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North Carolina editorial roundup

March 20, 2019

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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March 20

The News & Observer of Raleigh on minimum wage:

The minimum wage is now less about pay and more about inequality.

As a practical matter, the minimum wage doesn’t apply to the vast majority of workers. In North Carolina in 2016, only 38,000 out of 2.5 million workers earned exactly the minimum wage. (Another 52,000 workers — mostly youth workers, workers with disabilities and tipped employees — earned less than the federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour.)

Nonetheless, the minimum wage is an important indicator of how much a state or local government cares about rising income inequality. The broader significance of increasing the federal minimum wage — the last increase was in 2009 — isn’t what it does for minimum wage earners, but how it creates a pressure to increase the wages of all hourly workers.

And upward pressure is needed. Income inequality is now the greatest in the U.S. since the 1920s. The richest 1 percent now hold 40 percent of the nation’s household wealth. In the 1950s, a typical CEO made 20 times the pay of the average worker in his or her company. Now it’s more than 360 times.

Other states are pushing to narrow this gap by increasing their state minimum wages. On Jan 1 the minimum wage rose in 18 states through ballot measures or an annual adjustment for inflation. Twenty four cities and counties also increased their local minimum wage. North Carolina and states across the South, except for Florida and Arkansas, are holding out against approving a minimum wage above a federal minimum that long ago stopped being a living wage.

But that resistance may be cracking in North Carolina. The Republican-led General Assembly last year agreed to a $15 minimum wage for state employees. UNC Health Care has done the same. Gov. Roy Cooper has called for a minimum wage increase and on Tuesday a group of Democratic state lawmakers introduced legislation to make it happen.

The bill would increase the minimum wage gradually to $15 an hour by 2024. Thereafter, it would be indexed to inflation. The bill would also gradually increase the minimum wage for tipped workers.

Rep. Susan C. Fisher (D-Buncombe), one of the bill’s sponsors, said the increase is needed to restore the minimum wage to its original purpose — the minimum needed to meet basic needs for food, housing and transportation.

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For example, Fisher said, a minimum-wage worker now would have to work 122 hours a week every week all year to afford a modest apartment...

A truly representative government would be responsive to that reality, but some lawmakers worry that raising the minimum wage will lead to job losses and higher prices. The experience of states that have raised the wage has shown mixed results, but the overall effect is a healthier wage structure for those just above minimum wage. Fisher estimates that raising the minimum wage to just $12 would benefit 1.3 million workers in North Carolina.

It’s encouraging that Republican House leaders sent the minimum wage bill to the Finance Committee. There may be a hearing, possibly even a floor debate about how to help those at the bottom of the page scale.

And the more lawmakers learn about the minimum wage, the more likely they are to agree on the need to raise it.

Online: https://www.newsobserver.com/

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March 19

Winston-Salem Journal on U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis:

Remember those bold pronouncements from U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis about standing up to an abuse of power by President Trump?

Never mind.

He takes them back.

Misspoke.

Didn’t mean them.

Upon further review, fuggedaboutit.

So now the North Carolina Republican wants a mulligan on that compelling op-ed that he wrote for The Washington Post (and reprinted in the Journal) about being principled — and not being a hypocrite.

Even though he supported Trump’s border wall, Tillis wrote way back then — in February — he couldn’t in good conscience go along with Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to get more funding for the wall than Congress was willing to provide. Even though he supports Trump’s wall, Tillis wrote, the president was overstepping his bounds.

And if such a thing is bad when a Democrat does it, Tillis argued, it is just as bad when a Republican does it.

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What would happen, Tillis said, when Democrats controlled the White House? They could invoke the same powers to pay for initiatives that Republicans oppose.

But that was then. Now Tillis has put a screeching halt to such high-mindedness. After deeper reflection, he said last week, he would not vote in the Senate to rebuke the president for infringing on Congress’ authority (though 12 of his fellow Republicans did in a resolution that passed and was promptly vetoed by Trump).

It was not simply a flip-flop, but a belly flop. Read. His. Lips.

Obviously, pressure from the White House helped to move Tillis from Point A to Z. Tillis also probably was spooked by threats of a primary challenge in 2020. Among possible opponents: Republican Rep. Mark Walker of Greensboro.

Even so, as recently as last week, Tillis said he wasn’t bothered by primary threats. He was sticking to his guns. Until he wasn’t.

“The concerns I’ve raised were never about what President Trump is trying to accomplish but rather with setting a precedent that a future Democratic president would exploit to bypass Congress to implement policies well outside the mainstream,” Tillis attempted to explain in a written statement.

Now he says he is satisfied that amending the president’s emergency powers going forward would “prevent a future left-wing president from misusing their authority.” ...

This episode lends credence to suspicions that in opposing Trump on this issue, Tillis was seeking to tack to the center for the general election in 2020. Until that talk about a primary challenge began to percolate. Then Tillis’ “intellectual honesty” promptly exited the building — right behind his credibility.

Online: https://www.journalnow.com/

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March 18

The Fayetteville Observer on teacher salaries:

Even though there’s still much work to do, it’s worth pausing for a moment to celebrate some success: North Carolina teacher pay has made continuous and laudable improvement in the past few years.

It’s a welcome trend after this state’s recession-ravaged teacher compensation flirted with the bottom of the barrel.

According to figures compiled by the National Education Association, teacher pay here has risen from 47th in the nation in 2013 to 29th in the current school year. That’s wonderful but not nearly enough for a state that needs a great education system to continue its extraordinary economic progress.

Before the Great Recession, public-school teacher pay stood at the national average. We’re still a fair bit short of that. According to the NEA’s figures, average teacher pay here is $53,975, up more than $2,700 from the previous school year. But that’s about $7,800 behind the national average. The state still has a steep climb ahead if our leaders are serious about returning to the national average.

We’re looking good in the context of the Southeast. Our teacher pay has risen from fourth in the region to second. Political leaders have been quick to make hay on the numbers. A spokesman for House Speaker Tim Moore pointed out that Republicans “inherited a ranking of 47th from Democrats and overcame their opposition to pass all five consecutive salary raises and provide dramatically higher paychecks for our state’s educators.” He neglected to mention the recession and that Democratic lawmakers not only supported all those raises, but often pushed for larger ones. We know these people are professional politicians, but isn’t improved education one place where partisanship is off the table and the best interests of our children are on it?

Fortunately, Republican State Superintendent Mark Johnson mostly kept politics out of it when he reacted to the NEA’s figures. “North Carolina’s meteoric rise in just five years is a major accomplishment and shows our commitment to teachers and students,” he said in a statement. “We must continue to be aggressive on teacher pay and also on treating teachers as professionals in other ways...”

We’ll take it another step. It’s not just teacher pay that suffered during and immediately after the recession. Thousands of other important positions were cut in our schools, especially teacher assistants who provided valuable classroom help and filled other key roles. Countless school nurses, guidance counselors and other valuable support positions were eliminated.

Now, as we face a national epidemic of school violence and mass shootings, our school systems are begging for more nurses, counselors and psychologists, as well as the completely reasonable provision of at least one sworn police officer (a trained school resources officer) in each of our public schools.

... The investment in our teachers and other education professionals must continue to grow.

Online: https://www.fayobserver.com/