Commentary

Editorial: Reject all six amendments, but this one is the worst

The editorial page of the Winston-Salem Journal has already urged North Carolina voters to vote “no” on all six constitutional amendments that appear on the North Carolina fall ballot, but today, the editors reiterate their opposition to the one they describe “as so pernicious, it merits further comment”: the amendment to require all in-person voter to provide photo identification. Here is the conclusion to “Voter ID is still a bad idea”:

“The main problem in America today isn’t voter fraud, but widespread voter suppression, most often conducted by Republican officials.

We see it at work in North Dakota, where thousands of Native American voters are being disenfranchised by targeted technical requirements.

We see it in Kansas, where Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who happens to be running for governor, has eliminated the one polling place in majority-Hispanic Dodge City, forcing the city’s residents to go to elsewhere to vote. This is the same Kris Kobach who spearheaded President Trump’s “election integrity” commission, which was disbanded after finding no supportive evidence of widespread voter fraud.

We see it in Georgia, where some 53,000 voter registrations, more than 70 percent African American, have been put on hold because of minor errors best described as typos and 340,134 voter registrations were incorrectly purged by Secretary of State Brian Kemp — who also happens to be running for governor.

We’ve also seen this very clearly in North Carolina, where a 2013 Republican attempt to require photo IDs for voting was struck down by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling that it targeted African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”

Voting is a fundamental right that should be encouraged rather than discouraged, no matter which party is in charge. If any provision should be added to our constitution, it should be an amendment establishing the right to access the proper ID, with minimum effort and no cost, for all legitimate voters.

Voter suppression should not be cemented into our state constitution. We need more participation in our democracy, not less.

The Journal editorial board urges voters to reject all six proposed constitutional amendments — especially this one.”

Amen.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Data confirm that conservative claims about tax cuts and the NC economy are bogus

In case you missed it on Tuesday, check out the latest installment in the Prosperity Watch series from N.C. Budget and Tax Center economist Dr. Patrick McHugh, “Tax cuts for the exceptionally wealthy have produced unexceptional results“:

Official data show that North Carolina’s economic performance has been at or below that of many of our neighbor states in the Southeast over the past several years, directly undermining claims that cutting state tax rates would spur faster growth. Proponents of tax cuts for wealthy individuals and large corporations that started taking effect in January 2014 argued that these policy changes would propel North Carolina past our neighbors, but the evidence shows that this has failed to occur. North Carolina’s rate of employment growth has lagged behind several of our neighbors in the Southeast, and has been virtually indistinguishable from the average for the South Atlantic region.

When tax cuts that were passed in 2013 began taking effect in the 2014 tax year, North Carolina had already been experiencing a slow recovery from the Great Recession for several years. That trend of growth has continued since, but once national and regional trends are taken into account, there is virtually no evidence that tax cuts improved North Carolina’s economic fortunes. From January of 2014, when North Carolina tax cuts started phasing in, to September of this year, employment in North Carolina has expanded by 10.03 percent, basically identical to the 10.36 percent rate of growth for the South Atlantic region more broadly. The Southeast has generally grown slightly faster than the 8.69 percent national average rate of job growth over that period, but that difference is clearly driven by regional trends such as faster than average population growth and industry shifts that are not specific to North Carolina.

While North Carolina has been consistent with the rate of job growth across much of the Southeast, its performance has lagged markedly behind several states in the region. Employment in Florida expanded by 14.85 percent since January of 2014, and Georgia also surpassed North Carolina’s record with employment growth of 12 percent. South Carolina’s 9.58 percent employment expansion trailed North Carolina, but only slightly.

The lack of exceptional job growth is particularly concerning given that North Carolina has not generated enough jobs since the Great Recession to keep up with its growing population. North Carolina’s population has expanded by 17.6 percent since the start of the recession, but employment has only increased by 8.2 percent, leaving a big gap between the need for employment and the number of jobs on offer. In fact, North Carolina would need 392,900 more jobs than exist today to return to pre-recession levels of employment.

All of these data indicate that tax cuts aimed at wealthy individuals and profitable corporations have failed to address North Carolina’s economic needs. Employment growth has remained at or below many of our regional peers, and the pace of job creation has not kept up with the demands of a growing population.

Commentary

Another editorial laments the right-wing “snake pit” at UNC

In case you missed it yesterday, a fine editorial in the Fayetteville Observer got it right in its assessment of the turmoil that’s been fomented at UNC by the right-wing ideologues installed on the Board of Governors. This is from “Spellings exit doesn’t bode well for UNC”:

It’s dismaying to see the sudden and startling resignation of Margaret Spellings as president of the UNC System. She is the second system president to depart within four years and her exit is a signal that turmoil within the UNC Board of Governors is intensifying.

….Spellings was initially viewed with suspicion by many campus leaders and Democratic state lawmakers. But she quickly won over many of her critics, showing a strong vision for the system’s future and a knack for translating vision into concrete plans. She spent a great deal of time on the system’s campuses and worked closely with chancellors to craft individual action plans for future growth and development….

Spellings also proved adept at dealing with controversy and balancing politically volatile issues, like the “Silent Sam” Confederate statue on campus that was toppled by students earlier this year. But her even-handedness upset many of the hard-line politicians who now inhabit the Board of governors and brought public reproach from some.

What the board’s ideologues are making clear, unfortunately, is that Spellings’ replacement will be stepping into a snake pit, a reality that may prevent the system from recruiting the talent that one of the nation’s top public universities needs and the people of North Carolina deserve. It’s a product of the same sort of politicization that the General Assembly has forced onto the state’s judiciary and many of our governing boards. It’s ugly and serves no one well.

Commentary

Editorial: Resignation presents opportunity for a new day at the NC Chamber

During the last decade-plus, the NC Chamber (i.e. the group once known as North Carolina Citizens for Business and Industry) has been a consistent voice for reactionary and regressive state policies — particularly in the realm taxes and public investments. Under the leadership of Lew Ebert, the Chamber has consistently allied itself with the anti-government Right and abandoned its historic commitment to making our state’s public structures work for everyone.

Last week, however, Ebert announced his retirement and this morning, an excellent editorial on WRAL.com calls for a change of direction at the Chamber. This is from “Time for N.C. Chamber’s race to the middle”:

Lew Ebert’s resignation as head of the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce last week has been greeted with something between indifference and silence. That’s unfortunate. It is an important story.

We have often been critical of the Chamber’s actions in the last five years. It has been missing in action. In return for huge business tax cuts, it has agreed to stay silent and follow instructions from the legislative leadership.

The Chamber should return to its critical role of leadership in supporting programs that invest in the future, not broad-based state dis-investment.

It should promote a pro-growth climate that recognizes that quality public schools, broadly available health care and investing in transportation, sustainable energy and other infrastructure needs are a part of that climate. And the Chamber should support a tax policy that produces the revenue the state needs to carry out its mission.

The next president the Chamber picks should be someone who has an intuitive understanding of the civic obligation that North Carolina business leaders previously recognized. That leadership led the state, until recently, into regional and national success in economic development, advancements in early childhood and public education as well as other areas of government services that enhance quality of life.

The Chamber’s silence on the legislature’s ban on expanding Medicaid to more than a half-million North Carolinians who need it has been cruel and bad business. It has cost the state $11.51 billion in lost federal funds and meant more than 67,000 jobs have not been created since the ban was implemented. The failure to act has accelerated the closing of hospitals that served many rural areas.  That is not pro-business.

The Chamber now has an opportunity to lead the state back to the middle– where North Carolina’s business leaders have traditionally been – and where the legislature should be.

It will take work. The Chamber watched while the legislature ran us in the ditch on the right side of the road. It will be hard to climb out of that ditch.

Ebert’s resignation marks a time for the state Chamber to make a much needed and very-necessary course correction. The Chamber’s board is made up of some of North Carolina’s most successful business executives. They are steering the ship.

Commentary

Commentary: “The scoundrels have won the day” at UNC as Spellings throws in the towel

Margaret Spellings

It’s hard to believe that supporters of higher education are actually lamenting the departure of conservative appointee Margaret Spellings from her position as president of the UNC system. That said, who’d have believed that so many caring and thinking people would be pining for the presidency of Spellings’ former boss, George W. Bush, as they contemplate the current chaos in Washington brought on by the Great Prevaricator?

In today’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer in a column entitled “Margaret Spellings’ departure from UNC is bad — very bad,” veteran UNC faculty assembly leader Stephen Leonard explains just how bad things are (and are likely to get) in North Carolina higher education now that the Trumpists are in full control:

“Here is what [former President Tom] Ross and Spellings fought back, and what the next president will have to swallow in order to “qualify” for the job:

  • A new presidential search process intended to give the legislature more control, and weaken the board’s independence in the chief executive search.
  • A smaller Board of Governors (once 32, now 28, soon to be 24 members), the effect of which will give lawmakers a higher percentage of flatterers on the board.
  • The enforcement of mean-spirited legislation that was intended to downsize higher education, close off opportunities for student from less privileged circumstances, and target the state’s minority institutions.
  • More political interference in the teaching, research, and service duties of University staff and faculty.
  • A re-imposition of the ill-conceived policy of inserting the board in campus chancellor searches. Passed in 2015, the policy was recently amended after (as predicted) the board abused its powers in some chancellor searches, savaging the president’s efforts to help the campuses secure effective leadership.
  • A hyperpoliticized oversight of campus leadership. Last year the legislature stripped away the last vestiges of executive participation in university governance, usurping the governor’s authority to make appointments to the campus Boards of Trustees.

What we have then is a badly designed governance structure that is easily corrupted by political scoundrels, often working against a great system of public higher education protected and cultivated by honest public servants who have always put the public good before partisan prejudices.

With the shortened tenure of Tom Ross, and now the sudden resignation of Margaret Spellings, it has become clear that the scoundrels have won the day – for the moment.”

Click here to read Leonard’s entire column.