N&O slams GOP teacher pay claims as “mostly false”

N.C. Senate President Phil Berger

A “PolitiFact NC” report late Monday from The News & Observer is finding some dubious assertions about teacher pay by influential N.C. Senate Republican Phil Berger.

Berger, who serves as Senate president, recently claimed his party raised average teacher pay in the state by more than 15 percent over the last three years.

According to the paper, that’s not exactly true.

From The N&O:

PolitiFact NC looked into that claim and ruled it Mostly False.

In reality, the average teacher has seen a raise of about 10.8 percent in the last three years. So Berger’s claim missed the mark – and he also failed to mention that the GOP has been in charge of the state budget for the last six years, not just the last three years.

In the first three years of budgets written and passed by Republican lawmakers, average teacher pay declined every year. So in the total span of GOP control, average teacher pay has risen about half as much as Berger’s claim.

Berger did point to a state document that initially seemed to back up his 15 percent claim, but it applied only to the state’s portion of teacher pay and also relied on accounting tricks to reach that number.

The debate comes with both the GOP-controlled N.C. General Assembly and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper expected to back sweeping raises for teachers in this year’s budget.

This month, Cooper proposed a 10 percent raise for all teachers over two years, a rate the governor’s office claims would bring the state to tops in teacher pay in the southeast in three years. GOP lawmakers have also expressed a goal of raising average teacher pay, which falls just shy of $50,000 today, to about $55,000 in their spending plan.

Courts & the Law, News

Cooper files notice of appeal of Senate confirmation hearings; asks court to pause process

Gov. Roy Cooper is appealing a three-judge panel’s ruling that the North Carolina Senate’s confirmation hearings are constitutional. He has also asked the Wake County Superior Court to stop the hearings while the appeal is pending.

Cooper’s attorneys filed the notice of appeal and motion for stay Monday.

“Here, staying the effectiveness of the Advice and Consent Amendment during the pendency of the Governor’s appeal will preserve the ultimate relief that the Governor seeks. If the Governor is ultimately successful on appeal, he will not suffer injury from the Advice and Consent Amendment taking effect before a final appellate determination of constitutionality can be made. If allowed to continue to have effect, the Advice and Consent Amendment will require the Governor’s chosen department heads to prepare for and appear at confirmation hearings before Senate committees. The time, effort, and focus that will be required to prepare for the confirmation hearings set by Defendants will distract the principal department heads and their staffs from their day-to-day work carrying out the business of the State and implementing the Governor s policy priorities.”

The motion for stay states that if one of Cooper’s picks to lead a department is rejected by the Senate, he will have to find another individual willing to serve, and ultimately, if the courts reject the advice and consent amendment, his original choice likely will have moved on.

“North Carolina’s government has functioned for decades without the Senate exercising the power to veto the Governor’s chosen principal department heads.”

The three-judge panel that ruled the process constitutional sided with Cooper on striking down two other laws the legislature passed during a special session in December.

They ruled that it was unconstitutional for state lawmakers to pass legislation combining the State Board of Elections and the State Ethics Commission.

They also ruled to block the Republican-controlled legislature from trimming exempt positions from 1,500 jobs (under the McCrory administration) to just 425 positions for Cooper.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore did not return requests for comment about whether they planned to appeal the court’s rulings.

In a statement last week, Berger said they would decide whether to seek additional remedies from the court system after a further review of the order.

Courts & the Law, News

All 15 judges on U.S. Court of Appeals to hear Rowan County prayer case tomorrow

All 15 judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will hear a case tomorrow in Richmond, Va., about the Rowan County Board of Commissioners’ current prayer policy.

The process is referred to as en banc review. It was granted in response to the ACLU of North Carolina asking the federal court to reconsider after a 2-1 ruling in September that reversed a U.S. District Court decision holding that the county’s state sponsored prayers violated the Constitution.

“Our clients simply want to ensure that when they and others attend local government meetings, they will not have to worry about being coerced into participating in a sectarian prayer that goes against their beliefs and being discriminated against by local officials when they don’t,” said ACLU of North Carolina Legal Director Chris Brook. “We believe that the First Amendment is on our side, and we look forward to making our argument to the full appeals court.”

At the current Rowan County Board meetings, the chairman directs the public to stand for the invocation and the Pledge of Allegiance, the meeting is called to order and then there is another invocation or prayer, according to the ACLU’s court filing.

The majority of prayers are Christian, according to the document.

You can read more about the case here. NC Policy Watch will report the outcome of the en banc review.

Courts & the Law, News

Groups protest Gorsuch as confirmation begins

Progressive groups and advocates gathered Monday morning to protest the nomination of Neil Gorsuch for U.S.Supreme Court.

A number of progressive groups and advocates gathered in front of the Federal Building in downtown Raleigh Monday morning to protest Neil Gorsuch as his Supreme Court confirmation hearings began in Washington.

Rob Schofield, director of policy and research at N.C. Policy Watch, led off the protest with a statement about Gorsuch’s fitness for the position – and the process by which he was nominated.

“We’re here today to call on North Carolina’s two U.S. senators – particularly Thom Tillis, who serves on the Senate Judiciary Committee which is meeting at this very moment – to rethink their support for Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch,” Schofield said. “We also call on Senate Democrats to do whatever they can to stop the Gorsuch nomination.”

Schofield pointed to The Gorsuch Report, prepared by the non-partisan legal advocacy group Alliance for Justice, as a good summary of why Gorsuch is a poor nominee. The report outlines Gorsuch rulings and statements that suggest his confirmation would be bad for – among other issues –  the environment, LGBT rights, worker’s rights, the separation of church and state and the unchecked power of corporations.

“It’s outrageous these hearings are taking place in the first place and that Gorsuch is under consideration,” Schofield said. “If there was any integrity at all in the process, Merrick Garland would be on the Supreme Court today as its ninth justice.”

Schofield called Gorsuch a right wing extremist who would take American backward.

MaryBe McMillan, the secretary-treasurer for the AFL-CIO of North Carolina, agreed.

“We need a Supreme Court justice who cares more about ‘we the people’ than corporations pretending to be people,” McMillan said. “Despite President Trump’s promise to protect the interests of American workers, he has nominated a judge who has consistently sided with corporations over working folks.”

Citing cases involving employee negligence that led to an employees death, workers whose wages were shortchanged and women in gender discrimination suits, McMillan said it was obvious Gorsuch is no friend to working people.

“Working people need a judge on the Supreme Court who will look out for the little g uy,” McMillan said. “A judge who understands there can be no special protections for corporations and the wealthy, a judge who will uphold our constitutional and moral values of liberty, equality and justice for all.”

“Neil Gorusch is not that judge,” McMillian said.

Ames Simmons, director of transgender policy for Equality North Carolina and board member of the Human Rights Campaign, highlighted Gorsuch’s hostility toward LGBT rights. Read more