Vacationing Senator Tillman not worried about budget uncertainty at schools

Jerry TillmanSenator Jerry Tillman and the rest of the General Assembly are on vacation this week even though they have not finished their most important task of the summer, passing a state budget for the next two years.

The delay is causing problems for school districts across the state as local education officials don’t know how many teacher assistants they can afford to hire or how many textbooks they will  have money to order.

This morning’s News & Observer detailed the uncertainty for year-round schools in Wake County, the state’s largest district, that has the budget flexibility to handle the funding limbo for a while.

It is much tougher for smaller districts that always have to scramble to make sure they have enough staff on hand when most students return to school in August.

This year’s legislative vacation and budget delay makes their job next to impossible. Tillman doesn’t seem too worried about not meeting the budget deadline or what schools are facing.

Sen. Jerry Tillman, an Archdale Republican, said the lead time to hire for the start of the school year depends on when legislators have a budget deal. The General Assembly approved a temporary state budget last week to keep the state running until Aug. 14.

“It could be two months, it could be two weeks,” he said.

School leaders in Wake and other districts have questioned finding the space to handle the lower class sizes proposed by the Senate. More teachers and lower class sizes may require some “creative scheduling” by districts, or “creative use of space,” Tillman said. “Most of them can handle it.”

Two weeks, two months, whatever. School officials will have to guess about their budgets and hire teachers or teacher assistants to teach kids…or not.
Tillman’s not going to lose any sleep over it. It’s only public education after all.

Berger’s hypocrisy on redistricting reform continues

Sen. Phil Berger

Sen. Phil Berger

This week’s Supreme Court decision that reaffirmed the constitutionality of allowing independent commissions to draw congressional districts prompted Charlotte Observer reporter Jim Morrill to ask Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger about legislation sponsored by a majority of the House that would create a nonpartisan redistricting process in North Carolina.

Still not a good idea? Berger thought it was a fine idea when he was in the minority in the General Assembly. He co-sponsored redistricting reform five times, most recently in the 2009-2010 session.

The only thing consistent is his hypocrisy.


House Majority Leader too busy to consider McCrory’s bond proposal

Governor Pat McCrory continues to struggle to earn the respect of state legislative leaders. The latest evidence that the folks on Jones Street aren’t too worried about what the governor thinks comes from House Majority Leader Mike Hager in an AP story about why McCrory’s bond proposals are floundering in the House and Senate.

“With the budget we’ve got going on we really haven’t got a lot of time to discuss it,” said House Majority Leader Mike Hager, R-Rutherford.

No time to discuss it? McCrory proposed the bonds in his State of the State speech to the General Assembly on February 4th, more than four months ago, and he has spent the last several weeks touring the state to build support for the bonds.

House leaders have had plenty of time to discuss it. They simply don’t respect McCrory enough to make it a priority and he still hasn’t figured out how to use the power of his office to make them.


Hartsell case a reminder of the shockingly inadequate funding for the State Board of Elections

HartsellThe unanimous decision by the State Board of Elections to turn over the investigation of Sen. Fletcher Hartsell’s campaign finances to state and federal prosecutors came after a three year probe by board officials.

The WRAL story about the case provides the reason why the case took so long and what the investigations are so rare.

As detailed by Strach, Hartsell’s reports had never been audited by the state board since he first ran, which left years and years of unusual expenditures unchallenged. The state board is supposed to audit all reports after every campaign cycle, but it does not have the manpower to do so, Strach said.

That’s right. The General Assembly has failed to provide the funding for the State Board of Elections to do the checks on politicians’ campaign finances that the law requires them to do.

And in case you are wondering, the budget the Senate is approving this week makes another two percent CUT in funding for the board.

That’s probably just a coincidence—state lawmakers starving the agency for funds that the public relies on to make sure the same politicians are not playing any games with the millions of dollars they raise for their campaigns.


Senate leaders reverse course and bet on more lottery advertising

lotteryWhat a difference a year makes. Last session the state House passed a budget that relied on increased lottery advertising to raise money for a pay raise for teachers.

Senate leaders rightly panned the idea that soon fell apart after news that lottery officials had told House leaders that their revenue projections were unrealistic before the House budget passed.

But now it seems Senate leaders have reconsidered their opposition to increasing lottery advertising to raise more money from people at the bottom of the economic ladder.

Mark Binker with WRAL reports that two of the numerous policy provisions stuffed into the massive 504-page Senate budget would allow lottery officials to increase their advertising budget and authorize an online state lottery game, which is the last thing we need.

The two provisions combined are projected to raise more than $50 million a year, much of it from the poorest areas in North Carolina from families who can least afford to play.

The Senate was right last year. Raising money from the predatory lottery to pay for state investments was wrong.

nc-lotteryIt still is. We need an honest, fair, stable, and adequate revenue system, not one that increasingly relies on convincing vulnerable people to throw their money way on a one in a 100 million chance of striking it rich.