- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Feb. 14

The News & Observer of Raleigh on North Carolina’s new voter ID requirement:

Proponents of North Carolina’s new voter ID requirement are mystified as to why anyone would object to showing identification before casting a vote.

You have to show a photo ID for things much less important than voting, the say. And besides, almost everyone has a photo ID, and those who don’t can go to their local DMV office and get one free.

But this simple assumption did not hold up in the case of Reba Miller Bowser of Asheville. She is 86 and has voted without incident all her adult life while living in Pennsylvania and New Hampshire. After she registered to vote in North Carolina, things got complicated. Her son took her to the DMV with a pile of ID papers, but she was told that her papers were unacceptable because of differences in her maiden and married name on separate documents.

Bowser’s rejection attracted wide attention after her daughter-in-law posted on Facebook about it. A DMV official later admitted, “We messed up on this one.” Bowser signed an affidavit and got an ID.

But this case is hardly isolated. Many women have changed names on documents because they took their husband’s surname. And getting it cleared up at DMV can be as complicated and frustrating as doing a lot of others things at DMV.

That’s why the voter ID isn’t common sense. It’s a common hassle for people who have the right to vote but now must go through time-consuming steps and spend money on documents before they can exercise that right.

Online:

http://www.newsobserver.com

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Feb. 17

The Fayetteville Observer on tenure for North Carolina teachers:

The battle over tenure for North Carolina teachers reached the state Supreme Court this week. We hope the justices will put this misbegotten piece of punitive legislation out of its misery.

The law, passed by the General Assembly in 2013, stripped teachers’ ability to earn “career status” after four years of satisfactory performance. Lawmakers mischaracterized it as tenure, saying it prevented school districts from firing incompetent teachers.

The truth is, if school districts use it as an excuse to keep lousy teachers in the classroom, it’s their own fault. The law specifically empowers administrators to fire bad teachers for reasons including poor performance, insubordination and immorality.

Lawmakers instead wanted to force teachers to renegotiate contracts every few years, so the schools could get rid of the incompetent ones. But since schools already can do that, what the new law really means is teachers have no protection against getting fired on administrators’ whims. Keeping a teaching job can become an exercise in politics and teachers can spend a career looking over their shoulders in fear that they’ll be sacked if they look cross-eyed at a hostile principal.

Surprisingly, Democratic Attorney General Roy Cooper, who’s running for governor, sent his top appeals lawyer to court Monday to argue in favor of the Republican-backed legislation. Lawyer John Maddrey repeated the legislative nonsense about the “career status” system amounting to “permanent employment.”

As the teachers’ association lawyer responded, if lawmakers really wanted to improve the quality of teaching in the state’s classrooms, they could have raised the performance criteria teachers must meet to keep their jobs.

We’d like to see the General Assembly do just that, instead of simply attacking anything that looks remotely like a union - a theme that has run through a considerable body of legislation for the past three years.

That, in truth, is what the tenure battle is about. Even though there are no public-employee unions in North Carolina - they’re already banned by law - lawmakers appear determined to rid the state of any protection that looks even remotely union-ish. Hence a war on a tenure status that doesn’t exist.

Teachers have earned what little job protection they do have. In fact, it was promised to them as a benefit of their employment. That’s why the court should strike down this law. Online:

http://www.fayobserver.com

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Feb. 12

The Charlotte Observer on cutting taxes in North Carolina:

It’s an election year, and we all know what that means: People are going to be promised stuff.

Both Democrats and Republicans do it, although the promises naturally tend to be different. For Republicans, they revolve around tax breaks, which in themselves aren’t bad so long as they can be paid for without hurting critical programs or vulnerable people.

That, unfortunately, is what’s happened in North Carolina in recent years. Tax cuts that benefit corporations and the wealthy have been paid for with budget cuts, sales taxes and fees that disproportionately harm the poor.

Now, N.C. Republicans are contemplating a new tax break that - on the surface, at least - would help low- and middle-income families. The (Raleigh) News & Observer reported this week that lawmakers are floating a proposal that would raise the standard deduction for personal income taxes by $2,000. That means a married couple filing jointly wouldn’t owe taxes on their first $17,500 in income - up from $15,500.

It’s a shrewd move, politically, because the tax break would help the very people Republicans have been accused of ignoring. For example, the change would result in a savings of $115 a year for married couples making about $44,000. The average savings at other income levels, both lower and higher, would be less. (Those who make more than $200,000 would save less than $10.)

The price tag for the new deduction? Somewhere between $195-$205 million, according to staff projections. That’s worth it if the lost revenue came from the people who can afford it, namely the affluent and corporations that lawmakers have treated so well lately. What’s more likely is that Republicans will pay for the tax deduction with more sales taxes and service fees. For low income North Carolinians, that’ll make the tax savings a wash.

If lawmakers really want to help those families, they should restore the state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that they allowed to expire in 2013. The price tag could be the same: Setting the state EITC at, say, 8 percent of the federal EITC benefit would cost the state about $190 million, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. (In 2013, the state set the credit at just 4.5 percent.)

But restoring the EITC would focus tax savings on the people who need it most. With the state EITC at 8 percent, a family that makes $30,000 a year could save more than $330 a year versus about $60 with a standard deduction change. For people living paycheck to paycheck, that’s a big difference.

Yes, bringing back the state EITC would help a smaller portion of the population than raising the standard tax deduction, which also means it could offer less political value. But if Republicans are finally going to recognize the people they’ve passed over in tax cuts, they should help those who need it most.

Online:

http://www.charlotteobserver.com

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