Each week, staff at Carolina Journal looks back at the week in N.C. politics and chooses several interesting, relevant stories you may have missed.
Fearful electorate: A majority of respondents to the latest Elon University Poll are concerned about violence after the election. Of the 1,259 N.C. voters, 74% are worried to some degree about post-election violence. While 36% of those respondents are somewhat concerned, 38% are very concerned. Only 17% are somewhat worried. Eight percent aren’t at all worried. Despite the overwhelming fears of post-election unrest, 68% of respondents said they were extremely satisfied with their voting experience this year, and 22% were somewhat satisfied. The poll was in the field Oct. 22 to Oct. 24. The margin of error is plus or minus 3%.
H.B. 2, part deux? Remember House Bill 2, the infamous “bathroom bill”? The deal Gov. Roy Cooper and the General Assembly worked out in 2017 delayed new local antidiscrimination ordinances. But only until Dec. 1, 2020. Nick Ochsner at WBTV in Charlotte finds a number of cities are working with Equality NC, an LGBTQ advocacy group, to impose their versions of the Charlotte “bathroom ordinance” as soon as the moratorium ends. Moreover, the N.C. Metro Mayors Coalition on the sly is helping cities including Charlotte, Durham, Chapel Hill, and Carrboro coordinate their efforts. Read Oschner’s reporting here.
Eviction moratorium: Families struggling to pay rent have a little less to worry about after Gov. Roy Cooper signed an order strengthening eviction protections. The governor signed the order Oct. 28, which clarifies the Center for Disease Control’s eviction moratorium applies to all N.C. residents who meet the CDC’s criteria. The order ensures recipients of the N.C. Housing Opportunities and Prevention of Evictions program are still able to access the renter protections despite what happens to the CDC’s order in court. Under the NC HOPE initiative, landlords are paid to keep families in their homes. “The result during this global pandemic will be more North Carolinians staying in their homes, more landlords getting paid rent, and fewer utility companies shutting off power,” Cooper said. The pandemic and the governor’s shutdowns have cost North Carolina 300,000 jobs since February. North Carolina’s economic recovery lags behind its neighbors. The state’s unemployment rate was 7.3% in September, compared to 5.1% in South Carolina and 6.2% in Virginia.
School choice report: Expanding school choice would lead to better educational value, a new report from the Council of Economic Advisers says. The Council of Economic Advisers advises the president on economic policy. School choice fosters competition and pressures all schools to provide a high-quality education, so even students who aren’t in a school choice program reap the benefits, the report reads. The agency recommends scaling up school choice programs to maximize benefits to all students and to listen to parents’ expertise on what’s best for their children.
Road construction: State Treasurer Dale Folwell got $700 million in Build N.C. bonds out the door. He sold the bonds to a syndicate led by Bank of America Securities Inc. for an interest rate of about 1.54%. The sale will give the Department of Transportation another cash transfusion. The department faced cash woes and legislative criticism after it overspent $742 million in fiscal 2018-19, according to an audit report. Folwell praised the low interest rate, saying “when we’re able to finance debt at such incredible rates it’s the taxpayer that wins, because it will keep their taxes down while allowing more money to be available for schools, roads and other critical needs in the state.”
Medical bills: Patients will eventually be able to shop the prices for common surgeries. The Trump administration finalized a rule to help patients know what they’ll pay for common tests, drugs, and procedures — before they get hit with the bill. The rule will force insurers to publish their negotiated rates with hospitals and doctors. That information is critical. Hospitals charge wildly different amounts for the same procedures. North Carolina’s hospitals reaped an average 273% more than Medicare — but that number conceals wide differences. A hospital in Chapel Hill charges only 229% more than Medicare, but Vidant’s hospital raked in 455% more than Medicare in Tarboro, a town of 10,844 people. Patients aren’t getting more bang for their buck. The same study found no clear link between prices and patient safety in 2018. The federal rule is set to be phased in over the next four years. But price transparency faces pushback from the medical industry. A similar rule from the Trump administration is tangled in lawsuits. It is uncertain whether it will survive the election.
Late tropical storm: Zeta rocked North Carolina, with more than 400,000 people losing power across the state. Western North Carolina was hardest hit by heavy winds and rainfall. Strong winds canceled a Trump rally Thursday in Fayetteville. The storm pushed some schools to cancel classes or move to remote learning. Multiple counties are under storm surge warnings and hurricane warnings. Zeta hit the coast of Louisiana as a Category 2 hurricane. It’s now a post-tropical storm. At least six people have died across the South.