House Speaker Thom Tillis’ town hall tour continues with an appearance this week in Clayton and meetings scheduled in September for Wilmington and Salisbury.
The state’s political reporters haven’t been writing much about the events, which is a bit puzzling since Tillis is now arguably the second most powerful person in state government.
Maybe it’s because most of the meetings have been held outside the state’s major media markets in places like Kinston, Winterville, and Rocky Mount and media outlets don’t have the staff they used to. Lately the appearances have been overshadowed by Hurricane Irene, both the preparations for the storm and now the recovery.
Here is a rundown on some of Tillis’ more interesting remarks in Rocky Mount last week, reviewed thanks to a local Rocky Mount television station that recently posted a video of the entire town hall meeting online.
Tillis seems to bristle most at suggestions that the Republican budget is costing the state jobs and that state budget cuts are forcing local school systems to lay off teachers and teacher assistants.
Tillis again cited a study by the Center for Competitive Economies at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at UNC-Chapel Hill as evidence that the budget will create jobs, not eliminate them.
Tillis called Kenan-Flager an institution that some would consider “liberal-leaning,” which will no doubt come as a surprise to leaders of the school and the corporate executives who have a close relationship with it.
He didn’t mention that the study was commissioned by legislative leaders and only looked at the impact of the tax cuts in the budget, ignoring the effect of the massive budget cuts on employment.
The N.C. Budget and Tax Center released a report last week that examined the impact of both the tax reductions and the budget cuts using the same methodology and economic modeling software as the UNC study and found that the budget will actually costs the state more than 30,000 jobs.
Tillis also brushed aside claims that the budget was responsible for the widespread layoffs of teachers and teacher assistants, saying that “most of the wild claims have gone away” and pointed to a handful of large school districts that are retaining teachers and even hiring new ones using left over federal stimulus money.
Tillis earlier in the meeting claimed that Republicans straightened out a structural deficit in the state budget that he said was partially caused by the Democrats’ decision to use federal stimulus money, the very practice he then praised large school systems for using this year.
And the “wild claims” have hardly gone away. Thousands of teachers, teacher assistants and other school personnel have been laid off across the state as local papers and the Employment Security Commission have reported.
The Speaker was at his most confusing when explaining the status of the strict voter ID legislation that passed the House and Senate and was vetoed by Governor Beverly Perdue.
Tillis said that he had been willing to compromise with Perdue and the Democrats on a scaled down version of the bill after what he called “legitimate concerns” were raised with him about the impact on the ability of seniors and people with disabilities to vote.
But when the compromise voter ID bill was not accepted by Perdue and Democratic lawmakers, Tillis said he decided to revert back to the stricter original version of the legislation and that is what passed the House and Senate only to be vetoed by Perdue.
Apparently the legitimate concerns of seniors and the disability community were no longer worth considering. Politics was more important.
Tillis does deserve credit for talking directly to voters and answering their questions. But it would be even more helpful if he would answer straightforwardly, without relying on half-baked studies and double talk about federal stimulus funding.
But that would mean the voters would get a clear picture of what really happened in the General Assembly this year and what it means for North Carolina.
And Tillis and his Republican colleagues certainly don’t want that.