Tuesday News: Pay the piper


BOARD OF ELECTIONS NEEDS MONEY FOR NOVEMBER ELECTION: Executive Director Karen Brinson Bell has sent three letters to the legislature asking for changes to state voting laws and roughly $2 million in funding to match federal money made available by the CARES Act. Brinson Bell said the $11 million in federal money is needed to help counties pay for what elections officials expect will be a dramatic increase in absentee-by-mail voting and equipment to run in-person voting safely. Despite the urgent need for funding — the 2020 general election is less than six months away — North Carolina lawmakers have yet to substantively address the requests. “We hope that they will address this in a timely fashion,” Brinson Bell said. “By June 15, we’re going to be in a very tight spot to be able to have the supplies and the materials.”

CHURCHGOERS AND SHERIFFS(?) WANT CLARIFICATION ON PANDEMIC ORDER: North Carolina legislators and leading sheriffs want Gov. Roy Cooper to clarify or remove a portion of his executive order that limits how religious services can convene under his eased stay-at-home rules for COVID-19. Cooper's health and human services secretary said on Monday that state lawyers and others are taking a second look at the language designed to provide an exception to the continued ban on mass gatherings of more than 10 people. The governor's order said the permitted worship services “shall take place outdoors unless impossible." While 18 Republican state senators wrote the Democratic governor thanking him for allowing worship services to proceed, they said faith leaders were worried about what “impossible” meant. Outdoor services could be impossible due to bad weather, the lack of suitable outdoor space or potential damage to equipment, they said. Clairification is necessary so that faith organizations can plan “without fear of potential criminal penalties if they don’t reach the correct interpretation of 'impossible,'” the senators wrote.

NC RANKED NEAR THE BOTTOM IN CORONAVIRUS RELIEF EFFORTS: North Carolina comes in dead last for coronavirus support in an analysis by personal finance website WalletHub. Analyst Jill Gonzalez cited North Carolina’s “high rate of residents without health insurance.” The state also lags in adopting online healthcare technology, and has the lowest percentage in the country of unemployed people who receive unemployment insurance, Gonzalez said. WalletHub compared the 50 states and District of Columbia across 17 metrics. North Carolina came out: 51st in unemployment insurance; 49th in coronavirus relief and medical services; 47th in unemployment support; 44th in unemployment benefits; 37th in telehealth; 34th in food and housing assistance. Massachusetts, ranked No. 1, is among three states where “patients don’t have to foot any of the bill for coronavirus treatment,” Gonzalez said, “which goes above and beyond just the free testing that most states offer. Massachusetts also will offer a COVID-19 vaccine at no cost once one is available.”

ELON MUSK IS APPARENTLY MORE OF A JERK THAN WE THOUGHT: The fight between Tesla and local officials regarding the reopening of a manufacturing plant escalated Monday after chief executive Elon Musk tweeted his plans and mentioned the potential for arrests. “Tesla is restarting production today against Alameda County rules,” Musk wrote on Twitter. “I will be on the line with everyone else. If anyone is arrested, I ask that it only be me.” It is one of the most prominent examples of a powerful business figure defying local health orders amid the response to the novel coronavirus. Tesla on Saturday filed suit against Alameda County, where its Fremont, Calif., factory is located, seeking an injunction against orders to stay closed. The suit alleged violations of the due process and equal protection clauses of the 14th Amendment. Two workers at Tesla’s Fremont facilities, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared for their jobs, said they were concerned about the sudden escalation of production. One worker who reported to the factory over the weekend said people gathered in groups and there was little enforcement of social distancing practices.

FAUCI WILL (REMOTELY) TESTIFY TO SENATE COMMITTEE OF THE DANGERS OF REOPENING TOO SOON: Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the United States’ top infectious disease expert and a central figure in the government’s response to the coronavirus, plans to deliver a frank warning to the Senate on Tuesday: Americans would experience “needless suffering and death” if the country opens up prematurely. Dr. Fauci, who has emerged as perhaps the nation’s most respected voice during the worst public health crisis in a century, is one of four top government doctors scheduled to testify remotely at a high-profile — and highly unusual — hearing on Tuesday before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He made his comments in an email to the New York Times reporter Sheryl Gay Stolberg late Monday night. “The major message that I wish to convey to the Senate HLP committee tomorrow is the danger of trying to open the country prematurely,” he wrote. “If we skip over the checkpoints in the guidelines to ‘Open America Again,’ then we risk the danger of multiple outbreaks throughout the country. This will not only result in needless suffering and death, but would actually set us back on our quest to return to normal.” It is a message starkly at odds with the “things are looking up” argument that President Trump has been trying to put out: that states are ready to reopen and the pandemic is under control. Representative Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona, pushed back on Twitter, and invoked another top scientist: Dr. Deborah L. Birx, Mr. Trump’s coronavirus response coordinator. “Dr. Fauci has continually used his bully pulpit to bring public criticism on governors who are seeking to open up their states,” Mr. Biggs wrote. “The Fauci-Birx team have replaced faith w/ fear & hope w/ despair. The remedy is to open up our society & our economy. Trust & respect our freedom.”



Spend $2 Million, get $11 Million more

It never ceases to amaze me at the false economies Republicans embrace. Whether it's state government or the smallest municipal government, federal assistance almost always comes with a matching funding requirement. But it's never 50-50; it usually only requires 20% participation to get those federal dollars. In this case, it's even less than 20%, and should have been one of the first things addressed by the General Assembly.

And don't forget, about a month ago, we warned you about county commissioners pushing for boards of election to cut their budgets due to revenue shortfalls, so there really isn't an alternative to the NCGA passing this.