Ask anybody who spends any time at the General Assembly and they will tell you that the folks with the money get their way more often that not. That's certainly true this year and the energy bill making its way through the legislature is a perfect example. Utilities have taken a bill designed to establish a renewable energy standard and turned it into a giveway to power companies with a $50 millon tax break for manufacturing companies thrown in.
But there are glimmers of hope from the lobbyists-filled halls on Jones Street. The Realtors and homebuilders lost this year despite their $800,000 in campaign contributions and a misleading statewide ad campaign that cost nearly as much. The Realtors drew the line in the sand over a local option real estate transfer tax and the General Assembly, led by House Speaker Joe Hackney crossed it, and people will now have a chance to vote on how to pay for schools in their communities.
Legislation that received far less publicity than the transfer tax also provides some hope that legislators might be willing to stand up to the folks who fund the campaigns. The House voted Friday afternoon to stop allowing booster clubs at UNC campuses to pay in-state tuition rates for out-of-state athletes who receive athletic scholarships.
The Senate leadership snuck a provision into the budget a few years ago to grant in-state status to all out of state scholarhsip recipients, then claimed it was designed to reduce the cost of academic scholarships so more could be offered by the foundations that pay for them.
That luncacy was countered by figures showing that 70 percent of the students affected were athletes, confirming the view that the provision was a handout to the fatcats in the big booster clubs, most of whom belong to the Citizens for Higher Education PAC, which just happened to donate roughly $500,000 to legislative candidates in the last election cycle.
Rep. Pricey Harrison and Rep. George Cleveland introduced a bill to repeal the booster club giveway and it was rejected last week by the House Appropriations Committee after several members incorrectly claimed that the in-state provision primarily helped academic scholarships. Harrison and Cleveland came back to the committee with a new version of the bill that only repealed the in-state tuition status for out of state athletes and it passed the committee and the House floor overwhelmingly, with no one speaking against it.
It now goes to the Senate, where Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand and Senate President Pro Tem Basnight are likley to stop it since they are the authors of the booster club bonanza. But the bill will remain alive until next session, giving folks a chance for the next nine months to demand that legislators stopping bowing to the wishes of those wealthy donors in the padded seats at the Dean Dome. It's a start.