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Phil BergerAt some point, you’d think the conservative elected officials behind North Carolina’s stingiest-in-the-nation unemployment insurance cuts would at least have the courage and decency to stand up, look straight in the camera and take responsibility for the the pain they are about to inflict on 170,000 jobless workers and their families. And indeed, while they’re at it, they would also do well  to note the impending damage to the state’s economy as a whole as it is forced to do without $600 million in federal dollars and endure an estimated overall decline in economic activity of around $1.2 billion.

Unfortunately, as next Monday’s benefits cut-off deadline  fast approaches, courage and decency are in short supply on Jones Street and spin and blame deflection appear to be the order of the day. Last Friday afternoon, in fact, a paid flak for Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger set what might be a new low in this department with a letter to members of the press corps that literally overflows with inaccuracies and downright falsehoods.

Here, in the interest of setting the record straight, is the staffer’s letter interspersed periodically with the actual truth. Our corrections and additions appear in bold italics.

——– Original message ——–
From: “Amy Auth (President Pro Tem’s Office)” <Amy.Auth@ncleg.net>
Date: 06/21/2013 3:39 PM (GMT-05:00)
To: “Amy Auth (President Pro Tem’s Office)” <Amy.Auth@ncleg.net>
Subject: Unemployment Insurance Reforms

Dear Members of the Press Corps: Read More

It looks like Governor McCrory’s role in the big tax cut debate between House and Senate leaders might be merely to market what the legislative leaders come up with.

Here’s what House Speaker Thom Tillis told the News & Observer about McCrory’s role in the discussion about a tax deal.

We need the governor fully on board so he can communicate it and get people to understand it.

That’s a bit of an odd take from Tillis. He didn’t say they need to work with the governor because he is running the state or because he is the top elected official of their own political party or heaven forbid, because he might have some policy ideas and strongly held views of his own about taxes.

No, they need the governor on board only to sell the package that Berger and Tillis decide on. It is pretty clear legislative leaders believe they are in charge in Raleigh these days. McCrory? He is their PR guy.

It’s hard to know what to make of the news trickling out of the back rooms where House and Senate leaders are working on a tax cut deal. And yes, it’s about cutting taxes now, not reforming the tax code.

House Speaker Thom Tillis told the News & Observer that the two sides must “breach a philosophical divide,” which doesn’t sound like they are close to an agreement.

But the last line of a story by NC Capitol at WRAL.com says that Tillis and Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger believe a deal could be done this week. That’s not much time for philosophical divide breaching.

There are also whispers in the legislative halls that some folks are pushing for a bare bones budget deal now and a special session on taxes in a few weeks.

As Chris Fitzsimon noted with some biting and on-the-money humor last week, conservative state political leaders appear to have reached the point in the 2013 legislative session at which they have “jumped the shark.” For those who may not have caught the cultural reference, the phrase derives from a late-20th Century TV sitcom called “Happy Days”; the show was widely seen to have reached its nadir during an episode in which one of the main characters jumped over a shark while water skiing.

For conservatives, it’s hard to point out just one shark-jumping moment in their script, but as Chris notes, the bill to excuse the state from the First Amendment’s establishment clause seems like a strong contender.

Rob Christensen of Raleigh’s News & Observer wrote a rather curious column over the weekend in which he alleged that GOP leaders had basically gotten all the shark-jumping ideas under control, but judging by the agenda for the coming week Read More

Last week was Sunshine Week, a national initiative to promote a dialogue about the importance of open government and freedom of information.

Today the sun seems to have gone into hiding here in Raleigh.

During House Education Week last month, Speaker Thom Tillis tapped several school superintendents to serve in “education working groups” with legislators, with the intent of seeking superintendents’ expertise and input on policies and legislation related to education reform.

Last week, the Winston-Salem Journal reported that lawmakers had already met informally in these education working groups to look at regulatory reform and identify state restrictions that can be eliminated to give schools more flexibility. Future meetings are said to include superintendents.

The word on the street is that there will be an education working group meeting of lawmakers and superintendents tomorrow, Tuesday March 19, 9am-noon in room 306B of the Legislative Office Building. Multiple calls to Speaker Tillis’ office, however, went unreturned when asked to confirm whether or not this meeting is open to the public. Calls to various lawmakers’ offices about this meeting went unreturned; however, one legislator’s office did confirm that the meeting will take place tomorrow.

The open meetings law states that “Whereas the public bodies that administer the legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, and advisory functions of North Carolina and its political subdivisions exist solely to conduct the people’s business, it is the public policy of North Carolina that the hearings, deliberations, and actions of these bodies be conducted openly.”

A public body is defined as: “any elected or appointed authority, board, commission, committee, council, or other body of the State, or of one or more counties, cities, school administrative units, constituent institutions of The University of North Carolina, or other political subdivisions or public corporations in the State that (i) is composed of two or more members and (ii) exercises or is authorized to exercise a legislative, policy-making, quasi-judicial, administrative, or advisory function.”

NC Policy Watch plans to try to attend the meeting tomorrow.