GOP leaders strain to explain flip-flop on pork barrel spending

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.

Light rail line latest casualty of the absurdly undemocratic budget process

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.



McCrory, McGrady and the absurd lack of budget transparency

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


Another offensive and embarrassing lottery move

lottery logo.jpgJust when you think it couldn’t get any more offensive, state policymakers and the folks at the North Carolina “Education” Lottery keep outdoing themselves.

First, the Senate votes to increase lottery advertising to convince more people to throw away their money because the state refuses to raise revenue fairly and honestly. It’s no secret that low-income people play the lottery disproportionately more as a percentage of their income.

Then we hear that lawmakers are considering allowing lottery ticket sales in liquor stores and on terminals in bars and apps on smartphones, anything to entice people to play.

Now comes the news that lottery officials are selling tickets that smell like barbecue when you scratch them.

Sure does make you proud to live in such a classy state, doesn’t it?




McCrory supports flexibility in TA funding as Senate proposes ending flexibility

McCrory_budget305-aGov. Pat McCrory often seems a step behind the happenings in the General Assembly. That was true again Tuesday morning as McCrory met with reporters after the Council of State meeting to discuss the budget talks.

McCrory said he supports funding teacher assistants and giving local school systems the flexibility to use the TA funding any way they see fit.  He has expressed that sentiment before as a way to settle the differences between the House and Senate budgets.

The Senate budget would eliminate funding for 8,500 TAs over the next two years and use the money to reduce class size in the early grades while the House wants to maintain funding for TAs at its current level after several years of  sharp reductions.

The latest Senate offer includes full funding for the TAs but no flexibility for the local schools to shift the money to pay for additional teachers or other classroom needs. The Senate offer also includes cutting funding for some other education programs supported by the House.

McCrory didn’t react to last night’s Senate offer that is creating a buzz at the Legislative Building. So it’s not clear if he supports it or not. Or is aware of it.

McCrory also told reporters that he has been serving as a facilitator for the two sides in the budget dispute.

“I’ve been involved in, more than anything, facilitating two groups that are, at times, in disagreement,” the governor said, “not only between the two bodies but at times even within the two bodies themselves.

You’d think McCrory would be “more than anything” pushing lawmakers to support his own agenda. You know, like a leader would do.