NC JUSTICE NEWS: GOP Veto Victories + Living Income Standard + Teaching Fellows

August 2, 2011

GOP VICTORIES: Veto overrides lead to hollow successes
GOP leaders were claiming victories in last week’s session across the board.

Veto overrides were in full swing, with House Republicans quickly and brutally dismissing many of Gov. Bev Perdue’s vetoes. The so-called “Women’s Right to Know” act veto override – an action fully celebrated by Rep. Bill Cook and Speaker Thom Tillis – was one of the worst.

The bill, which would force women to view conservative propaganda before accessing legal medical services, passed because Republican Senator Stan Bingham chose to absent himself from the vote. If he hadn’t, he might have been forced to vote across party lines, and put principle above politics. Instead, House Bill 854 passed into law. This is a shameful example of the far right imposing their own regulations on a woman’s right to choose.

The law only makes an already difficult decision all that more painful – and Sen. Bingham knew it. He was the only Republican to vote against the act earlier this year, and at the time told reporters it was best to leave women to “make decisions about their own bodies.” He expressed regret after the vote last week for allowing himself to be bullied out of a decision. But it was too little, too late.

The GOP might embrace a victory here but it’s a hollow one. They passed a bill only due to a missing vote that might have aptly demonstrated how it is, in fact, possible to put principle above politics and do the right thing, if only lawmakers would choose to do so.

UNEMPLOYMENT NUMBERS: The hits keep on coming

The latest numbers don’t look promising. Public-sector job losses have been driving unemployment increases in metro areas across North Carolina, and unemployment rates are up in 94 out of 100 counties, according to the latest data from the Employment Security Commission.

The numbers show that some areas have managed to stay afloat during the latest rounds of layoffs, an encouraging sign in terms of expanding certain industries in North Carolina. There are six counties in the Research Triangle area with unemployment rates below 8 percent, suggesting that the region’s unemployment hasn’t been nearly as affected by the economic slowdown as many neighboring areas.

But a troubling fact remains – there are now 68 counties in North Carolina with unemployment rates above 10 percent and many of these counties were already economically distressed to begin with. Scotland County, which is one of the state’s “Tier 1” counties due its high level of economic distress, currently holds the state’s highest unemployment rate, at a mind-boggling 17.1 percent.

Counties across the state were already having trouble recovering from the Great Recession – a fact that should be obvious to anyone – but job losses in the public sector aren’t helping matters. In the Charlotte metro areas, a loss of 10,000 government jobs all but negated any private sector job growth, leading to a total loss of 4,000 jobs in the region. This is a similar tale across the state, from Greensboro and High Point to the Hickory metro area. Any gains being made are quickly eradicated by additional layoffs of vital public jobs.

LIVING INCOME: Working families struggle to make ends meet

Today, the Justice Center’s Budget & Tax Center releases the new Living Income Standard (LIS), a market-based approach to estimating how much income a working family with children must earn in order to pay for basic expenses. The LIS provides a conservative estimate of how much it truly costs to make ends meet in all 100 counties in the state.

This 2010 version of the Living Income Standard finds that the typical North Carolina family of two adults and two children must earn $48,814 annually—an amount equal to 216 percent of the federal poverty level—to afford life’s essentials. That means the two adults would have to earn a combined $23.47 per hour and work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year. With high unemployment and poor job prospects, this is a high bar to reach for many North Carolina families.

North Carolina can help its workers get the training they need to move into better jobs, the work supports they need to keep those jobs, and the help they need to keep their families afloat until more good jobs become available. The Living Income Standard report lays it all out.

TEACHING FELLOWS: Program falls victim to budget cuts

In the final state budget, GOP legislators killed the NC Teaching Fellows Program, which offers North Carolina’s brightest high school students the opportunity to go to college for free if they teach in NC public schools for four years after graduation.

The legislative leadership claims they had to cut the $13.5 million program to prevent cuts to classrooms. In an article in the Raleigh News & Observer on the cut, Rep. Bryan Holloway, co-chair of the House committee overseeing education spending, made the shocking statement, "Our goal was to have a teacher in every classroom and a teacher assistant," even though the budget has already resulted in hundreds of teachers and TAs being laid off.

But the real kicker is that state budget does include $80 million for scholarships for students going to private universities in fiscal year 2012-13. That’s enough money to preserve the Teaching Fellows Program for years.

Sadly, the Teaching Fellows Program fell victim to the legislative leadership’s desire to privatize education by giving as much public money to private companies as they possibly can.

VOTER ID CONTROVERSY: Bill lives on, possibly goes local

Democrats were also plagued by at least one hollow victory last week, when Republican leaders failed to override Gov. Perdue’s veto of the Voter ID bill, which would have made it more difficult for thousands of voters to cast their ballot in an election.

The veto override was rejected, with opponents arguing that the bill disproportionately affects youth, senior and minority voters – the individuals least likely to have a driver’s license or state-issued ID – and that any evidence of voter fraud was minor at best. House Majority Leader Paul Stam, a Republican, also voted against the override – and then immediately countered the vote with a means to keep the Voter ID bill alive for another vote sometime over the next year. “It’s not settled until it’s settled right,” Stam argued.

What should have been a relief to lawmakers who rejected the toxic bill instead just became a delay of the inevitable. Stam’s move will ensure that GOP leaders fight tooth and nail to pass the Voter ID bill by any means necessary. The rumor mill began churning by the end of last week with whisperings that House Republicans would attempt to rewrite local bills as voter ID requirements. The requirements go local, and Perdue will have no means to veto the county legislation. It’s a sneaky tactic, one that simply rubs more salt into the open voter ID wound, and could create a potentially devastating divide between voters across the state.

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