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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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Buried deep in a House technical corrections bill unveiled yesterday is a provision to allow staff of for-profit charter school management groups to serve on the boards of the public charters schools that contract with them.

The N.C. House of Representatives is expected to vote on the 55-page technical corrections bill today. The legislation would also have to gain approval in the Senate. (UPDATE: The House voted and passed the bill Friday, and it is now headed to the Senate.)

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Adademies

Baker Mitchell of Roger Bacon Academy, Inc. (Photo by Sarah Ovaska)

The technical corrections bill unveiled Thursday is supposed to be way for lawmakers to tweak laws but it often becomes an under-the-radar way to push through controversial changes and “asks” from powerful lobbying groups.

The one-sentence addition to charter school rules would prohibit the State Board of Education from dictating who can and can’t sit on the board of the publicly-funded charter schools.

That issue popped up last year when the N.C. Department of Public Instruction told a politically-connected charter school operator he couldn’t sit on the board of the school he works for.

“The State Board of Education shall no impose any terms and conditions that restrict membership of the board of directors of the nonprofit corporation operating the charter school, but shall require the board of directors to adopt a conflict of interest policy,” the new language in the technical corrections bill states. (Click here to view the corrections bill, charter school language on page 39.)

Baker Mitchell, who founded Charter Day School in Brunswick County, owns an education management company called Roger Bacon Academy that is contracted to run four charter schools in the southeastern part of the state.  Last year, the State Board of Education told Mitchell that neither he nor other Roger Bacon staff could be voting board members of the charter schools, a decision that bothered both Mitchell and the charter school board members.

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