- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Sept. 17

News & Record, Greensboro, North Carolina, on McCrory’s statement:

Gov. Pat McCrory said it with a smile, but there was a sharp edge to his explanation for not calling legislators back to Raleigh: “After a lengthy session, they need a break. And frankly, I need a break from them,” he said in a videotaped statement last week.

The Republican governor’s relations with Republican legislators can be illustrated by two incidents, one before and one after the session.

In the first, in January, an audio recording captured Senate Finance Chairman Bill Rabon’s angry denunciation of efforts by the governor and his wife, Ann, to pass a bill regulating puppy mills. Rabon accused the first couple of meddling and even said Ann McCrory’s “lobbying” was “against all laws.”

In the second, last week, Senate leader Phil Berger reacted to McCrory’s complaint that a coal ash commission created by the legislature intrudes into executive authority. “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.

McCrory’s former employer is Duke Energy, which owns the targeted coal ash ponds. Berger was implying that the governor couldn’t be trusted to administer a cleanup program.

So, yes, McCrory needs a break from that. Unfortunately, he looks like he’s in retreat.

If he had objections to the coal ash bill, he should have vetoed it. If his administration urgently needs additional economic development tools to attract new companies and create jobs, he should call legislators back and ask them to write a better bill than the one they earlier rejected.

The governor failed to win support for other initiatives, including a major Medicaid restructuring. He’ll have to push for that next year.

He said he’ll also ask the legislature to help “revitalize communities by restoring historic properties.” Yet, the legislature declined to extend historic preservation tax credits, removing a critical tool for revitalizing cities, small towns, abandoned factories and other properties.

While the legislature granted pay raises for teachers, it ignored the governor’s proposed career plan that would provide additional salary for teachers based on experience, achievement and for teaching “high-demand subjects.” He wants to revisit that.

Not to forget the puppies. “The first lady and myself will help implement common-sense rules for commercial dog breeders,” he said. “I want to encourage you to ask lawmakers where they stand on these issues, because we need your support,” the governor added in the video.

There was no bite and not much bark in his message.

For a lesson on how to do better, McCrory should tune in to the Ken Burns film, “The Roosevelts,” airing this week on UNC-TV. The two Presidents Roosevelt knew how to use executive power and whip up popular support for their agendas.

If McCrory wants to get results from the legislature, he ought to campaign all across the state until lawmakers beg for a break from him.




Sept. 15

News and Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, on state’s minimum wage:

Everyone around Thom Tillis in the Republican House Speaker’s campaign for the U.S. Senate knows where he stands on North Carolina raising the minimum wage past the federal minimum of $7.25 an hour. He’s against it, saying it ought to be left to the states, a favorite cop-out of politicians who don’t want to take a stand.

Tillis claims, as he did on a tour of farms in Wilson County recently, that some business owners he’s talked to say raising the minimum wage would force them to lay off workers. He’s also opposed to a universal minimum wage, saying it should vary from state to state. In one interview with NBC’s Chuck Todd in May, Tillis said the idea that someone in the North Carolina mountains should make the same minimum wage as someone in Boston “makes no sense to me.”

In that, the speaker showed both his true, pro-business, anti-labor colors and also his inexperience in big-time campaigning. He handed his opponent, Democratic incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan, a ripe melon of an issue to crush.

Hagan reminded people at a labor convention in Raleigh last week of Tillis’ comment and said, “Well, I will never put Boston over Boone, and this is what Speaker Tillis has done.”

Lately, though, Tillis has been avoiding the question. Though he’s clearly against a minimum wage hike, he knows that North Carolina has a lot of low-paid workers who’d vote against him, and turn out to vote against him, on that issue alone. And he undoubtedly knows that a Public Policy Polling survey last month found 56 percent of likely voters supported a minimum wage hike to $10 an hour, roughly what Hagan favors. Some 37 percent were opposed.

Hagan also has a comeback for Tillis’ tired old claims that raising the minimum wage would force layoffs and cost those low-paid workers their jobs. “It (a higher wage) really gives people more funds to spend to buy, and to help grow those small businesses,” she said. Yes, and businesses have to have a certain number of workers to get their goods made or distributed. To say that forcing them to raise pay a little for some workers would result in big layoffs is little more than wishful Republican thinking. Businesses would cope with a wage hike, as they have in the past.

Indeed, holding the wage at a level set in 2009 is an unfair subsidy to employers. Adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage should be $10.55 per hour. Adjusted to keep pace with the overall growth in the U.S. economy, it should be $21.16 per hour, according to Inequality.org, a project of the Institute for Policy Studies.

Tillis now seems to be avoiding comment, treading softly at least, and that’s because he knows opposing a hike in the minimum wage is a loser, even though minimum wage earners are disproportionately women and younger people who tend to vote Democratic.

If the speaker truly can make a case that raising the minimum wage is some kind of job-killing, economy-inhibiting move, then let him make the case and get out front with it. He doesn’t seem to be able to do that.

In 2014, 11 states enacted increases in the minimum wage. Now, some 23 states have minimum wage rates higher than the national standard. In those states, the economies have not collapsed and the world has not come to an end.

A decent wage helps individuals and families, but as Hagan said, it also bolsters the overall economy. How Tillis can continue to stick to his pro-business, anti-labor mantra when he knows Hagan’s position is true is mind-boggling. It may appeal to the right-wing base of the Republican Party, but it can’t be justified as helpful to a consumer-driven economy.

Come November, Tillis and other Republicans are going to be called to account for their positions on this issue, and on not increasing the number of North Carolinians eligible for Medicaid though the federal government would pay for it. Then there’s the Republicans’ not-finest hour of cutting unemployment benefits for North Carolinians looking for work.

Tillis should stand behind his positions, not simply try to avoid talking about them.




Sept. 17

Winston-Salem Journal, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on DHHS’ outside consultation:

The state Department of Health and Human Services is troubled, to say the least, and has been for some time. Discovering that DHHS continues to pay exorbitant fees for outside consultants rather than accomplishing its work on its own doesn’t help restore faith in the organization.

This information came to light at a legislative oversight committee meeting last week, the Journal’s Richard Craver reported. Counting DHHS’ recent extension of a no-bid contract with consultant firm Alvarez & Marsal from $3 million to $6.82 million, the agency has spent more than $7.2 million on consultants over the past 20 months, the Journal reported.

This breaks down to $473 an hour for the consultant’s three principals; $394 an hour for five directors; and $242 an hour for each of nine analysts, according to a report by the News & Observer of Raleigh. Sen. Floyd McKissick, attending the meeting, noted that one of those consultants works out to $800,000 a year.

Nice work if you can get it. Many of us could offer a few choice words for free.

“We need a full overview of what the consultant has done and the cost savings,” McKissick said at the meeting. “I don’t believe they are that unique in what they offer, and we should be able to hire and keep personnel within DHHS to offer these services at a much lower cost.”

DHHS officials acknowledged that an agency official would be paid less than $185,000 for the same work - so it’s hard to see its expenditures as much more than a waste of money.

DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos, however, defended the expense as a necessity.

“We had an emergency, we had to figure out a way to get our work done, and we succeeded with that,” Wos said.

She said that Alvarez & Marsal’s recommendations have helped streamline operations, particularly with providers and accelerating drug-rebate payments, assisting with job recruitment and hiring of senior positions, and emphasizing collaboration and clear accountability responsibilities.

So how long does an emergency last?

And at what cost? Are these really matters that staffers couldn’t have worked out?

To their credit, legislators on both sides of the aisle have taken issue with Wos and her staff, not only for the high price of consultants, but also for the continuing problem of the DHHS’ inability to provide timely and dependable Medicaid data and its inability to completely resolve backlog issues with the state’s food-stamp application program and claims application program.

The consultants seem a tremendous waste of money - especially when the results of the expense are in doubt. It still takes longer than it should for legislators to get data in response to simple questions.

We’re glad that the legislative committee is paying attention to what’s happening with DHHS. Many needy people count on its ability to operate. The agency has improved, but has far more work to do before we can think of it as being reliable.



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