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More bad headlines for North Carolina

Our state is making headlines this week. We’re in newspapers across the country and in national network and cable reports. Even the British Broadcasting Company took note of North Carolina over the weekend.

Our big accomplishment? We’re the first U.S. state to cut off federal unemployment compensation for the long-term jobless.

Um ... we’re No. 1?

Beginning this week, at least 70,000 North Carolinians who’ve been unemployed longer than 26 weeks will stop receiving federal unemployment checks. This safety net’s removal is part of a state unemployment insurance overhaul, which lawmakers passed and Gov. Pat McCrory signed so North Carolina could more quickly pay $2.5 billion in federal debt to cover claims during the economic downturn.

The fix was necessary, but as we’ve said in this space before, it’s unnecessarily imbalanced. The jobless now face harsh and permanent cuts in benefits, while businesses will escape with smaller and temporary cuts. Even worse, N.C. lawmakers turned away $780 million the federal government was offering to unemployed North Carolinians if the state had just delayed its overhaul until Jan. 1.

Instead, lawmakers decided those people – and the North Carolina economy – didn’t need that money. They insulted the jobless by claiming that the cutoff of benefits would encourage people to find jobs, as if hundreds of thousands weren’t trying already. Finally, they insisted that keeping taxes lower for businesses is critical for the state, so that it can attract and keep the job creators who can get the economy humming again.

But what are job creators beginning to see when they look at North Carolina? People who study these sorts of things say that cities and states are “brands” – they have an image to sell to businesses they want to lure. It’s why Charlotte benefitted from successfully hosting the 2012 Democratic National Convention; pulling that week off projected prestige and sophistication, which can influence businesses looking for a place to operate or relocate.

What North Carolina is projecting, however, is changing.

It’s a state that’s the most recent to vote against the rights of homosexuals, passing a 2012 amendment banning same-sex marriage while every state since has moved in the opposite direction, toward equality.

It’s a state that does not pay its teachers well – 46th in the country – and has been cutting what it spends on public schools. That’s a pattern that will surely result in a weaker education for many of our state’s children, which will result in a less robust workforce for businesses.

It’s a state in which the governor, Pat McCrory, disparaged liberal arts education and sneered at the “educational elite.”

And now, it’s a state that’s slashing programs for the vulnerable and shunning federal unemployment benefits, all while giving tax breaks to businesses.

For some of those job creators, a low tax burden is all that matters when they think about relocation. But many want something more. They want a future home that’s vibrant and thriving, a place where they – and the talent they need to attract – will want to live. It’s what Charlotte, including Mayor McCrory, sold to the elite businesses we’ve lured for decades.

North Carolina, too, has been considered a jewel – a state that stood out from most of our Southern neighbors. But now we’re following their legislative blueprint. Our citizens are protesting. And this week, once again, we’re in the news for all the wrong reasons.

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