State Rep. Paul Stam

State Rep. Paul Stam

As noted in the post below, one of the myriad last minute additions to the state budget (i.e. the 400-plus page behemoth set to become law tomorrow) that was not present in either the House or Senate versions of the budget is a section added by anti-abortion crusaders to cut funding to Planned Parenthood.

This is a clear violation of House Rules. House Rule 44(b) specifically forbids the addition of such new, out-of-whole-cloth provisions unless the House refers the matter to a standing committee for review — something that is clearly not going to happen today.

What makes this all the more outrageous is that Rep. Stam — the man repeatedly identified in the News & Observer editorial cited below as the driving force behind the Planned Parenthood amendment — has a long history of raising hell on the House floor about… you guessed it…the addition of last minute provisions like this in violation of Rule 44.

In 2009, for instance, Stam took to the House floor (click here at go to 1:42 in the audio) to castigate the budget conference report for making tax changes not included in previous versions of the budget bill. He called the addition of the new provision a “blatant, flagrant and obvious violation of Rule 44(b).”

Stam’s only conceivable excuse in all this is that the current version of Rule 44(b) only applies to the addition of provisions dealing with “significant matters.” Perhaps in the twisted worldview of a person with a demonstrated, career-long indifference to women’s health, the act of harming thousands of women by making it much harder for Planned Parenthood to provide them with essential health care is not a “significant matter.” And given the low to which politics in the General Assembly have sunk in recent years, he’ll no doubt get away with it.

In the real world of words and laws that mean something, however, Stam’s position on this matter can only be described as blatant, flagrant and obvious hypocrisy.


As noted in this space last Friday, the rules of the North Carolina House of Representatives clearly require that lawmakers refer the conference report on the 2016-17 budget to a standing committee for review prior to the full House vote that is scheduled for tomorrow.

House Rule 44(b) states that:

“a conference committee report which includes significant matters that were not in difference between the houses, shall be referred to a standing committee for its recommendation before further action by the House.”

House Speaker Tim Moore

House Speaker Tim Moore

The obvious point of this rule is to prevent lawmakers from cooking up new law changes that were not included in either of the original versions of the bill passed by the House or the Senate and then inserting them in to a conference report that’s negotiated and drafted in secret. It is, in other words, a modest but important rule to assure a modicum of sunshine and transparency so that rank and file lawmakers, the news media and the public at large can have at least some idea of what the hell it is that’s being voted on.

Though everyone is still sifting through the massive 429 page document, here are two significant matters that are in the conference report that were not in either version of the budget passed previously:

#1 – As Chris Fitzsimon pointed out this morning, the conference report includes a new and hugely destructive provision to undermine light rail plans in the Triangle.

#2 – A new, out-of-whole-cloth change to state law on the number of so-called terminal groins that will be allowed along the coastline (see page 207 of the report).

These are both extremely important law changes that were never approved by either House throughout the eight month-long legislative session. Read More


Senate leaders repeatedly dismissed legitimate complaints from Democrats about the secret and rushed budget process during the floor debate Monday afternoon. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said the hundreds of pages of special provisions were no big deal, that 99 percent of them had been discussed for three months or more.

That’s ridiculous of course. Many of the provisions were never discussed in open committees where the public and rank and file senators–who each represent just as many people as Berger—had an opportunity to weigh in.

This morning’s News & Observer reports on one secret provision stuffed into the massive budget bill that would deal what the story accurately described as a “crippling blow” to a planned light-rail line from Durham to Chapel Hill.

The prospect of a light-rail cap never came up when House and Senate leaders developed their separate budgets this year. The Republican-led legislature previously had clamped broader restrictions on funding for transit projects.

Even folks who misguidedly opposed mass transit can’t think we ought to make major transportation policy decision by secret budget provision.
It makes you wonder else has been secretly stuffed into the budget bill that legislative leaders are so determined to pass before everybody fully understands it.


Commentary, News

The state Senate convenes at 2:00pm Wednesday with the Republican-controlled chamber poised to give final approval to the proposed $21.7 billion state budget.

The Senate gave the 429-page spending plan initial approval Tuesday, despite appeals from Democrats to allow for more time to fully review the details of the two-year budget.

Senator Josh Stein told the chamber that even as the economy was showing signs of improvement, the  spending plan did little to restore the deep cuts made during the Great Recession:

“We are 42nd in the nation in what we pay our teachers. This bill does nothing to redress those deficiencies,” explained Stein.

“The budget spends $877 less in 2016-2017 per student, than the state did nine years before in ’07-’08 in real dollars. That’s nearly one thousand dollars less per kid next year, than we did nine years earlier.”

Stein noted that this budget also pays for 5,400 fewer Pre-K slots than the state budget passed before the Great Recession.

Senate President Phil Berger countered that this year’s budget will provide tax relief and shore up the state’s rainy day fund, bringing that total to more that one billion dollars.

The Senate is expected to give the budget its final approval today. The state House will cast its first vote on the spending package Thursday.

Click below to hear part of Tuesday’s debate:

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Budget see sawLegislative leaders did their best yesterday afternoon to spin their new budget agreement in a positive light by describing it as a compromise that spends more than last year in absolute dollars and that eschews some of the more radical proposals that had been discussed during the seemingly endless 2015 legislative session. Much of what’s in it remains to be seen as it appears the 429 page document is chock full of special provisions unrelated to the budget.

That said, the central, overarching reality is this: The new agreement is another austerity budget that keeps state employees and veteran teachers stuck on the salary treadmill to nowhere on which they’ve been trapped for years.

As this morning’s Weekly Briefing notes:

“In the last decade and a half, most state employees have seen only two years of decent pay hikes – 2006 and 2007, when lawmakers granted raises of 5.5% and 4% respectively. Other than those two years, raises have been non-existent or tiny. It’s gotten so bad that a page on the website of the State Employees Association of North Carolina (SEANC) actually brags about the 2014 annual raise of $1,000 (less than $20 per week before taxes) as a major accomplishment!

And, of course, it was just yesterday that legislative leaders pushed the repeat button by confirming that most state employees would receive only a flat, one-time bonus of $750 for the new fiscal year. That’s $14.42 per week before taxes or about $2.88 per day. Next year, employees will be back where they were last year when and if the issue is revisited. State government retirees will get no increase at all.

It doesn’t take a math degree to understand that such treatment is pushing state workers further and further behind the eight ball. Since 2001, general U.S. inflation has been around 35%. And, of course, many other expenses have risen even faster. And while U.S. workers have, overall, experienced only flat wage growth for years, at least it’s been flat. State employee compensation in North Carolina, on the other hand, has risen roughly half the inflation rate since the start of the century.”

Simply put, there’s no way to move a state forward when year after year, the human beings who make up the government are repeatedly disrespected and treated as expendable cogs.  Sadly, this year’s budget does just that once again.