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Tillis_McCrory_Berger-400You know…the day that North Carolinians can finally say adieu to the 170 members of the 2013-14 General Assembly? As has almost always been the case with the current crop of state lawmakers, the signals are mixed and confusing.

News reports this morning indicate that even as legislative leaders  look for ways to append a badly needed fix onto the terribly flawed budget that was just passed a few days ago, they’re once again playing political games with each other and the citizenry.  If this is how things end — with a critical provision to help schools made contingent upon a new corporate giveaway scheme — it will be a fitting conclusion to a remarkably ineffective and discombobulated session.

As Charlotte Observer columnist Fannie Flono notes this morning:

Perhaps it’s only fitting that the N.C. legislature comes to the end of its long short session in a squabble over how and when to end it. It hasn’t mattered much that the Republicans are in charge of everything – the state House and Senate and the governor’s office. GOP infighting and House vs. Senate power plays – along with a little muscle-flexing or attempts at it by Gov. Pat McCrory and his staff – have been constant backdrops during the session that began May 14.

In the plaintive words of Rodney King, paraphrased: Can’t they all just get along? Or at least agree to close down the shop and get out of town? And save us taxpayers the $50,000 a day it typically costs for them to be in session?

Of course, there’s a very good chance this will not be THE day. Having apparently failed to fashion a coal ash clean up plan in the more than six months that have passed since the Dan River disaster, the General Assembly may return yet again after the fall election for a rare “lame duck” session. If that happens, at least a couple of things appear to be certain:

1) It won’t be the first time the adjective “lame” will be used in the same sentence with the 2013-14 legislature and  2) Coal ash will be far from the only mess that will be left behind for future General Assemblies to clean up.

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Technical corrections billAs previously reported here, here and numerous other places, this year’s “technical corrections” bill at the General Assembly was and is an especially egregious example of secret legislative sausage making at its worst. The bill is chock-full of substantive (i.e. a lot more than “technical”) changes to the law – many of which were never even the subject of separate legislation – much less public hearings or debate.

A classic example is buried on page 20 of the 58-page, 94-section special interest Christmas Tree. The official explanation from legislative staff and even the explanation from some legislators in committee and on the floor suggested the provision added needed protections or in some manner merely “clarifies” an “ambiguity” in the state’s anti-predatory lending law by specifying that first loans on manufactured homes are also covered.

Sounds innocuous and maybe even okay, right?

Here’s the problem (and the reason why baloney like this shouldn’t get mislabeled as “technical” and then passed in the wee hours of the legislative session when no one is even paying attention):

The manufactured housing industry asked for the change so that lenders would be able to charge an upfront “origination” fee when they sell a manufactured home by itself – i.e. in situations in which no land is involved in the transaction. Currently, under the law in question, a lender can charge such a fee but only where the manufactured home is sold attached to real estate. With this last minute “technical correction,” the barn door is now open to the assessment of such a fee with all manufactured home sales – even though there was never a bill on the subject or a genuine public discussion at the General Assembly on the merits (and problems) of such an idea  This is obviously a big deal that will cost the state’s consumers millions of dollars in the years to come.

The bottom line: It’s not surprising that an industry long known for selling marginal products with the deceptive tactics perfected in the used car business would support squeezing yet another fee from what are typically unsophisticated, lower income consumers. And sadly, it’s even less surprising that the folks currently running the General Assembly would blithely label the legalization of such a rip-off as a “technical correction.”

FYI -  the Governor has until next Tuesday to sign the bill and has given no indication that he will do otherwise.

Veteran Raleigh journalist and political observer Steve Ford is out with a new and convincing look at the new state budget (i.e. the one the Governor said he’d sign before he actually got around to the business of reading it). It’s a full-length read but, as is always the case with Steve’s takes, definitely worth a few minutes of your time. Check it out below:

Revenue-starved budget rattles and rolls
By Steve Ford

The debate is familiar: State government is too big. No, it’s too small.

People in the too-big camp typically think government – the state agencies and institutions that North Carolinians support with their taxes — is too expensive. That it tries to do too much in the way of regulating business. That it saps individual initiative with aid to folks who should be working harder to help themselves and makes everyone else pay.

Across the philosophical fence are those who view robust regulation, robust social programs – including public education – and a fair tax structure generating a steady stream of revenues as cornerstones of a government that properly serves the public interest.

In the real world, of course the divide is not always so stark. But the contentious process by which the N.C. General Assembly has settled upon a new state budget highlights the opposing viewpoints. The budget now before Gov. Pat McCrory, who has said he will sign it into law, is one that could be accompanied by the slogan, “We did the least we thought we could get away with.”

Even though it calls for raising and spending $21.1 billion during the current July-to-June fiscal year, this is another small-government budget, relatively speaking — in keeping with the preferences of the conservatives who control the House and Senate and their Republican ally in the governor’s office. Read More

The right-wingers in charge at the North Carolina General Assembly made much of their desire to “run government like business” upon assuming power a few years ago and it’s clear now that they have succeeded. The only problem is that the business in question is probably Lehman Brothers or maybe Enron.

Editorials in this weekend’s Charlotte Observer and this morning’s Fayetteville Observer explain some of the latest chaos on Jones Street. The Charlotte Observer calls it “another chaotic legislative session.”

The Fayetteville Observer begins this way:

It was a legislative version of a “Terminator” movie, with members of the General Assembly warning us, “I’ll be back.” After a “short session” that mocked its own name, lawmakers decided to come back into session twice more this year.

In other words: Stay tuned. The craziness in Raleigh has a ways to go before it runs its course.

VacationThere has been a lot of talk in recent years about how the North Carolina General Assembly is starting to look and sound more and more like Congress — especially when it comes to the influence of big dollars from corporate fat cats and plain old, general dysfunction.

Today, we got another persuasive indicator: Legislators announced plans to take an “August recess.” Oh, they may not be calling it that, but this morning’s news that House and Senate leaders plan to pass a FY2015 budget this week, adjourn temporarily and then come back in mid-August to deal with the coal ash crisis that’s been simmering for months — years, really — and then recess again and come back in November after the election signifies a change in how business gets done on Jones Street.

Traditionally, when North Carolina lawmakers conclude the second-year-in-the-biennium “short” session in early summer, they adjourn until the following January. This may not be the best set-up, but it does force lawmakers to wrap up their business and maintain the General Assembly’s status as a “part-time” legislature.

This new development is enough to make a body suspicious as to the motives of those behind it. Read More