Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Headline of the Week

Appears today in the Greensboro News&Record:
McCrory: State should stay out of local government
He offered that opinion when asked about Sen. Trudy Wade's "local bill" to completely overhaul the Greensboro City Council so that Republicans can win elections there.

“Let me put it this way," McCrory said. "As governor I constantly have to fight Washington not to interfere. I think the same philosophy applies to Raleigh interfering with local governments.”

Ya think?

There are two many examples to list here, including the Soucek/Jordan "local bill" to take away Boone's extraterritorial control over development. But as with Soucek/Jordan, the Trudy Wade dismantlement of Greensboro City Council is beyond the governor's control anyway, so it's perfectly safe for him to have an opinion that will be totally ignored by his fellow Republicans in the General Assembly. The governor can't approve or veto a "local bill."

Why doesn't the governor get himself a contrary opinion about something he does have some (minimal) control over?

Lifestyles of the Rich & Famous and the Lapsed Ethics of Our Governor

Since taking office, Gov. Pat McCrory has failed to disclose six-figure payouts from a company (  that is regulated by the state, and he similarly failed to disclose thousands of dollars worth of stock holdings from a company (Duke Energy) under federal indictment for polluting our state’s rivers. An ethics complaint against him appears to be advancing as of yesterday morning, according to the N&O.

Today another "failure to disclose" has emerged. The governor took a number of luxury trips to hang out with fellow pooh-bahs in the Republican Governors Association, paid for by the Republican Governors Association. According to state ethics laws, unless the governor paid for those trips himself, he must list those trips as "gifts" under question 17 of the Statement of Economic Interest form. He did not list those trips anywhere. The governor now admits -- once the whistle was blown -- that he should have listed those trips as gifts. Oops. "How clumsy of me!" said the governor who claims that he loves stepping on toes.

Trips? Read on:

In November 2013, the RGA paid for Gov. McCrory’s stay at an Arizona resort featured on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” with rooms starting at $400 per night. The five-star resort features marble imported from Italy, ceilings etched in 24-karat gold, 11 rare Steinway pianos, and a “lush tropical landscape” manicured by workers from the island kingdom of Tonga. The Raleigh News & Observer reported that the RGA also paid for McCrory’s stays at luxury hotels in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Charleston, South Carolina, in May and September of 2013. Gov. McCrory also attended an RGA junket in 2014, held at a 356-acre resort in Boca Raton, Florida, with “a spa built to resemble the Alhambra Palace in Spain” and rooms which start at over $300 per night. 

But McCrory never reported these free trips as gifts.

It's so hard keeping up with the pelf.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Has It Sunk in Yet That Your NC Income Taxes Went Up Under This Republican Regime?

His Holiness
Plenty of people are talking about how their NC income taxes have gone up under the management of those rosy-cheeked fake "tax-cutters" down in Raleigh, and now the talk is beginning to get into local newspapers. ProgressNC has begun to compile some of those explosions of anger.

Over at the WataugaConservative, Dickson commented:
"If you're in the middle-class in NC, the GOP have done nothing for you. Well... nothing good anyway, nothing to truly better your life. You've likely noticed that your State taxes went up this year... yours went up, not because of GOP changes to the tax rate, but because they hacked off many, many deductions... including the earned income tax credit."
Did they notice? Have they done their state taxes yet? Not that the masturbatory crowd at Watauga Conservative would ever admit it if they did notice.

Gas Tax Increase Bill Just Passed the NC House Finance Committee

The Committee considering S20 in the House would not record the ayes and nays this morning -- indicating that the Republicans did not want to be on the record on this vote. The voice vote was in the affirmative, according to the Chair of the committee, but people in the room said it sounded very close.

What's S20?

First, it's smoke and mirrors regarding the gas tax ... a small cut that will last a few months, followed by increases that will raise $1 billion in new taxes during the next few years. This has been dubbed a "Trojan Horse" bill.

But what else is in the bill?

Two really bad things ...

(1) A section in S20 would also eliminate the income tax deduction for tuition expenses, which amounts to a tax hike on college students.

(2) The worst provision by far: The bill would count underwater mortgages that are forgiven by lenders as taxable income. Homeowners who had their mortgages "written down" will never see a dime of that “income,” but lawmakers still want them to pay taxes on it.

This comes, naturally, out of overall fiscal mismanagement. Republicans in the General Assembly are now desperate for revenue, having given big tax breaks to the wealthiest citizens and corporations, so they are picking on groups they calculate won't or can't fight back ... college students (and their parents) and underwater mortgage-holders.

NOTE: Another really bad provision in S20, which would have meant the firing of some 500 DOT workers, got removed this morning in the House Finance Committee. But this bill is also headed to the Appropriations Committee in the House this afternoon and finally to the full House later this week, and whatever emerges will have to be reconciled with the Senate's much more savage version.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Pressure on UNC Chancellor To Defy BOG

An editorial in The Daily Tarheel today, titled appropriately "Power concedes nothing without a demand," calls on UNC-CH Chancellor Carol Folt to defy the power-mad Republican Board of Governors and simply refuse to dissolve the Center on Poverty, Work & Opportunity:
...Chancellor, if you take the lead in defending academic liberty and those who dare critique the state’s conservative power structure, your students and colleagues will follow you. Conflicts this fundamental to the University’s mission are not meant to be managed — they are meant to be won.
She won't stand up to the Board of Governors, of course, at least not in the manner that would satisfy a stirred-up student body, but she should at least appreciate the fighting spirit around her, even if she can't find it in her heart.

An Announced Candidate for NC House

Lew Hendricks has a website up saying he's a candidate for NC House.

No indication of party affiliation on this website, and no discussion of any issues.

There is a Lewis Hendricks registered in Watauga County. He's registered Republican.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

McCrory & Tillis Duck Out of Memorial Service

Maybe it had something to do with the fact that Erskine Bowles was asked to speak rather than either McCrory or Tillis, but this intercepted email asks a burning question:

"I thought I'd share this little story with you from the Dean E. Smith memorial service last Sunday. My wife and I were lucky enough to be in the area and had the chance to go. It was a beautiful service for a true leader of North Carolina culture and students for many decades. At the beginning, Woody Durham politely recognized that Pat McCrory and Thom Tillis were in attendance, sitting side by side, no less. After nearly an hour of the service had gone by, I looked down on the court to see that both McCrory and Tillis had LEFT. They left before Dean's preacher had spoken, before the benediction, before the Alma Mater. Where did those two have to go that was so important they couldn't finish a Sunday afternoon service for a North Carolina legend? That really burned us up, and I thought someone else should at least hear about it."

Blow-by-Blow, #UNCBOG, Friday, Feb. 27

All 32 voting members of the Board of Governors (BOG) of the University of North Carolina system are political appointees, with 16 appointed by the Republican-dominated NC Senate and 16, by the Republican-dominated NC House.

Just before the "review process" was launched by the BOG which climaxed yesterday with the unanimous vote to close three progressive centers of study at three member institutions, both the Pope Foundation and the Civitas Institute had called for the review of centers of study as a cost-cutting measure.

Both the Pope Foundation and the Civitas Institute have a long history of animosity toward the UNC System. Conservative millionaire Art Pope chaired the Civitas board until 2012 when Gov. Pat McCrory appointed him state budget director. In that position, Pope rejected the UNC System budget and sent it back to the BOG for revisions. (Pope resigned as budget director before the general elections last year.)

Uprising of UNC Students
Actions by the Republican-dominated General Assembly, and their handmaiden Gov. McCrory, have sparked the Moral Monday movement as opposition to extremism in government has spread wide in the state. And now the actions of the political tools on the BOG appears to be sparking a backlash among students (and faculty) that could become an even bigger comeuppance for the overlords.

Yesterday at the BOG meeting in Charlotte, protesting students temporarily shut it down, forcing the Board to abandon the room and violate the spirit at least (if not the letter -- see below) of the Open Meetings Law by moving to a smaller room and barring the public. The ejected students stood outside and chanted.

But first, the BOG demonstrated its attitude toward "access to higher education" by voting to raise tuition and fees, the first slap in the face that the students endured. From there we follow the action via tweets from reporters in the room:

The Carolina Mercury @NCMercury · Feb 27
Measure to increase UNC system tuition & fees passes 18-9. #UNCBOG

Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
Discussion on centers/institutes up now at #UNCBOG. Proposal would shut down academic policy centers, including @uncpovertycntr #ncpol

Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
#UNCBOG Jim Holmes, chair of working group on centers, on resolution to shut down 3 centers. Would leave campuses no wiggle room to oppose

Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
#UNCBOG Jim Holmes, on funding: “State funding was one of the criteria, it was not the driving criteria.” (Poverty Center gets no state $)

Students now interrupting meeting, reading statement about university system ideals.

Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
Now Fennebresque calling on police/security to take students out of room. One person escorted out.

Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
Students singing "what side are you on? You're on the freedom side!"

Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
Fennebresque goes into recess. Meeting stopped

Students seem to be invigorated by recess of meetings. "Show me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!"

No official statement yet, but the entire #UNC Board of Gov. has left room.
Here's the Update. Board of Governors moved to a smaller room. Keeping most members of the public out, press (including me) allowed in.
Students shouting outside "If we don't get in, Shut it down" Hard to continue meeting.
Fennebresque: "Let's get the doors secure" Can't hear anything over shouts of student chanting right now. #ncpol #UNCBOG
#UNC Pres Tom Ross came in from talking to students. Shouting too loud from outside to hear what #UNCBOG Jim Holmes trying to say
apparently audio and video may not be working in other room. Everything on hold. Students still shouting/chanting outside.
UNC-Charlotte Chancellor Dubois: tells BOG, "My position is that we don't want to remove the students. It'll be far worse."
#UNCBOG Chair John Fennebresque trying to start meeting again. Honestly can't hear what he's saying over shouting outside
Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
Okay, meeting continuing, with #UNCBOG Atty Tom Shanahan talking about political activity aspect of reports center. Near impossible to hear
Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
#UNCBOG Jim Holmes saying that the advocacy/political participation piece of reports wasn't to threaten free speech, as students kept out
Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
#ncga @SenatorBobRucho (R) among those that made it into moved #UNCBOG meeting


Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
#UNCBOG Jim Holmes (who chaired group on centers) had mic turned up, teeny bit easier to hear. Student chanting "Let us in" making it tough

Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
Students whooping and hollering right now .. meeting still going on, though I can't really hear much of what being said. #UNCBOG

Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
#UNCBOG Jim Holmes: “Out of the 240 centers, we’re recommending three for discontinuation.” Pausing for questions now #ncpol

Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
#UNCBOG Henry Hinton, saying that Board not saying poverty shouldn’t be studied, but “we’re just saying the current setup’ not best #ncga

Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
#UNCBOG Jim Holmes "This is not a commentary on poverty." #ncpol

Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
Sorry everyone. It's not really easy to hear what's being said. #UNC CH Chancellor Carol Folt is up there

Sarah Ovaska @SarahOvaska · Feb 27
Vote is now on whether to accept report on centers/institute. Passes unanimously.

The transparent political calculation in closing the UNC Poverty Center, whose director Gene Nichol has been outspoken in criticism of the BOG members' political patrons in the General Assembly, is visible from outer space.

BOG Chair John Fennebresque has felt constrained -- exposed? -- enough to issue a further statement on the action yesterday:
...after careful review of the Center on Poverty – which included an opportunity for the center director to fully describe its work – the board concluded the center was unable to demonstrate any appreciable impact on the issue of poverty. We also felt the center did not enhance the educational mission of the university, did not work across disciplines to effect change and did not have the financial support to sustain it – the same criteria used to evaluate all 240 centers.
In response, a UNC faculty member posted this on Facebook:
I think that the BOG is perhaps better when it keeps its mouth shut. Really, Mr. Fennebresque? Out of 240 centers, it just randomly happened that one of the three the "objective review" found it necessary to close was the one that is bringing perhaps the MOST public attention of any center in the entire system to the problem that it was set up to address? Which just happens to be a problem that is getting worse b/c of policy decisions of the current party, which, it just happens, this Center's director liked on a regular basis to point out? And, upon which it is presently very difficult to have any "appreciable impact" because of decisions by the current GOP leadership not to expand Medicaid and that sort of thing? Whatever we are out here in the public, we are not fools. Some of us did graduate from the university at stake here and learned some critical thinking skills, and this "reasoning" just will not fly.
"Will not fly"? We look forward to students and faculty across the UNC system standing up against this political crap. The next meeting of the BOG may be even "hotter."

Sam DeGrave is reporting this morning:
All students were barred from entering the new meeting room, a move which Amanda Martin, general counsel to the N.C. Press Association, said was likely not in accordance with North Carolina’s Open Meeting Law, despite the fact that the board streamed the rest of the meeting on projection screens in the original room.
“I don’t think a public body can pick and choose who to let in, in a discriminating fashion,” Martin said. “The law is clear that they can remove dissidents, but—in my opinion—this was a violation of the Open Meeting Law.”

Meanwhile in Watauga: Not Quite 'The Dawning of the Age of Aquarius,' But Closer Than We Were

The second day of the budget workshops clinched the impression that the Watauga County Commission (still 3-2, Republican advantage) has gone decidedly moderate since the departure of former Chair Nathan Miller. Under new board Chair Jimmy Hodges (a former Democrat, ahem), there's a whole new tone of expansive progressivism. Or maybe we should hedge our bets and borrow presidential candidate Jeb Bush's term for the campaign he intends to run: "an inclusive conservatism."

I knew we were in very different post-Nathan Miller territory when Democratic Commissioner Billy Kennedy pushed yesterday, on the final afternoon of the budget workshops, for a $10,000 grant for the Hospitality House. If you'll recall, under the Nathan Miller Regime, funding for most non-profits was either greatly reduced or zeroed out. The Hospitality House was a particular target for zeroing out, and for the last few budget cycles it got nothing from the county while providing social services that would otherwise fall on the county to provide.

$10,000, Commissioner Kennedy proposed, and Chair Jimmy Hodges said, "I'm okay with it." That comment was not lost of the other two Republicans, Blust and Yates, who now appear out-numbered on that issue. Jimmy Hodges has become the unpredictable swing vote on the Commission.

What happened in the discussion yesterday is by no means final or official. It was a "penciling in" of an amount for the County Manager and his finance team to juggle in coming up with a final budget that will be voted on later this spring. So we'll see if Mr. Hodges continues to be "okay with it."

Other Issues
County Manager Deron Geoque plans a modest cost-of-living increase for county employees ("but not for county commissioners!" Perry Yates almost shouted. He didn't like the perception of a salary increase for elected commissioners).

Matt Vincent, head of the Tourism Development Authority, said he wanted the county to take over maintenance of capital improvements, like greenways and bike trails, because the fear of maintenance costs was preventing the Tea Party element (my words, not Mr. Vincent's) on the TDA from initiating grant applications for more capital improvements. Commissioner David Blust, who's always complained about maintenance costs, remained conspicuously quiet at that moment.

The Republican majority on the commission expressed love for Horn in the West and unified hostility toward the restoration of the Appalachian Theater in downtown Boone. Commissioner Kennedy was urging his fellow commissioners to give equal support to both the Horn and the theater as community-building venues for the performance arts, but Boone-hatred is still pretty much the modus operandi of county Republicans. "Not enough parking," Yates groused, and Chairman Hodges focused on "bars" downtown and "intoxicated people" as reasons the theater will never succeed. But the commission agreed to invite the people in charge of the theater restoration to a meeting soon to 'splain themselves and (presumably) beg for money.