Daily dose: Smoke'n mirrors

Punch line of the century from DAG McCrory: We have fulfilled our promises.
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BUDGET TO EMBRACE, HIDE FROM, OR OPPORTUNITY FOR SMART ALECK?
Before he signed the budget bill on Thursday, Gov. Pat McCrory declared: “We have fulfilled our promises. … We are about to sign a budget that has no reductions in Medicaid eligibility, that has no tax increases, that has very good pay increases for our teachers throughout North Carolina, that has very good pay raises for Highway Patrol and for our court employees, that has solid pay raises for all state employees which are needed, which has a cost of living increase for retirees, and also has the same funding this year, as last year, for teachers assistants and teachers currently in the classroom.”

With a budget so magnificent, surely legislators who supported it -- 68 in the House and 33 in the Senate-- would want to be around to bask in its reflective glory at a bill signing ceremony? But at the signing festivities Thursday in the Executive Mansion, only two legislators, both from Wake County and one not even seeking re-election, standing beside the governor when the bill was signed. House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg), who could use some positive publicity these days, wasn’t around. Nor was Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) standing with the governor. The other five folks standing with the governor when he signed the budget were all paid members of his staff.

McCrory appeared to abandon his prepared comments as he went out of his way to take a personal swipe at the leader of North Carolina Association of Educators. “I also realize that the head of the current teachers’ union continues to criticize this budget even though his salary I assume is much higher than any teacher in North Carolina,” McCrory said. It seemed to be something of a smart aleck remark that echoed other recent behavior, such as his awkward offer of cookies to abortion rights protestors or the comments of his Transportation Secretary Tony Tata who a day earlier attacked lawyers with the Southern Environmental Law Center as "ivory tower elitists. … With their lattes and their contempt, and chuckle ...” Perhaps it is grasping at an opportunity, amid the challenges and frustrations of wrestling with public policy, to blow off some steam. But it accomplishes little in elevating the public debate over serious issues and legitimate differences of opinion.

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A budget that no one wants

A friend shared this observation with me today, and it seemed right on the money.

In the old days, they were called “Kremlin Watchers” – international analysts who’d keep an eye on the public appearances of top Russian leaders to determine who was on the ins and who was on the outs. Often, the biggest display of closeness to power was at the annual May Day parade in Red Square. Who appeared atop Lenin’s tomb, and what order they were standing in often signaled critical changes in power and influence.

Well, applying that cold war practice to today’s budget signing by Gov. Pat McCrory offers some interesting, and perhaps revealing, insights.

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DAG McCrory's ignorant fear-mongering about immigrant children

The invasion of the crumb snatchers:

When Gov. Pat McCrory speaks, it's frequently hard to discern whether he's being disingenuous for political reasons or truly believes what he says but is surprisingly uninformed of reality. Such is the case with the governor's latest foray into immigration. McCrory on Tuesday and again on Wednesday sounded the alarm about 1,200 unaccompanied immigrant children who have trickled into North Carolina. McCrory wants these kids' deportation hearings held, and quickly.

"We do not know where the over-1,100 children are right now and what the status of their legal guardians are and whether or not these children are protected, and that's what I care about --- the protection of these children," McCrory said at a press conference Wednesday. "We have to get them with guardians we know are safe themselves." On Tuesday, he had added that the state doesn't know if the children lack immunizations and pose health risks to North Carolinians.

Well, there won't be any Gubernatorial cookies baked for these kids. It's apparent this is just one more case where the DAG opened his mouth and started spewing rhetoric without doing his homework:

Daily dose: Pope's exit paves the way for another inexperienced hack to take the budget reins

N.C. Budget Chief Pope Quits After Protests (Bloomberg News) -- Art Pope, the budget director who became the focus of weekly protests at North Carolina’s capitol, is stepping down, Governor Pat McCrory said in a statement. Pope, a 58-year-old businessman who formed a series of free-market organizations in the state and helped fund a Republican takeover of the legislature in 2010, became budget director in 2013. He was vilified during the demonstrations known as Moral Mondays for the administration’s decisions to cut taxes and spending on higher education and other programs. He will be returning to running his family’s retail business, Variety Wholesalers Inc.
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-08-06/north-carolina-budget-chief-who...

THE SPILL
Why NC Lawmakers Couldn't Agree On A Coal Ash Management (WUNC-FM) -- A few members of the North Carolina House of Representatives will be back in Raleigh for a skeleton session today, but no real business is expected to be conducted. Technically, they need to be there to keep the legislature in session. That’s because they couldn’t agree with their colleagues in the Senate on one of their main priorities this summer – what to do about 33 coal ash dumps around the state. This story starts in February this year, and you might have seen it on national newscasts. On the PBS Newshour: “A major spill of toxic coal ash is raising questions again about the safety of water.” On the Rachel Maddow Show: “A Duke Energy coal ash dump in Eden, N.C., broke loose, went gushing into the Dan River, coating that river bottom for 70 miles with a ribbon of sludge.” … Just when lawmakers will finish their work on a coal ash plan is another disagreement. They have temporarily adjourned. House Speaker Tom Tillis says he wants the bill resolved later this month. Senate leader Berger wants to do it after the November elections, when they’ll take up another contentious bill – an overhaul of the state’s Medicaid system.
http://wunc.org/post/why-nc-lawmakers-couldnt-agree-coal-ash-management-...

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Washington Post finds voter fraud!

You might recall that one of the items in the budget from the NC legislature put aside $200,000 for investigation of voter fraud. The measure was prompted by the work of the Voter Integrity Project, an outfit that was pushing the idea of widespread fraud to push for voter id and other voter intimidation.

A columnist with the Washington Post did a detailed study and, yes, found voter fraud.

To be specific - 31 cases of voter fraud. Nationwide. Since 2000. Out of one billion votes cast.

Note: these allegations do not include other forms of fraud not prevented by a requirement to show ID at the polls, including absentee ballot fraud, vote buying, vote coercion, fraud in the tallying process, voter registration fraud, double voting, voting by nonresidents, voting by noncitizens, voting by persons disenfranchised by conviction, or fraud in the petitioning process.)

First in Flight, Last in Education

Personal finance website Wallethub is out with some new rankings of the states with the best -and worst- public schools.

North Carolina comes in at #37 in the rankings and is #47 in school spending.

Of course, this ranking probably doesn't take into account the latest budget from the legislature and the teachers that have fled the state or dropped out of teaching here in the past few months.

Story here.

Artracide

While North Carolina currently enjoys a AAA credit rating from Standard and Poor's, it potentially could come to this:

TOPEKA — News that the state’s credit rating had been downgraded put a damper on Gov. Sam Brownback and U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts’ Republican unity celebration Wednesday morning.

Standard & Poor’s lowered Kansas’ bond rating to AA from AA+, citing the state’s unbalanced budget caused by income tax cuts signed into law in 2012. Though the state’s bond rating is still high, the downgrade is a signal to investors that Kansas bonds are a riskier investment than they were before the tax cuts.

"The downgrades reflect our view of a structurally unbalanced budget, following state income tax cuts that have not been matched with offsetting ongoing expenditure cuts in the fiscal 2015 budget," said Standard & Poor's credit analyst David Hitchcock in a release.
S & P also downgraded the state’s appropriation-secured debt to AA- from AA.

Art Pope quits, leaves NC without a governor

You've no doubt heard the news. Art Pope is taking his $1 salary and going home. Which raises this question: what is Deputy Assistant Governor Pat McCrory going to do without Mr. Pope to tell him what to say?

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