Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The News & Observer of Raleigh on state Rep. Stephen LaRoque:
At the least, state Rep. Stephen LaRoque of Kinston has some explainin' to do. And the obligation should be shared — by LaRoque's fellow Republicans who hold the majority in the state House. They should be reviewing his business affairs — the subject of detailed investigative reporting by North Carolina Policy Watch — and sharing their findings with the public.
According to the report, LaRoque was earning as much as $195,000 a year as the head of two small federally funded organizations that made economic development loans in rural areas. That sort of compensation exceeds what someone doing such work typically makes, and board members of the groups seem not to have been well-informed about his pay.
LaRoque declined to answer any questions, either verbally or in writing, posed by Policy Watch, which is affiliated with the nonprofit North Carolina Justice Center. He has asserted elsewhere that his pay did not represent taxpayer money, but was instead taken from the proceeds of repaid loans.
That looks like a distinction without a difference. And it also turns out that the U.S. Department of Agriculture, under whose auspices the East Carolina Development Co. and the Piedmont Development Co. operated, was not exactly on the ball with its oversight. For four years running, the department missed its required annual field visits to check on LaRoque's groups. ...
It's true that if LaRoque's colleagues start asking questions, things could become a little awkward. For example, in two instances identified by Policy Watch, the recipients of funds channeled through Piedmont Development Co. were fellow Republican legislators. Sen. Debbie Clary in 2006 was reported to have gotten $101,250 to boost her Shelby marketing business. And in 2007 a $150,000 loan went to Rep. Gary Hilton of Conover for a family-owned rental property management firm. (LaRoque, sidelined after an election defeat in 2006, was not in office at the time. He was re-elected last year to serve his third two-year term.)
Serving as a co-chairman of the House Rules Committee, LaRoque has influence on Jones Street, and what Policy Watch describes as his "unapologetic, aggressive" style no doubt makes him a tough customer. But when questions arise about a public official's stewardship of public money, answers should be forthcoming. The House leadership should not simply avert its gaze.
The Daily Reflector of Greenville on the anti-incumbent movement:
By order of a tradition born in the summer heat and humidity in the nation's capital and later codified into law, Congress spends the month of August at home, meeting with constituents. Do not expect many of those gatherings to be pleasant this year, given the historically dismal job-approval ratings evident in nearly every poll on the matter.
The public's hostility is mainly fueled by the hypocrisy and abuses of power on display in Washington, errors in judgment from which lawmakers from North Carolina are not immune. Rebuilding the shattered bond of trust between the people and their representatives is crucial, both to address the nation's short-term ills and to ensure the future viability of the republic.
A common result in polls about lawmakers and legislative approval is that people generally disagree with the actions of Congress as a whole but appreciate the efforts of their representatives. That conclusion is no longer predictable given the rising discontent with elected officials and the growing anti-incumbent sentiment evident in the 2010 election. ...
In North Carolina, the actions of two members of the state's congressional delegation have demonstrated the type of hypocrisy and disconnection with the public that is fueling the anti-incumbent movement. In the 10th Congressional District, Republican Rep. Patrick McHenry oversaw the costly renovation and improvement of his Washington office even as he argued for deep cuts in federal spending and threatened to allow the nation to default on its debt. And in the 12th District, Democratic Rep. Mel Watt responded to the Office of Congressional Ethics launching an investigation against him by introducing legislation to cut the OCE budget by 40 percent.
Neither action reflects the type of thoughtful, engaged leadership the nation needs at this critical hour. They are not confined to one party or one legislative chamber, and threaten to further alienate a disillusioned public. Each vote comes with an extension of trust between an individual and their representative, and it is time that relationship was treated with respect.
Winston-Salem Journal on Medicaid cuts:
"You can't hurry love," the Supremes told us in 1966.
"You can't hurry Medicaid cuts," the federal government is telling North Carolina today.
During its 2011 session, the General Assembly cut $356 million from Medicaid, the joint state-federal program that provides medical care for the poor and indigent disabled. Legislators identified the services to offset the $356 million in reduced state funding. Then they left Raleigh, thinking they'd passed a balanced budget.
Nothing is ever that easy when dealing with the federal government. It turns out that several of the Legislature's cuts cannot be made without federal approval, and the feds say it may take as long as six months to grant that approval. If they do grant approval. In the meantime, the state must continue to provide those services to its 1.5 million Medicaid patients, and, therefore, the cuts ordered by the Legislature won't save as much as had been anticipated.
The N.C. Division of Medical Assistance is projecting the need, therefore, to find $32 million to $118 million in additional Medicaid cuts to rebalance the state budget. Early talk is that organ transplants will be severely limited, 250,000 dental patients will be dropped, and there'll be new limits on HIV drug coverage.
This story only gets worse for the state's economy. For every $1 that North Carolina spends on Medicaid, the federal government matches it with about $2. Thus, the total of $356 million in Medicaid cuts means that more than $1 billion in medical spending in this state will be eliminated. A lot of private-sector jobs could be affected.
To their credit, the budget committees anticipated that some of the cuts could not be installed immediately. They calculated their $356 million savings on a three-month delay this year. In the next budget year, they projected a full-year of savings.
So the onus now falls on federal Medicaid regulators to speed up their reviews. Of course, a lot of states are cutting the program back, so the bureaucrats in Washington are occupied with more than North Carolina's proposals.
But the sooner the feds can act, the less likely it will be that North Carolina has to cut even more services than the Legislature identified.