An agency of one: NC's Medicaid reform inaction

Miles of paperwork to go before we're through:

“It’s going to be really difficult,” Larson said. “They’re going to set the foundation for what the system is going to look like.” And according to the bill, that waiver application needs to go to the federal government on June 1, 2016. An outline for the waiver has to be submitted to the General Assembly by March 1.

As yet, the new state agency that will run the updated Medicaid program has one employee. And Richard pointed out that existing employees at DHHS have to keep the current program running as they prepare for all these documents under a compressed timeline.

One might ask "why" a new Cabinet-level agency would still have only one employee at this stage of the game, and how could that one person possibly accomplish all the tasks needed in the next few months? The answer is simple, as Queen Aldona taught us so well during her tenure:

Berger may have a bumpy road to re-election

Unemployed chickens coming home to roost:

The state Senate leader’s largely rural district in Eden is facing an economic crisis because about 520 well-paid brewery workers are facing unemployment. MillerCoors is shutting down its Eden brewery, despite the facility’s apparent success and MillerCoors’ big investments in modernizing it.

And do you suppose Berger might be a little worried about what his constituents will face when they’re laid off? He should be. All those families whose votes he counts on will be dumped into the unemployment system that he also gutted. They’ll be getting some of the smallest, shortest-duration unemployment checks in the country and won’t be eligible for long-term benefits. Berger and his colleagues slashed all of those benefits, suggesting they only inspired laziness. Sorry, folks, but it was the right thing to do for the state. So get out there and hustle for those jobs — which, unfortunately, may not even exist.

A lot of those folks will qualify for the maximum weekly benefit, which used to be $535. Now it's $350 (before taxes), for only about six weeks, instead of over half a year with the Federal extension the GOP made sure we no longer can access. I genuinely feel for these workers. I know what it's like to have a factory you've dedicated a couple of decades of your life close its doors on you. But many of those folks have been faithfully pushing the button for Berger and turning a blind eye to the hundreds of thousands of their fellow North Carolinians who have struggled to feed their families and keep their homes after these unnecessary cuts, and it's long past time they asked the Bergermeister some hard questions.

GOP crusade against NCAE continues

Special laws for special enemies:

A state law passed last year required NCAE to have at least 40,000 members to qualify for payroll deductions from state employees. The law calls on the state auditor to verify the membership count every year...The law also singles out NCAE, which is the only group in the law that must have at least 40,000 total members to qualify for dues collections through payroll deductions.

For about a dozen other groups, such as the State Employees Association of North Carolina, the threshold is 2,000 members. In the audit report, SEANC is reported to have 52,900 members – and 32,033 were using the payroll deduction to pay dues.

This particular clause in the law is what's known as a "punitive" state action, as it sets aside a specific group for a regulatory burden others don't have to deal with. There are some rare cases where this is justified, but there must be an overarching "public good" to be attained. In this case, it's purely political, as evidenced by our idiot junior US Senator before he was prematurely elevated:

Conservatives dodging responsibility for tuition increases


It's always somebody else's fault:

“You add all those things together and it’s a recipe for difficulty if not disaster for some of the institutions that serve populations of students from less privileged backgrounds,” Leonard said. Some conservatives agree that rising tuition costs are a problem but say the remedy is that the universities should reduce administrative and management costs and become more efficient.

“The cuts from the General Assembly should have been a signal to the university system to make internal cuts rather than pushing it to students in tuition increases,” said Jenna Robinson, the director of the conservative John W. Pope Center for Higher Education. “There are a lot of places within the administration where cuts can be made.”

But apparently not at the top tier, where the GOP-dominated Board decided (behind closed doors) to lavish huge salary increases to chancellors, many of whom were already being paid hundreds of thousands per year. I'm sure the irony is lost on this particular Pope Puppet, but it isn't lost on the rest of us.

Paving the way toward privatization


The hemorrhaging of education dollars is increasing:

Before the voucher program began, there was little concern about the low level of state oversight of private schools because they received no public money. The voucher money is flowing now — $11 million this year, with $24 million budgeted for 2016 — but private schools are subject to minimal requirements for student assessment and none at all for curricula, instructional staff or financial viability. The schools can choose the pupils they want to admit and are free to provide religious instruction.

The hypocrisy of those on the right over this issue is mind-boggling. They wail about accountability and waste in our traditional public school system, and yet don't believe government has any business monitoring those very same things when taxpayer dollars are funneled into private and charter schools. And their predictable reaction to requests for more funding of struggling public schools, that "throwing more money" at them will do no good, is exactly reversed with charters and private schools. We need to direct more state and local funding in that direction, and every failure of one of those schools is blamed on a lack of monetary support from the government. It's amazing they can tie their own shoes without tying them together and then falling on their faces.

Charter school bullies: Baker Mitchell takes critic to court

Telling the truth doesn't always set you free:

“Pruden has falsely stated to third parties that public charter schools assist in ‘dismantling’ North Carolina’s system of public education…and that public charter schools have ‘morphed into an entrepreneurial opportunity,’” according to the original suit.

Mitchell says Pruden intentionally caused his Local Education Agency Impact Statement–a document submitted to the state as part of the charter approval process–to be published by the media. In that statement, Pruden accused Mitchell’s “private companies” of profiting from taxpayer dollars in the amount of $16 million.

Formal communications between local government entities and state agencies *should* be made public, especially if they concern possible changes in the way public funds are spent. Make no mistake, this is merely a version of a SLAPP suit, the main purpose of which is to silence opposition voiced in the public sphere. Combine that with the likelihood Charter-supporting Republicans in the General Assembly will soon introduce Parent Trigger legislation or other more aggressive approaches to shifting educational resources from public to private entities, and the chilling effect of this lawsuit should increase for many reading this.

Coal Ash Wednesday: "Beneficial" to whom?

It's not just an adjective, it's a license to pollute:

Administrative Law Judge Melissa Owens Lassiter is holding a hearing this week in Raleigh on a challenge to the N.C. Department of Environmental Quality’s decision to allow a “beneficial use” permit for the ash to be buried at the Brickhaven and Colon mines as part of what the state calls a reclamation project.

The opposing groups contend the burial is really nothing more than a landfill, not a reclamation project. As a landfill, it would be subject to more stringent environmental controls than as a beneficial use project.

Companies like Charah who deal in CCRs (Coal Combustion Residuals) invested a lot of time, effort, and money crafting the language used in their business. They fought (successfully) to keep coal ash from being classified as a "hazardous" waste, even though it contains both heavy metals and radioactive elements, as well as a smorgasbord of other toxins. And now their clever use of the word "beneficial" is allowing them to leapfrog over a second category. It's not a hazardous landfill, and it's not even a landfill, it's a reclamation project. The fact that DEQ has bought into this purely subjective classification is just one more nail in its integrity coffin.

NC Policy Watch series continues: Starving the schools


And squeezing blood out of the teachers:

Staffing isn’t the only dwindling resource in the classroom — so are classroom supplies. Carter and other teachers dip into their own pockets to buy supplies and to meet emergency student needs. Carter said she typically spends $500 to $600 a year. Compared with 2008, the state has reduced the public schools’ classroom supplies budget by 52 percent.

“Let me be clear,” added Carson, the school’s principal. “Our teachers have been back and forth to that Wal-Mart across the street purchasing their own supplies for their classrooms.”

This is not a new, unforeseen problem, General Assembly members have been aware of this issue from day one. And they've made a conscious choice to hold back needed funding and put that burden on teachers, many of whom are under financial strain even without these added expenditures. It's contemptible, and even more so when you consider the bond package we're looking at now, which will spend hundreds of millions on University-related Capital projects most of these unfortunate students will never be able to touch. Scientia potentia est, and to withhold it from some indicates weakness and fear of their potential.

Tuesday Twitter roundup

GOP attack on voting continues:

Early voting provides working people with more opportunities to exercise their Constitutional rights. If the GOP was really a friend to the working class, they would want to expand early voting, wouldn't they? Yes, that was a rhetorical question. We all know the answer.


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