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Rep. Skip Stam (R-Wake)

Rep. Skip Stam (R-Wake) told WPTF on Thursday that despite stalled budget talks that have kept the state waiting a month past the deadline for a deal that spells out how the government should run its schools and other agencies, North Carolinians should take heart — everything is running smoothly.

“Every other time I’ve been down here where there was a [budget] delay, they would fund the government you know at 80 or 90 percent of [the] last year,” Stam told WPTF radio host Patrick Johnson yesterday morning.

“This time it’s being funded at 100 percent plus of last year’s budget, so nothing is being shortchanged,” said Stam. “You know, pay raises will be — whatever they end up being — will be retroactive to July 1, but it’s not like the operation of government is being affected.”

Stam’s assessment of how the state is coping with operating under a stopgap measure while lawmakers do battle over a 2015-17 budget agreement doesn’t quite line up with what I’m hearing is happening on the ground.

Public schools are trying to figure out how to staff their schools in the face of potentially having to lay off more than 8,500 teacher assistants over the next two years—and they are still unsure of how much their staff will even earn this fall.

“We are getting ready to open our classroom doors. … And we don’t have a clue yet if we’re going to have to (lay off) 500 teacher assistants or try to hire almost 140 new teachers,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s school board member Tim Morgan, a Republican, said at a recent meeting.

While a continuing resolution to keep government operations funded is in place through August 14, Rep. Larry Hall questioned chief budget writer Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Cary) this week about whether or not teacher assistants are funded at the same level as last year until a budget deal is reached.

Dollar said to his knowledge, TAs were funded at the same level as last year. But when Hall asked legislative staff to weigh in, they said not quite—more than $20 million that funded TAs last year were non-recurring dollars, which means local districts didn’t get those funds to use while a continuing resolution is in place, putting more stress on their local budgets.

Wake County Schools Superintendent Jim Merrill offered a sharp rebuke to lawmakers at a public hearing on the budget convened Wednesday of this week by the House.

“Our students cannot wait for the various levels of government to conclude a budget negotiation,” said Merrill. “You’re currently debating whether to provide money that’s already been spent on tens of thousands of students. We simply can’t un-spend that money once negotiations end and the final budget is decided.”

Also at issue? Driver’s education. House lawmakers appeared this week to be unlikely to waver on their position of keeping driver’s ed fully funded, whereas the Senate is proposing to abandon funding driver’s ed altogether and eliminate the requirement for driver training in order to get a license.

The uncertainty around driver’s education has prompted some local school districts to cancel their summer driving schools—especially problematic in places where the bulk of driver training happens during the summer.

All indications point to lawmakers having to pass a second continuing resolution to keep government operations running past August 14.

“We’d all like to get out of here sooner rather than later, but I’m afraid it is gonna take a while,” Rep. Stam told WPTF, “just because there are so many disagreements.”

Commentary

If you had dollar for every time conservative politicians promised to start “running North Carolina like a business” back when they were engineering their rise to power at the start of the decade, you’d have a lot of money — maybe enough to hire back some of the educators they’ve fired since then.

This morning, the business that comes to mind when you think about their performance is Enron: a deceptive and secretive shell game that fell apart when people finally figured out what the heck was going on. As Raleigh’s News & Observer reports:

“Several top Republican lawmakers say they likely won’t reach a budget deal by an Aug. 14 deadline – a delay that will prolong uncertainty for public schools and other agencies that depend on state funding.

Since the last fiscal year ended June 30, the state has been operating under a temporary budget that keeps government running at current spending levels.

But the House and Senate budget writers tasked with negotiating a permanent spending agreement haven’t met yet….”

And while it’s true that the House version of the budget is, though badly inadequate, much superior to the Senate’s (thus providing good reason for House members to fight hard in negotiations), this really is getting past the point of being ridiculous. The public schools are paralyzed on many important decisions, the Governor is a complete, ribbon-cutting non-factor and people are seriously talking about things dragging on well into the fall. At some point, it gets down to a matter of basic competence to run the state and a commitment to governing, and unless things get moving in a good direction and fast, one has to conclude that the folks in charge in Raleigh these days simply don’t have either one.
Commentary

Budget_cleaver-150x150This past week I visited Charleston, South Carolina to lay flowers and show support to the people of Charleston and the victims of the Emanuel AME Church shootings. The place buzzed with activists, reporters, and policy makers, including the mayor and governor. Across the nation, political pundits, academics, candidates, law makers, and others have posed a question: “Why did this happen, and what policies will fix this?”

The answers to these questions are neither new nor give us the insight we truly need to begin to remove hatred such as this from our society.

In North Carolina, we are especially equipped to answer the first question. From the 1898 Wilmington coup d’état to this year’s Islamophobia inspired killings of Chapel Hill residents, we have endured many years of hate-inspired violence. We understand and have long dealt with the perverse attitudes that fuel this type of ignorance.

The second question (“What policies will fix the problem?”) does not begin to address the real issue at hand.

The better question is: “Do our laws and policies exemplify the values we want our society to stand for?” In order to combat hatred and ignorance, state legislatures must reevaluate the underlying messages their policies embody.

We do not have a policy issue. We have a values issue. Take, for example, the debate about the state budget.

Fiscal policy is about more than meeting revenue goals and growing the economy, it’s about creating a just and moral society; a society in which the leadership sets the example of how we value and treat individuals. When we refuse to provide all children with access to quality pre-K, when we fail to create equitable education experiences, when we cripple the state’s higher education system, when we fail to support families, when we ignore out-of-work North Carolinians, when we prioritize corporations and neglect individuals, we send a clear message. Read More

Commentary

In case you missed it, Tazra Mitchell of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center had a great letter to the editor in Raleigh’s News & Observer over the weekend that exposed the silly story state lawmakers have concocted in order to create the illusion that everything is now fine with state budget. As Tazra explains:

“Regarding the Feb. 13 news article “ NC forecasts budget surplus for fiscal year that begins July 1”: State lawmakers are making a major change to the budget process in an attempt to mask the fallout of their recent decisions. The change also allows them to claim a “surplus” that merely reflects revenue growth – and revenue growth that’s far under the long-term average.

For many decades, the starting point for the budgeting process has been the amount of resources necessary to maintain the current quality of public systems that Tar Heels expect. Starting with this “current services budget” is standard practice for virtually all responsible governing bodies across the country.

The governor and legislature now are, crudely, redrawing the starting point for this year’s budget. In fact, the funding level they declared to be “base budget” for the upcoming year is roughly $213 million less than the budget for the current year. When and if they manage to cover the additional costs of things like more students in schools, inflationary increases in health care services or cost-of-living raises for teachers and highway patrol officers, they will claim credit for their acts of generosity.

Lawmakers lowered the bar, and when they clear it, they’ll declare themselves the winners. But budget gimmicks will not hide bigger class sizes or higher tuition rates. North Carolinians have seen too much to be fooled into thinking there is any kind of “surplus” afoot.”

Uncategorized

As illustrated by Thomas Mills with Politics NC, the state budget will inevitably reflect the ideological interests and goals of the men in charge of our state legislature rather than the actual needs of real people. He writes of their personal motives:

The GOP is only unified about two things. First, they want to make sure that the rich and big corporations don’t have to help close the budget hole that the legislature gave us. That’s a burden for the rest of us to shoulder. Second, they want to give teachers pay raises. And that’s to protect their seats by appearing to support public education. Not many people are buying it but that’s their story and they’re sticking to it. 

Having connections with big money and corporate interests, our legislative leaders are not working to serve the people but to serve big business and the “free market.” Mills further states:

The competing budgets are a reflection of the men who run the legislature. The senate budget is an ideological document hell bent on protecting the free market principals and social Darwinism that Phil Berger has so vigorously embraced. He’s a Calvin Coolidge Republican who believes in Coolidge’s famous quote, “The business of America is business.” What Coolidge Republicans like to forget is that his policies led to the Wall Street crash of 1929 that, in turn, led to the Great Depression.

Will the new budget help us or harm us? Our leaders are not interested: their main concern is upholding the economic privilege of North Carolina’s wealthiest, even if that means compromising the needs of the majority of its citizens.