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TeachersHeadline-hunting legislative leaders got what they wanted and needed (for now) with yesterday’s latest budget announcement. They wanted the story to be first and foremost about big teacher raises and it appears pretty clear that they got that. Media outlets around the state are reporting that central component of the proposed budget agreement this morning and millions of North Carolinians are waking up to the news — even if it’s frequently tinged with skepticism.

The problem with this story, of course is that, by all indications, the pay raise is being purchased at an enormous price — i.e. big cuts everywhere else –including education — along with tiny and inadequate pay raises for other public employees (including education personnel).

In short, though many details remain to be seen, the central and disastrous driving force behind this year’s budget — last year’s regressive and backward-looking tax cuts remain in full force. As budget analyst Tazra Mitchell wrote here yesterday:

There are better choices available that will put North Carolina on a stronger path to recovery for children, families, and communities across the Tarheel state. For starters, lawmakers need to face the reality that we can’t afford further tax cuts and stop the income tax cuts that are scheduled to go into effect next January. Doing so will save approximately $100 million in the current fiscal year and $300 million in the 2015 calendar year. These revenues would go a long way towards reversing the most damaging cuts that were enacted in the aftermath of the Great Recession. That’s a short-term fix.  A longer term fix requires restoring the progressive personal income tax structure so that revenues are stable and more adequate.

The only saving grace of the budget is this: the message it sends to progressives. As dreadful as the budget is — both for the near and long term — it does serve to remind progressives of the power of advocacy. Read More

Former state Rep. Stephen LaRoque will wait until February for a jury trial on charges of stealing $300,000 from two federally-funded economic development groups he ran.

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Former N.C. Rep. LaRoque

LaRoque, a Kinston Republican, was scheduled for an October trial in a federal criminal courtroom in Greenville. The trial was pushed back to Feb. 2 because of delays in getting transcripts from a previous trial, according to an order filed in federal court this week.

A jury had convicted LaRoque in June 2013 of a dozen charges related to the theft, but U.S. Senior District Court Judge Malcolm Howard set aside those verdicts and ordered a new trial after finding out a juror in the case did home Internet research, a violation of court rules.

LaRoque, a former co-chair of the powerful House Rules committee and a self-declared “right hand man” for N.C. House Speaker Thom Tillis, has maintained he is innocent of any criminal wrongdoing, and said he was owed the money federal prosecutors contend he stole.

He resigned from the state legislature in 2012, after an indictment of federal charges accusing him of taking $300,000 from two federally-funded nonprofits he ran and using the money to buy cars, a Greenville skating rink, expensive jewelry and replica Faberge eggs for his wife.

The federal investigation began after N.C. Policy Watch published a 2011 investigation into LaRoque’s non-profit work, which found that he was paid generous salaries as high as $195,000 a year to run organizations that for years only had one or no other employees. The boards of his non-profit were also stacked with immediate family members and he signed off on giving low-interest loans of federally-sourced money to close business and political associates.

Another week and another foot-in-mouth incident for a conservative North Carolina politician. Last week it was House Speaker Thom Tillis and his crack about “traditional voters.” Now this week it’s former State Representative and current state GOP Vice-Chairperson Carolyn Justice in an awkward attempt to defend Tillis. This is from a story on yesterday’s Washington Post “She the People” blog entitled “North Carolina Republicans try — despite themselves — to win minority voters”:

“Last week, before the RNC announcement, Carolyn Justice, vice chair of the North Carolina Republican Party, said in an interview on “Charlotte Talks” on WFAE, the local NPR affiliate, that critics of the Tillis ‘traditional’ voter comments were just misinterpreting what the man she called “the most non-prejudiced human I have met” said. In a tough Senate contest, “We’re going to go for every little thread we can pull?” she wondered.

Then she went on to give an example of how anyone’s words can be twisted. ‘I can tell you lots of things that Mr. Barber has said; if I look at it with a jaundiced eye, I can see communist behind every curtain.’”

The story goes on to report how Justice — to questionable effect — tried to quickly backtrack from the Barber-is-a-commie implication of her statement: Read More

The House plan to fund teacher raises with increased lottery revenues continues to meet with widespread derision. ICYMI, the Greensboro News & Record weighed in over the weekend:

“When it comes to raising teacher pay, the state House has almost trumped the Senate for bad ideas.

The Senate offers 11 percent salary hikes, on average, but only for teachers who surrender tenure rights. And about half of the money comes from laying off thousands of teacher assistants.

The House provides 5 percent raises with no strings attached and without eliminating teacher assistants. Unfortunately, to pay for it, the House bets that the state lottery can pull in an additional $106 million next year. To make that happen, it authorizes the Lottery Commission to double its spending on advertising.

What a lesson for our children.

The trouble is, the lottery appeals most strongly to people who can least afford to pay. Furthermore, it provides an unreliable revenue stream. When North Carolina’s participation in a state lottery was debated in 2005, opponents used both arguments. And nearly all Republicans in the legislature voted against it. But Democrats were in the majority then, and they enacted the lottery.

Now, not only do Republican House leaders aim to rely on lottery revenue to fund an ongoing obligation — teacher salaries — they want to drum up more of it….”

Read the rest of the editorial by clicking here.

 

Raleigh’s News & Observer joins the growing list of voices to condemn the state House’s decision to attempt squeeze more money out of the vulnerable by increasing lottery advertising efforts to raise teacher pay:

“What’s next for Republican leaders of the state House? It’s a tantalizing question because their ideas, or perhaps that should be notions, about what to do to raise teacher pay are truly strange.

Sorry, but it’s hard to take seriously the House’s pay hike plan for teachers. The House’s proposed budget would give teachers about 5 percent more by boosting advertising for the state lottery. The idea is that more advertising will lure more people into the games, and their losses will become the teachers’ gain.

How is Speaker Thom Tillis going to address other revenue shortfalls? A rabbit out of the hat maybe? Or perhaps he’ll charge for a traveling stage show wherein he saws Gov. Pat McCrory in half.

A good many Republicans and Democrats seemed to be doing a double-take when it came out that the lower chamber’s budget figured to bump lottery advertising to 2 percent of sales instead of 1 percent. With more marketing, officials figure, the lottery would bring in substantially more money. The last fiscal year figure for net proceeds was about $480 million.”

Read the rest of the editorial by clicking here.