Columnist Myron B. Pitts of the Fayetteville Observer has an excellent, if sobering, essay this morning about the North Carolina General Assembly. It’s entitled “State’s decisions, from bad to abysmal” and it attempts to rank the worst decisions made by North Carolina lawmakers over the past half decade. Admittedly, Pitts has carved out a daunting task for himself, but see if you agree with his list, which starts with the awful 2013 tax changes and runs through the death-promoting decision to deny health insurance to hundreds of thousands of people.

NOTE: As the General Assembly is still in session, the list may well have to be updated in the coming weeks. Stay tuned and feel free to offer your additions.

Click here to read Pitts’ list.


Editorial pages across the state are calling on state lawmakers (and, in particular, the state Senate) to end the absurd delay in the FY 2016 budget that is already more than a month overdue.

Sunday’s Greensboro News & Record says it’s clear that lawmakers should adopt the House version of the budget:

“It’s been a decade since the legislature went so late into the summer before agreeing on a budget, and there’s no end in sight. Every day adds to the cost of keeping the General Assembly operating. Unlike in some states, North Carolina’s legislature doesn’t put any limits on how long it can stay in session. It should. But it also should simplify the budget process by excluding everything that isn’t actually necessary.

At 500 pages, the Senate’s proposed budget is 200 pages longer than the House plan. Yet the House managed to fund every state agency in its modest 300 pages. The House budget was approved by a strong bipartisan vote. Senate budget writers added too many measures that should have been handled in separate legislation. Only Republicans voted for the Senate budget. A concurrence vote in the House failed unanimously. Clearly, the House blueprint is more broadly appealing, and Senate negotiators could move things along if they would simply adopt the House version.”

This comes on top of similar calls last week from Raleigh’s News & Observer and the Charlotte Observer to end the posturing get on with things. Here’s the N&O:

The delay isn’t just a problem of political dysfunction. It has serious consequences for funding public education, and there’s nervousness among school administrators about how long the impasse will continue.

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The indictments of the often-predatory for-profit college industry continue to pile up. This is from a new article by Prof. Stephanie Cellini for the Brooking Institution in which she argues that public community colleges are regularly a much better bet for students:

“Some back-of-the-envelope calculations suggest that for-profit associate’s degree students need at least an 8.5 percent annual earnings gain to cover the cost of tuition, foregone earnings, and debt service at a typical for-profit college. Our estimates fall short of this threshold, suggesting that for the average student, the earnings gains are too low to justify the cost and generate a positive return on investment. It also suggests that many students may not have full or accurate information on the earnings gains that they can expect post-college.

How do these estimates compare to the social costs of a for-profit education?  Adding in costs to taxpayers in the form of federal student grant aid, loan defaults, and other sources of federal funding would require a 9.8 percent earnings gain to cover the cost to the individual and society. In the public sector, despite higher taxpayer costs, the much lower costs to students means that  only a 7.2 percent annual gain is needed to cover the combined private and social costs—a figure well below current earnings gains estimates in that sector. These figures again suggest that—on average—public institutions may be a better deal for students and taxpayers.”

Of course, as Lindsay Wagner reported recently, lousy performance is far from the only common problem when one patronizes the for-profit college industry. There’s also the risk of blatant, predatory rip-offs.


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.

Two stories really symbolize the state of North Carolina state government this morning on the first day of Fiscal Year 2016:

The first is the gridlock that’s starting to grip the state’s public schools. With a final state budget agreement light years away and few clear indicators from state leaders as to where things are headed — other than perhaps slashing thousands of teacher assistants — Raleigh’s News & Observer reports this morning that “At least one-third of North Carolina’s school systems are suspending their driver’s education programs this summer until they learn whether they’ll receive any state money to help pay for the classes.”

Meanwhile, the second part of the story is crystallized in yesterday’s edition of the Fitzsimon File in which my colleague Chris Fitzsimon — who has closely observed North Carolina politics for the past three decades — explained how extraordinary the latest inaction by the General Assembly is:

“House and Senate leaders couldn’t meet their budget deadline of June 30, the end of the state fiscal year, so they approved a continuing budget resolution this week to give themselves 45 more days.

Next week they will be on vacation and two weeks after that many Republican lawmakers plan to be in San Diego for the annual meeting of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

It’s true, as supporters of the General Assembly have pointed out, that not having a final budget by June 30 is relatively common. Lawmakers have passed continuing resolutions many summers while they hashed out final budget details.

But the resolutions usually come after some effort at negotiations between House and Senate budget writers and the extensions are usually for 10 days or maybe two weeks, not a month and a half.

And there’s never been a case when lawmakers gave themselves 45 more days and promptly took the next week off. It’s especially noteworthy coming from Republicans, who promised a more transparent and efficiently run General Assembly when they won control of the House and Senate in the 2010 election.”

In short, state legislative leaders — who promised to “run government like a business” — are instead fiddling, Nero-like, while core state services they have already badly undermined crumble around them. All in all, it’s quite a mess. Perhaps the business they had in mind was Enron.

Happy Fiscal New Year!