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Medicaid expansion still a tough sell

Yesterday the N&R editorialized that it was “encouraging” that Gov. Pat McCrory and DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos were reconsidering expanding Medicaid in North Carolina.

But who really makes that call?

But two key lawmakers with oversight responsibility of her agency made it clear that, given Medicaid’s checkered history, and lingering problems resolving years of mismanagement and budget overruns, the belief that Medicaid — the government health insurance program for the poor and disabled — is ready to accept more participants is a Pollyanaish view.

Wos has told several media outlets that the foundation is in place for a more efficient and more effective Medicaid system, and that she will ask McCrory to expand Medicaid in the near term. McCrory has said through a spokesman that he is confident in Wos, and she will advise him when the time is right to expand. But before that happens, the governor will have to convince skeptical legislators.

“I will say that the original rejection of the Medicaid expansion by the General Assembly required that any plan for expansion had to come through the General Assembly, and not through an executive decision, and I don’t feel that we’re in any position right now to consider expansion under the Affordable Care Act,” said state Sen. Ralph Hise, R-Mitchell.

You guessed it —trying to get straight numbers on how much the state is already spending on Medicaid in just the first two months of the FY 2015 is proving difficult, especially considering the fact that –as acting Division of Medical Assistance director of finance Rudy Dimmling put it —““there are certain outliers that you can’t predict”— one of which is –you guessed it again —- Obamacare round two.

With all this in mind, I’ll make a prediction —the $180 million in contingency reserves for Medicaid isn’t going to get it.

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Gboro fits major piece of greenway

Biz Journal reports Chandler Concrete has sold its Mill Street site and signed a covenant agreeing to cease use of the rail line running behind the property.

Chandler’s property was the missing piece in the development of Gboro’s greenway system. Now the proposed downtown greenway can connect with the Atlantic & Yadkin Greenway along Battleground Avenue.

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Guilford register of deeds critcized for gay marriage…

Guilford County Register of Deeds Jeff Thigpen is drawing criticism from a couple of county commissioners for his decision to reopen his office Friday evening to process marriage licenses for same-sex couples following a federal judge’s ruling on gay marriage in North Carolina:

“I don’t know where he gets the authority to reopen a county building and a county office after regular business hours, or what the extra cost was to the taxpayers of Guilford County,” said Guilford County Commissioner Alan Branson in an interview Sunday. “I think the whole thing was in poor taste. I doubt he would have reopened his office for a heterosexual couple who wanted to be married after regular business hours. I don’t see why this exception needed to be made.
click here!

“If they’ve waited this long, they could wait until Monday morning.”

Commissioner Hank Henning also weighed in, saying that since the county serves all citizens it needs to “have standard office hours for everybody.”

Thigpen is an elected official, so it’s not clear whether or not he needed the approval of county commissioners to re-open his office after hours.

Anybody who’s followed Thigpen’s political career — he was a county commissioner before he was elected register of deeds –knows he’s a strong liberal and gay marriage advocate. But when defending his decision to reopen Thigpen said “(i)f this was a judicial opinion that I didn’t agree with and my office had to reopen to address it, I would have done it to respond to the needs of citizens, no matter who they are.”


Guilford County sales tax debate down to the wire

The Rhino’s John Hammer starts off, writing that the Republican-led Guilford County Board of Commissioners didn’t think it through when they put the quarter-cent sales tax hike on the ballot:

They don’t call it the stupid party without reason. Look at the situation the Republican Guilford County commissioners have created by putting the quarter-cent sales tax increase on the ballot.

I told anyone who would listen that putting the tax increase on the ballot was a bad idea, unless you were in favor of increasing taxes. If you are a Republican running for office in favor of increasing taxes you are not going to get out of the primary, but the argument made by those in favor of holding the referendum was let the people decide.

Great idea, except there was no consideration that the proponents would run an inherently dishonest campaign in favor of the tax.

Hammer argues that the bigger effect will be that having the sales tax hike on the ballot will effectively throw the U.S. Senate election toward Kay Hagan —because “women will turn out in greater numbers to vote for schools.”

It’s a two-pronged effect —not only will women turn out in greater numbers but it also gives sales tax hike proponents and Hagan supporters further cause to hammer away at Thom Tillis for —yeah you’re hearing it alot these days —-gutting education in North Carolina.

I’ve got a couple of liberal friends weighing in on social media about the Senate race —one said you can tell Thom Tillis is lying just by watching his mouth move. It makes sick —especially when you look at the numbers as presented by JLF’s Terry Stoops:

So why are so many convinced that public school funding has taken a nosedive? I suspect that advertisements supporting the reelection of Senator Kay Hagan likely convinced the typical resident of Guilford County that their schools have been the victims of massive cuts at the hands of House Speaker Thom Tillis and eeeevil Republicans in Raleigh. That is not true, either locally or statewide.

….But residents of Guilford County are most interested in what they can control directly — local funding for schools. In 2013, the district spent $209.4 million in local funds for operating expenses, an 11 percent increase from the year prior. That increase added $286 in local per pupil spending during the same period.

How does this compare to districts statewide? In 2013, Guilford County Schools had the 44th highest per-pupil expenditure in the state, climbing 14 spots from 2011. In terms of local funding, Guilford County taxpayers provided the 11th highest per-student expenditure in the state. In other words, in 2013 only ten other counties allocated more per pupil funding to their public schools than Guilford County.

One may argue that the increases were not sufficient, but it takes a lot of imagination to conclude that there were no increases.

The question of sufficient funding is a valid one. But I would ask, sufficient funding for what? If the sole purpose of increasing education spending were increasing education spending, then I would argue that we have been diverted from our goal of ensuring that all children receive a superior education. Regrettably, outcomes seldom become the focus of campaigns to drain additional resources from taxpayers, particularly those who can least afford it.

All things to take into consideration as the debate heats up over the next three weeks.

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Did Thom Tillis cut $500m from public education?

Out of all the accusations tossed back and forth during last night’s debate between Sen. Kay Hagan and Rep. Thom Tillis, I’d say Hagan’s charge that Tillis cut $500 million in education spending in North Carolina is the biggest because Hagan used a finite number to making a supposed statement of fact.

So is Hagan’s accusation true? Well, PolitiFact did some checking. Note who makes an appearance:

Reductions in federal and local education spending — as well as funding shifts due to rising charter school popularity — could also be a major reason why schools feel as if their funds have shrunk, despite a steadily increasing state budget, said Terry Stoops, director of research and education policy at the John Locke Foundation, a North Carolina think tank that promotes limited government. He added that between 2010 and 2013, federal funding to North Carolina schools dropped by $337.6 million.

Here’s the bottom line “(i)t’s important to note that the Legislature’s choosing to fund at levels lower than the continuation budget is not a literal budget cut. In raw dollars, the state is spending more money than in previous years.” In other words, when you give any government entity more money than they received the previous year but not as much as they asked for, then in their minds it’s a “cut.”

With that in mind, PolitiFact concludes Hagan’s statement is “literally wrong,” but considering N.C.’s budget “spent almost $500 million less than what was requested to maintain the status quo, accounting for inflation and increased costs of various services,” it was upgraded to “half true.”

And we remember what our mothers taught us about “half truths.”

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Supreme Court denies Kalvin Smith appeal

Obviously the focus of yesterday’s Supreme Court action was the decision to let stand appeals court rulings allowing same-sex marriage in five states, which many believe paves the way for the overturn of Amendment One in North Carolina.

But another case before ran under the radar— the court denied an appeal by attorneys for Kalvin Michael Smith, who is serving a 29-year prison sentence for the 1995 beating of Jill Marker:

James Coleman, one of Smith’s attorneys, said the decision wasn’t a surprise. Coleman filed the petition in May, arguing that Forsyth County prosecutors suppressed or destroyed evidence that would have been favorable to Smith’s case. Smith has now lost all federal appeals. U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles denied Smith’s appeal in June 2013, and the 4 th Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld that decision earlier this year.

Smith’s legal fight is not over, however —his attorneys will return to Forsyth County Superior Court and seek an overturn to a judge’s 2009 decision to deny Smith’s appeal.

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Hagan: Just playing by the rules, again….

CJ’s Don Carrington reports a company owned by the husband of Sen. Kay Hagan used $250k in federal stimulus to funds to —this is ripe —–hire his own company:

Public records show that Green State Power was formed seven weeks before JDC Manufacturing — a company owned in part by Greensboro attorney Charles “Chip” Hagan III, Sen. Hagan’s husband — received the stimulus grant for the solar project at a 300,000-square-foot facility in Reidsville, N.C.

A story in late September on the Washington, D.C.-based website Politico revealed that JDC Manufacturing received “nearly $390,000 in federal grants for energy projects and tax credits created by the 2009 stimulus law, according to public records and information provided by the company.”

The story reported that JDC “was one of 27 in North Carolina to be awarded funds for energy-efficient projects, to the tune of about $250,000. The company received the money in 2011, after the first phase of the project was completed in late 2010.”

Hagan has denied helping her husband secure the stimulus funds directly —do I even need to remind anyone that she voted that she voted in favor of President Obama’s stimulus package?—-adding that “a respected ethics attorney was consulted to ensure that it was appropriate, and the attorney found that it was,” according to her spokeswoman.

Of course the rules are for everyone to play by — Politico adds that Hagan opponent Thom Tillis “voted in 2010 to allow the state to participate in the federal renewable energy tax credit program, which benefited a bank in which he owns at least $50,000 in stock.”

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UNCG chancellor — It ain’t me

N&R stays on the UNCG time sheet scandal, reporting Chancellor Linda Brady sends out two emails claiming UNCG police and the Guilford County District Attorney’s Office initiated the felony charges, not campus officials:

When alerted to the fact that an audit of University Relations equipment found evidence of misconduct, Campus Police contacted University Relations to secure the evidence. Campus Police conducted an independent investigation and reviewed the evidence. Campus Police then presented the evidence to the District Attorney’s office. The District Attorney’s office reviewed the evidence, determined that there was sufficient evidence to warrant felony charges, and agreed to go forward with prosecution of those charges. No University administrators provided input or direction to Campus Police or the District Attorney’s office regarding the pursuit of criminal charges.

Still, the question remains—who requested the audit and why? And why wasn’t the administration notified when administrative employees were about to be charged with a crime that allegedly took place on university time?

The university’s Board of Trustees is meeting this morning, but —you guessed it —state law does not require the board to reveal the name of the employee whom they will discuss. While there are many more questions here, count on the fact that Brady and her administration will do everything they can to keep this situation under wraps.


Cop camera questions

I attended the forum sponsored by the City of Greensboro on body-worn police cameras. So did N&R ed page editor Allen Johnson, who writes:

If I were to sum up the most important takeaway from this week’s superb panel on police videos, it is the sheer backwardness of the city’s approach to the technology. At least so far.

We rolled out the technology without a clear policy on who gets to see the video.

We held the first public discussion about that question more than a year after the cameras were deployed.

And, most important, we built access to the footage based on a totally backward hierarchy: the police came first and the general public came last, if at all.

Note who responds to Johnson’s post —-none other than former Greensboro Police Chief Ken Miller, who is now chief down in Greenville S.C.

Miller writes:

The GPD policy on release of information actually follows the law of North Carolina, despite N&R attempts to characterize it to the contrary. The N&R would have GPD violate the law to serve its own prurient interests.

3. Until the law of North Carolina is changed, it restricts the release of personnel or criminal investigative records except under certain conditions….

While the panel did a good job of probing the many unknowns —including the lack of case law regarding videos as public records —-their bottom line was Gboro will linger in a legal no man’s land until state law is clarified. And good luck with that, at least any time soon.

NYT also probed the issue, in the process raising many more questions:

But the spread of police body cameras is also raising concerns about what is recorded, when and how video might be released to the public, and how the millions of hours of video will be archived and protected from leaks and hackers. Some police unions worry that videos could become tools of management, used by higher-ups to punish an officer they do not like, or that private conversations among officers could go public.

The rising use of cameras has put the police in a complex and uncertain landscape of public records law.

To say the least.

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More UNCG time sheet scandal

N&R follows up on UNCG’s time sheet scandal.

The story mentions that former University Relations employee Lyda Carpen —charged with five counts aiding and abetting obtaining property by false pretenses—-is a mother of two. And the sidebar includes this quote from a former colleague:

Ben Ramsey, the director of UNCG’s new University Teaching and Learning Commons, said he is profoundly saddened by the treatment of Carpen, a friend, former colleague and former student of his. Ramsey, also an associate professor of religion, told the Faculty Senate meeting that he was especially bothered by the thought of Carpen being handcuffed at the UNCG police station in front of her children.

“That may have been necessary. That might have been right,” Ramsey said. “But I hope that the leaders of this university can bend down on their knees and face those children and be able to say what we did was just.”

Evidently the N&R is concerned about the children’s welfare in the wake of their mother’s arrest, which in turn makes me wonder about the decision to publish her mug shot front on the front page— above the fold— in today’s print edition.

Still unclear is whether or not UNCG is following state law by pressing charges against Carpen and her former co-workers or if this is some type of vindictive retribution in defense of Associate Vice Chancellor Paul Mason, who has been accused of creating a hostile work environment in the university relations department?


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