeks, a new chapter in the book of brazen, hardball politics was written with the selection of the state’s leading right-wing political spender as our new state budget director.

And still, it always seems to come as a shock each time the win-at-all-costs far right breaches yet another rule of common political decency, respect and courtesy. It’s as if the following thought process occurs over and over in the minds of progressives: 

  1. “Well, at least we’ve got that problem contained. The conservatives will have to work to find common ground now.”
  2. “Did you hear what some reporter said the right-wing is considering? They wouldn’t do that would they?
  3. “Son of a gun! I can’t believe they did that! These people have absolutely no shame.”

The latest installment in this familar pattern occurred yesterday here in Wake County when the right-wing majority of the County Board of Commissioners, Read More

These are interesting and confusing times in North Carolina politics. And with the hostile takeover of state government by chain store magnate Art Pope virtually complete, it looks like the lines will only get blurrier and more confusing. Check out this rather remarkable excerpt from a fundraiser sent out by the Pope-Civitas Institute on New Year’s Eve: 

Dear Friend, 

Big changes are happening here in the “Old North State”.

We have a new governor, and a more conservative legislature.

But that’s not the only news, two former Civitas staff members are now in responsible positions in state government. And we plan on holding them accountable! Read More