Daily dose

Daily dose

DHHS spending requests hit raw nerve with senator (Winston-Salem Journal) -- A simmering GOP skepticism of how the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is being run by the McCrory administration reached a boiling point with a key state Senate leader last week. The voice-raising exchange between state health Secretary Aldona Wos and Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, on Tuesday served as a microcosm of the tension between a GOP-controlled legislature focused on cost cutting whenever and wherever possible, and a state agency in critical need of modernization.

For workers cheated out of wages, NC Labor Dept. offers no help (Raleigh News & Observer) -- Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry’s staff says her agency has little to do with handling labor violations in North Carolina. Critics say there’s far more she could and should do to crack down on unscrupulous employers.

Daily dose: Zombie worker apocalypse version

NUMBERS TO PONDER : The latest release of North Carolina’s unemployment rate provided many numbers to ponder:
· 6.3% -- The seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for October 2014 (lowest N.C. rate for 2014 was 6.2% in April).
· 4.646 million – North Carolina’s October 2014 labor force.
· 4.672 million – North Carolina’s October 2013 labor force.
· 26,000 --- The number of zombie workers – workers who disappeared from the N.C. labor force in the last year.
· 6.9% -- The unemployment rate, if the zombie workers were included.
· 600,000 – The increase in North Carolina’s population since 2008.
· 5,700 – The number of government jobs lost in the last year.
· 18 minutes – The decrease in average weekly hours worked by manufacturing production workers.
· $8.49 – The drop in average weekly wages earned by manufacturing production workers.
Want to know more about how to interpret jobs number. The N.C. Department of Commerce, with the help of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, offers a guide online at:

Daily dose: "Pass a bill" edition

“We shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger –- we were strangers once, too. We are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too. Whether our forebears were strangers who crossed the Atlantic, or the Pacific, or the Rio Grande, we are here only because this country welcomed them in, and taught them that to be an American is about something more than what we look like, or what our last names are, or how we worship. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal -– that all of us are created equal, and all of us have the chance to make of our lives what we will. That’s the country our parents and grandparents and generations before them built for us. That’s the tradition we must uphold. That’s the legacy we must leave for those who are yet to come.”

Daily dose: The long arm of Duke Energy

Lawyers in McCrory's lawsuit also represented Duke Energy (Raleigh News & Observer) - When Gov. Pat McCrory sued legislative leaders last week to block their appointments to the new commission that will determine how Duke Energy cleans up its coal ash across the state, he hired a law firm with extensive connections to the company. Robinson, Bradshaw & Hinson, headquartered in Charlotte like Duke Energy, is one of North Carolina’s most prominent law firms. It has represented the utility in lawsuits. It is counsel for the company’s $800 million in exempt facility bonds. Several of its top lawyers have held high-level positions at the utility. Some environmentalists have raised concerns about the reach of the country’s largest utility company into state government. And Senate leader Phil Berger, a Republican from Eden, which was the site of the Dan River coal ash spill in February, has criticized McCrory for suing over the makeup of the coal ash commission the legislature created this summer. “The governor’s primary concern appears to be a desire to control the coal ash commission and avoid an independent barrier between his administration and former employer,” Berger said earlier this fall. His office had no further comment this week.

Daily dose: anonymous blogger edition

Sen. Tommy Tucker lets loose again, this time target is Aldona Wos (WRAL-TV) -- In the latest chapter in their long-running feud, Senate leaders and DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos exchanged heated words over modernizing the state's archaic death records system. The heated exchange between Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Aldona Wos is just the latest skirmish in an intensifying feud between Senate leaders and Gov. Pat McCrory's administration. … "Some of our key technology is about a decade behind the rest of the nation," Wos told lawmakers. "Our customers – our citizens – do not receive the records they need in a timely fashion," she added, saying the current system "does not pass the common sense test.” … "Don't talk down to me," Tucker retorted. "I'm responsible to the taxpayer to see if there's any savings." In April 2013, Tucker made headlines when he lectured Goldsboro News-Argus Publisher Hal Tanner during a legislative committee meeting: “I’m the senator and you are the citizen. You need to be quiet,” was the sartorial retort that went viral.

NC Health Officials Advocate Change To Electronic Death Records (WUNC-FM) -- State health officials would like to update North Carolina's antiquated system of recording deaths. The Tar Heel state uses handwritten or typed documents to declare a death. Those forms are hand-delivered through several stops from the funeral home to state records in Raleigh -- which can take at least three months. Secretary of Health and Human Services Aldona Wos told lawmakers today her department wants to move to a fully electronic system: "The reason to do this is not a matter of saving money on one or two or fifty salaries, this has to happen for the future of the state. We have to be able to identify who died. And we have to be able to do it very quickly." Wos says that an electronic system is a better way for the state to receive the information and it's easier for families. The system of recording births is fully electronic in North Carolina.

Rep. Chuck McGrady in Twitter war with anonymous liberal blogger (Raleigh News & Observer) -- In dozens of tweets over the course of several days, NC Rep. Chuck McGrady has been in a war of words with an anonymous liberal blogger. The debate began on Saturday with a post from BackwardNC, which describes itself as “devoted to chronicling the state of North Carolina’s inexorable backward march, led by ... the conservative Republican army.” The blogger lobbed a general complaint about Republican legislators. “Did you hear about the moderate Republican who respects Democrats and works with them on solutions? Yeah, neither did we,” the tweet read. McGrady, a Hendersonville Republican, responded in disagreement a few minutes later. “Funny thing is that most of the Dems voted for my coal ash bill,” he tweeted. That launched an argument over whether the coal ash legislation

Daily dose: Starve the beast edition

Much hand-wringing this week over the catastrophic budget cuts coming next year. Tough tomatoes. This is the Republican plan: "starve the beast." And the only target of budgetary significance is public education. To all those holier-than-thou white men who voted for the GOP two weeks ago, well played. Maybe the baby Jesus will come riding up on a dinosaur to save the day.

Looming Budget Crisis in N.C. Following Tax Cuts (Public News Service) -- North Carolina lawmakers are likely enjoying some downtime after the legislative session and midterm election, but experts predict a tough session waiting for them on their return to Raleigh. A report from the Office of the State Controller indicates tax revenues are down by almost $400 million compared with this same time last year - a six percent drop in revenue. Alexandra Sirota, director of the North Carolina Budget and Tax Center, says it's not a problem the State Assembly will be able to ignore in January. "This is a serious issue," she says. "It's self imposed in that policymakers chose to reduce our revenue. Now they're going to have to make choices about some pretty deep cuts.”

In The South, Obamacare Advocates Try to Outmaneuver Opponents (NBC News) – In North Carolina, there’s a staff of dozens of people, led by a director, who are in charge of getting people enrolled in Obamacare. The operation, which serves all of the state’s 100 counties, includes a toll-free number where you can call and set up an appointment with an Obamacare specialist. The staff meets constantly to see if its methods are working, and they are getting results: the state had the ninth highest enrollment in the nation. Here’s what may surprise you: none of these people work for the state of North Carolina, the federal government or any of North Carolina’s cities. North Carolina may be a purple state during presidential elections, but its state politics right now are very red. The state legislature passed a bill barring North Carolina from expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which Republican Gov. Pat McCrory has opposed anyway. The state has also not set up its own health care exchange and has done little to encourage ACA enrollment. … North Carolina is at the forefront of a strategy being employed in conservative states across the country: Obamacare advocates working around their state governments to implement the law. In Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas and other states, there is intense organizing by coalitions of groups to sign people up for Obamacare, which started open enrollment on Nov. 15 for its second year.

McCrory’s NCDOT plans to set up toll lanes in Charlotte (AP) -- — While controversy has swirled about toll lanes for Interstate 77 north of Charlotte, the N.C. Department of Transportation is working on a plan to set up toll lanes on one of the city's major city thoroughfares by the end of 2016.

McCrory’s borrow & spend program: DOT's urban loops depend on deficit spending (Raleigh News & Observer) -- Gov. Pat McCrory broke ground on Winston-Salem’s long-delayed I-74 Northern Beltway last week in a shiny-shovels ceremony made possible, his office said, by the Urban Loop Acceleration Plan. The What Plan? Around North Carolina, “urban loop acceleration” is a self-contradictory expression – like jumbo shrimp. … The governor and his state Department of Transportation want to find ways to build more urban loops. McCrory recently expanded the acceleration options to include three flavors of borrowed money. We’ll call them toll bonds, GARVEE bonds and – thanks to a blackout on details – McCrory’s mystery bonds.

Daily dose

Bipartisan NC justice overhaul keeps good marks (AP) — In an era of hyper-partisanship with elected officials worried about being accused as weak on crime, lawmakers got reminded of what looks like on its face a bipartisan success story on criminal justice issues.

Food Stamp Approval Mistakes Cost State $440K (TWCN-TV) -- Some families received as little as $11 extra, while others received as much as $12,000 in extra food assistance.

Fayetteville mayor cuts ties with N.C. Metro Mayors Coalition (Fayetteville Observer) -- Fayetteville Mayor Nat Robertson has severed ties with the N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition. The first-term mayor says he opted this summer not to renew the city's membership because the coalition wasn't very effective at representing urban issues. Fayetteville officials were hoping to save the state's tax credits on historic properties and the privilege license fees charged to businesses. Both will be eliminated next year. "Those are huge failures for cities to have to deal with, costing us millions of dollars," Robertson said. The membership to the Metro Mayors Coalition cost the city about $13,000 last year, and Robertson cut that appropriation from this year's council budget.

Daily dose

Small-town blues: Rural communities struggle to chart a future (Fayetteville Observer) -- Many communities with fewer than 10,000 residents across the state were once depended on factories that employed hundreds or thousands. But in the late 20th century into the last decade, textile makers and other manufacturers closed their plants as they chased low wages to other countries. Even before the recession struck in 2007, much of rural North Carolina was economically stagnant or declining. The situation is much on the mind of rural state lawmakers, such as Rep. David Lewis of Dunn, next door to Erwin in Harnett County. Lewis, a Republican, is one of the higher-ranked lawmakers in the General Assembly. It's a challenge to bring jobs back to small towns, Lewis said. "Unfortunately, the jobs follow jobs," Lewis said. "In other words, these people that move into an area want their employees to have a certain standard of life, a certain standard of living. It's very difficult once the ball starts rolling toward the bigger town that has the restaurants and the movie theaters. Folks begin to live where they work."

Daily dose

NC Tax Revenue Down Through First Third Of Fiscal Year (WFAE-FM) -- North Carolina's tax revenues are down almost $400 million compared to the same period last year. That's according to a report the Office of the State Controller released Thursday on the first four months of the state's fiscal year.

Old-school lawmaker departs Congress - without regret (Raleigh News & Observer) -- At 83, North Carolina Republican Howard Coble is leaving Capitol Hill after 30 years. He often complained of government waste in his career – and he took it to lengths like no one else.

NOT FIXED YET? Mistakes in NC food stamp approvals jump in 2014 (Raleigh News & Observer) -- While North Carolina state workers rushed to reduce a crushing backlog of food stamp applications this year, they handed out about $440,000 in excess benefits to hundreds of households. The cost of the mistakes was substantially higher in 2014 than in 2012 and 2013,

Daily dose

October General Fund Monthly Report – As Gov. Pat McCrory ponders brining the General Assembly into special session to free up money for economic development projects, the state’s treasury – more accurately the flow of revenues into it – may not be cooperating. North Carolina’s revenue picture continues to be dominated by red – as this fiscal year’s individual income tax collections for the first third of the fiscal year are running $477.1 million behind the same four-month period a year ago, according to figures released in the monthly financial report from the Office of the State Controller. Corporate income taxes are $46.5 million behind. All revenues – tax and non-tax, are $378.6 million behind the same period a year ago – and an increase of $57.1 million in the last month. “The Fiscal Research Division estimates that General Fund revenues through October are $148.6 million below the consensus revenue target. The revenue targets are monthly projections based on the fiscal year consensus forecast and previous monthly connection trends.”


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