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ff3072013We’re just a couple of weeks into the 2014 session of the North Carolina General Assembly, but the annual legislative silly season has already commenced. Not familiar with silly season? That’s the time of year in which legislative leaders force their members to work all kinds of silly, late night hours in order to limit media coverage and handicap/wear down those who might want to criticize or contest their agenda (i.e. the minority party).

Usually, silly season doesn’t start until there have been several months (or, at least, several weeks) of actual, semi-normal  legislative process, but this year, in keeping with the current majority’s increasingly pathological aversion to sunlight and transparency, it’s starting just days after the session itself commenced. The Senate is kicking silly season off today with a wholly unnecessary Friday afternoon session, followed by an even more unnecessary post-midnight session early tomorrow morning, during which it will ram though its destructive 2015 budget proposal.

And lest you get the mistaken impression that lawmakers will actually be working longer hours during silly season, rest assured that this will almost certainly not be the case. Read More

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It looks like the North Carolina Senate will ram through its version of a state budget sometime early Saturday morning under the cover of darkness. It will be an apt time for this dreadful piece of legislation. The bill was crafted in secret so it makes sense that it will be passed by the right-wing lawmakers who put it together (a few of whom may have even read it) while most of the rest of the citizenry sleeps.

But, of course, it is much more than just the way the budget bill was put together that marks it as one of the worst proposals in North Carolina history; it is the destructive substance of it. At its heart, the Senate budget is about destruction — about the latest assault in an ideologically-inspired blitzkrieg against the core public structures that knit together a middle class society. The North Carolina Senate has gone all-in with the Grover Norquist-Rush Limbaugh-Tea Party crowd that believes that government and public servies are inherently evil.

There are many descriptors that fit the Senate plan — especially the hyper-cynical proposal to steal money from everyone else in order to give teachers a raise (a raise predicated upon their surrender of the right not to be fired arbitrarily): “The Divide and Conquer Budget,” “the Blackmail Budget,” “the Extortion Budget,” “the Blood Money Budget,” “the Robbing Peter to Pay Paul Budget,” “the Art Pope-Koch Brothers Fantasy Budget.” Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue rightfully likened to Senate plan to a proposal to burn down the schoolhouse in order to give teachers the insurance money.

Whatever one calls the darned thing, though, one thing is crystal clear: Right now, all that stands between North Carolina and the prospect of being reduced to some kind of bizarre Ayn Randian lab experiment is an ambitious conservative U.S. Senate nominee and a hapless and mostly disinterested governor who has yet to show any real ability to influence the lawmaking process. Dark days, indeed.

If there was ever a time for average North Carolinians to stand up and fight back, now is that time. One good opportunity will take place next Monday at 5:00 pm on Halifax Mall when the Moral Mondays-Forward Together protesters return to the Legislative Building. Hope to see you there.

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As Chris Fitzsimon noted this morning, the lack of sunlight and opportunity for public input on a new round of tax cuts currently under construction in the state Senate is truly outrageous.

Now there’s more news on the black hole that is the Senate in this story by Mark Binker at WRAL.com entitled: “Crucial legislation can be crafted behind closed doors.”

As Binker reports, Senate Republicans are literally drafting the state budget behind closed doors with literally no opportunity for public input: Read More

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It was North Carolina Thom Tillis who infamously described his political plan for North Carolina as an effort to “divide and conquer” those who opposed the conservative move to repeal much of the progress of the 2oth Century, but this morning it sounds like it will be Tillis’ frequent political nemesis, Senate leader Phil Berger, who will be pushing the “divide and conquer” strategy in the days to come.

According to news reports, the Senate will roll out a new proposed budget today that will offer public school teachers sizable raises in exchange for giving up their career status (i.e. their right not to be fired without at least some good reason). And while details are still emerging, it seems a certainty that such a potentially costly plan will be funded with new and painful cuts to other important public structures and services (e.g. health care for the poor, higher education and the justice and public safety system).

In other words, it appears the Senate will propose a “divide and conquer” budget today — one that divides and pits teachers against each other and that divides and pits public education against other vital public functions.

Meanwhile, over in the House, Speaker Tillis is probably consulting with his legal team over his options to sue from copyright infringement.

Falling Behind in NC, NC Budget and Tax Center

This afternoon, Governor McCrory released his $20.99 billion 2015 fiscal year budget for the period that runs from July 2014 to June 2015. His proposal creates more problems than it solves, failing to take prudent steps that would put North Carolina’s budget on a more sustainable path. Similar to his budget proposal last year, his new spending proposal follows suit and fails to catch up—let alone keep up—with the needs of kids, working families and communities in many areas of the budget.

The Governor’s budget was constrained in major ways—which were self-imposed by state lawmakers last year when they decided to cut taxes. The state is facing a revenue shortfall of $191 million in the 2015 fiscal year (not to be confused with the nearly half-a-billion shortfall for the current 2014 fiscal year that ends in June). The driver of these revenue shortfalls—despite an economic recovery—is the series of tax cuts that Governor McCrory signed into law last year that was already estimated to drain available revenues to the tune of $437.8 million in the 2015 fiscal year.

As we reported last week, estimates suggest that the revenue losses from the tax plan, particularly stemming from the personal income tax changes, could reach $600 million next fiscal year.

Yet, rather than prudently recommending the halting of future tax cuts that are scheduled to go into effect in January 2015, the Governor chose to keep this next round of tax cuts in place despite the diminished revenue picture. As we warned last year, North Carolina cannot afford to pay for tax cuts that primarily benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations at the expense of teacher layoffs, growing waiting lists for critical public services, and higher tuition rates.

State spending under the Governor’s proposal would continue to remain well below pre-recession levels, as illustrated in the chart below, even though spending over the base budget would slightly increase. All areas of education funding fall short of what was called for in the continuation budget. Tax cuts are making it harder to regain lost ground. Read More