Commentary
Sen. Phil Berger

Sen. Phil Berger

It’s disappointing but not surprising that political opponents of President Obama reacted to his announcement yesterday that he wants to expand background checks to cover more gun purchases with pathetic and misleading soundbites.

Obama’s plan is a common sense idea that everyone from the NRA to House Speaker Paul Ryan used to support, not to mention 85 percent of Americans and 79 percent of Republicans.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger’s response was typical, calling Obama’s executive action on guns “an unconstitutional gun-grab.”

Gun grab seemed to be the soundbite the Right decided would be the most effective and dishonest way to describe a proposal that takes nobody’s gun away from them but merely makes it harder for some people to buy a gun who should not be able to own one.

The only thing more frustrating was that Berger and NC GOP Chief Dallas Woodhouse, who also employed the gun grab phrase, were not asked by any reporters what they meant. How exactly does making more people undergo background checks when they buy a weapon grab anybody’s gun?

It doesn’t make sense. But that’s the point of course. Anything Obama proposes is horrible in the Berger/Woodhouse world view and any proposal to enforce federal gun regulations must be demogogued to stoke the Republican base.

Too bad most of the media outlets let them get away with it.

News

A new report from the National Alliance on Mental Illness finds that North Carolina is one of only 12 states that cut funding for mental health this year.  The map below from the report tells the story and the cuts are becoming a habit in the current era when tax cuts for corporations take precedence over everything else.

Fewer than half of states increased their mental health budgets this year. The rest reduced funding, including three states that have been in steady decline over three years—Alaska, North Carolina and Wyoming.

state-mental-health-budgets-fy-2015-2016

Commentary

Not too many years ago Republicans railed against provisions in the state budget put together by the Democratic majority that benefited specific parts of state, calling them pork barrel spending. They charged it was a waste of taxpayer money and an abuse of power by legislative leaders.

But it turns out pork barrel spending is fine and not an inappropriate use of taxpayer money when Republicans do it.

Saturday and Sunday stories in the News & Observer explain in great detail how legislative leaders steered money to their districts in the recently adopted budget.

The long list of discretionary spending ranges from state funding for a baseball tournament in Shelby in Cleveland County that House Speaker Tim Moore represents to museum funding in Onslow County, the home of Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown.

The testy responses to questions about the hypocrisy were the most telling. House budget chair Nelson Dollar defended giving certain towns state money for downtown revitalization without any process by saying it takes too long to have criteria.

Dollar said House leaders decided not to allocate the downtown money through a competitive grant process.

“The advantage is that the money will get to those communities much faster,” he said. “Sometimes the grant process takes a considerable amount of time.”

In other words, legislators will decide who gets the money. It’s probably just a coincidence that only one of the 13 towns receiving the funding is represented by a Democrat.

Meanwhile the spokesperson for Speaker Moore has had it with questions about the baseball tournament and other pork barrel projects in the Speaker’s district.

Moore declined an interview request for this story. “I’m not sure what is new on this topic,” spokeswoman Mollie Young said, referring to an earlier News & Observer story about Moore’s earmarks in the original House budget. “The speaker will not be commenting on this again.”

In other words, leave them alone. Sure they complained that pork barrel spending was wrong when they were in the minority. But that was then and this is now, or in other words, they were against pork barrel spending before they were for it.
Commentary

Senate leaders repeatedly dismissed legitimate complaints from Democrats about the secret and rushed budget process during the floor debate Monday afternoon. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said the hundreds of pages of special provisions were no big deal, that 99 percent of them had been discussed for three months or more.

That’s ridiculous of course. Many of the provisions were never discussed in open committees where the public and rank and file senators–who each represent just as many people as Berger—had an opportunity to weigh in.

This morning’s News & Observer reports on one secret provision stuffed into the massive budget bill that would deal what the story accurately described as a “crippling blow” to a planned light-rail line from Durham to Chapel Hill.

The prospect of a light-rail cap never came up when House and Senate leaders developed their separate budgets this year. The Republican-led legislature previously had clamped broader restrictions on funding for transit projects.

Even folks who misguidedly opposed mass transit can’t think we ought to make major transportation policy decision by secret budget provision.
It makes you wonder else has been secretly stuffed into the budget bill that legislative leaders are so determined to pass before everybody fully understands it.

 

Commentary

State_Budget.jpgIt’s budget watch day at the General Assembly. House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger say they reached an agreement Friday evening on a spending plan that includes some sort of tax reform package.

No details were released but they are supposed to be forthcoming today, though WRAL reports in its Today@NCCapitol feature that some budget staffers say it may be Tuesday morning before the full document is available.

That may be a problem, as the House has a rule that the budget must be available for 72 hours before an official vote is taken. That would mean the first vote could not be before Friday morning and because the budget likely includes tax changes, it could require two separate votes on separate days.

That would mean Saturday for final passage—but the continuing budget resolution that is keeping state government operating expires Friday at midnight. Read More