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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

N.C. House passes bill to block portions of federal health care reform

Posted by on Wed, Feb 2, 2011 at 7:17 PM

RALEIGH/LEGISLATIVE BUILDING—The N.C. House voted 66-50 in favor of House Bill 2 on Wednesday, supporting legislation that would exempt the state's citizens from the federal health insurance mandate and force Attorney General Roy Cooper to join legislation that challenges the law.

The vote broke down party lines after a fierce three-hour debate that focused on the constitutionality of the federal law and the rights of citizens to spend their dollars as they chose compared to the need for universal health coverage that doesn’t add to the deficit.

The bill, “Protect Health Care Freedom,” now moves to the N.C. Senate.

House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, one of four primary sponsors, equated the health care bill to forcing colonists to drink tea and pay a tax.

“More than anything this bill is about what you think about yourself,” he said. “Are you a citizen or are you a child, are you a ward of the state?”

Democrats argued that the legislation was rushed and unnecessary, noting that the issue is already being reviewed in federal courts and that North Carolina, whether it signs on as a plaintiff or not, will be subject to the decisions.

“I find it disappointing that we are taking our time here in North Carolina to address an issue that is already in the federal courts,” said Rep. Verla Insko, D-Orange. “There is no outcome that will result except possible unintended consequences.”

They also said the public should have been allowed to comment during committee meetings. Republicans said the legislation was a key platform plank and that citizens are already aware of the bill and have spoken on it on the campaign trail.

House Minority Leader Joe Hackney asked Republicans to offer a better health care plan, not just defeat the one passed by U.S. Congress. They did not have one.

Meanwhile in Washington, the U.S. Senate defeated legislation today that would have repealed the health care reform law.

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McKissick named chairman of N.C. Legislative Black Caucus

Posted by on Wed, Feb 2, 2011 at 4:33 PM

Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr.
  • Sen. Floyd McKissick Jr.

Sen. Floyd McKissick (D-Durham) earned two top leadership positions at the N.C. General Assembly this week.

He has been named chairman of the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus and Deputy Democratic Leader of the N.C. Senate with Sen. Linda Garrou (D-Forsyth) and Sen. Don Vaughan (D-Guilford).

As chairman of the N.C. Legislative Caucus, McKissick said in a press release that he would work with his fellow 25 members to create new jobs and affordable housing and promote small and minority owned businesses.

His leadership in the N.C. Senate comes at a time when Democrats makeup the chamber minority for the first time in more than 100 years.

“Our position of power has changed, but our role remains the same—we must defend those who need our help, make our communities strong and protect the future of our state by protecting our universities, community colleges and K-12 education," McKissick said in the release.

McKissick, an attorney, was appointed to the N.C. Senate in 2007 to fill the seat previously held by the late Sen. Jeanne Lucas, and before that served on the Durham City Council for eight years. During his first full term in office in 2009, McKissick won several awards, including honors from the N.C. Justice Center, the N.C. Housing Coalition and the N.C. chapter of the NAACP.

He is well known for his work in 2009 to sponsor and win support for the N.C. Racial Justice Act, which seeks to correct the possible presence of racial bias in North Carolina death penalty cases.

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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The N.C. budget: Let's talk revenue

Posted by on Tue, Feb 1, 2011 at 12:46 PM

There's a flip side to any discussion about budget cuts: A discussion about revenues, which is usually a nice way of saying taxes.

Now, North Carolina's state budget has increased nearly 50 percent since the 2000-2001 fiscal year, which many Republicans will point to as evidence of a spending problem. Too much spending, they argue, is why we're looking at a $3.7 billion budget deficit when the new fiscal year rolls around July 1.

But the consumer price index grew 26 percent over the last decade, and the CPI just for healthcare grew 48 percent, according to the state's Fiscal Research Division, which gives legislators and the governor information they need to write the budget. The state's population increased about 17 percent, community college enrollment went up 65 percent and the state's Medicaid caseload went up 63 percent.

All those numbers are a fancy way of saying, there's a reason we're spending more money. So do we really have a spending problem, or do we have a revenue problem?

Plenty of people think it's the latter, and N.C. Policy Watch is scheduled to put out a report tomorrow on this very subject. We'll have to see what it says, but there are very few "revenue problems" that can be solved without a tax increase, because about 95 percent of the state budget is funded by taxes.

Now, look at this chart from the Fiscal Research Division:


The state doesn't charge a sales tax on services, but it does charge one on goods. So as our economy has moved from one in which people are typically buying goods to one where they're more often buying services, the state is taxing a smaller percentage of the total transactions made. Taking the state sales tax (but not the locals sales tax) off groceries (but not food made in restaurants), also contributed to what you see in the chart.

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