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At yesterday’s NC Policy Watch Crucial Conversation luncheon on the future of marriage equality, Chris Brook, the Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina, made it pretty clear what he intends to argue in federal court when he next gets the opportunity in the organization’s challenges to North Carolina’s marriage discrimination law. Brook said he’s going to point to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond (the precedents of which apply to North Carolina), show the judge that court’s decision in the recent Bostic v. Schaefer case and then just sit down.

It’s an obvious strategy — namely, that the ruling striking down Virginia’s discrimination law in Bostic is right on point and there really isn’t much that a North Carolina federal judge can do but abide by it.

This is why Attorney General Cooper made his recent announcement that he would stop wasting North Carolina taxpayers’ money by trying to defend North Carolina’s indefensible law.  It would be a futile and costly gesture — not unlike attempting to defend a law that banned interracial marriage.

Of course, as Sharon McCloskey’s story immediately below makes plain, this patently obvious logic is apparently lost on Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis who are, quite remarkably (if one of Berger’s members is to be believed), taking steps to impeach Cooper over his utterly reasonable, constitutional and ethically-bound decision.

By all indications, Berger and Tillis simply want Cooper to tilt at the Bostic windmill and manufacture insipid, sure-fire-loser arguments as is being tried in a few other states. Today, we got a good idea of what some of those arguments would look like when the folks at ThinkProgress published a handy list of The 10 Craziest Arguments Two States Are Using to Defeat Marriage Equality.” This is from the post: Read More

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Veteran Raleigh journalist and political observer Steve Ford is out with a new and convincing look at the new state budget (i.e. the one the Governor said he’d sign before he actually got around to the business of reading it). It’s a full-length read but, as is always the case with Steve’s takes, definitely worth a few minutes of your time. Check it out below:

Revenue-starved budget rattles and rolls
By Steve Ford

The debate is familiar: State government is too big. No, it’s too small.

People in the too-big camp typically think government – the state agencies and institutions that North Carolinians support with their taxes — is too expensive. That it tries to do too much in the way of regulating business. That it saps individual initiative with aid to folks who should be working harder to help themselves and makes everyone else pay.

Across the philosophical fence are those who view robust regulation, robust social programs – including public education – and a fair tax structure generating a steady stream of revenues as cornerstones of a government that properly serves the public interest.

In the real world, of course the divide is not always so stark. But the contentious process by which the N.C. General Assembly has settled upon a new state budget highlights the opposing viewpoints. The budget now before Gov. Pat McCrory, who has said he will sign it into law, is one that could be accompanied by the slogan, “We did the least we thought we could get away with.”

Even though it calls for raising and spending $21.1 billion during the current July-to-June fiscal year, this is another small-government budget, relatively speaking — in keeping with the preferences of the conservatives who control the House and Senate and their Republican ally in the governor’s office. Read More

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TeachersHeadline-hunting legislative leaders got what they wanted and needed (for now) with yesterday’s latest budget announcement. They wanted the story to be first and foremost about big teacher raises and it appears pretty clear that they got that. Media outlets around the state are reporting that central component of the proposed budget agreement this morning and millions of North Carolinians are waking up to the news — even if it’s frequently tinged with skepticism.

The problem with this story, of course is that, by all indications, the pay raise is being purchased at an enormous price — i.e. big cuts everywhere else –including education — along with tiny and inadequate pay raises for other public employees (including education personnel).

In short, though many details remain to be seen, the central and disastrous driving force behind this year’s budget — last year’s regressive and backward-looking tax cuts remain in full force. As budget analyst Tazra Mitchell wrote here yesterday:

There are better choices available that will put North Carolina on a stronger path to recovery for children, families, and communities across the Tarheel state. For starters, lawmakers need to face the reality that we can’t afford further tax cuts and stop the income tax cuts that are scheduled to go into effect next January. Doing so will save approximately $100 million in the current fiscal year and $300 million in the 2015 calendar year. These revenues would go a long way towards reversing the most damaging cuts that were enacted in the aftermath of the Great Recession. That’s a short-term fix.  A longer term fix requires restoring the progressive personal income tax structure so that revenues are stable and more adequate.

The only saving grace of the budget is this: the message it sends to progressives. As dreadful as the budget is — both for the near and long term — it does serve to remind progressives of the power of advocacy. Read More

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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