The long “short short” session
When the summer session of the General Assembly convened in early May, House and Senate leaders promised a brief and focused session that some thought might even end before the men’s U.S. Open golf tournament in Pinehurst that began the second week in June.
House Speaker Thom Tillis said at news conference on the session’s opening day that he expected a “short short” session that would tackle a few key issues like teacher pay, adjustments to the budget and coal ash legislation, and then adjourn.
Many legislative observers predicted a relatively quick session too and most thought lawmakers would certainly pass a budget bill well before end of the fiscal year, citing the importance of Tillis’ campaign for the U.S. Senate seat and the general philosophical agreement on most key issues between House and Senate leaders and Governor Pat McCrory.
But the month of June and the state fiscal year end Monday and there’s no budget deal or adjournment date in sight. Tillis’ short short session drags on and on.
Fulfilling a commitment or slashing the universities?
This week State Budget Director Art Pope appeared before the Senate Appropriations Committee to address one of areas of sharpest disagreement between the House and Senate, the cost of Medicaid next year.
Senate leaders don’t seem ready to accept the Medicaid cost projections that Gov. McCrory and the House have agreed on and that led to some testy exchanges between Pope and key Senators.
Later in the afternoon the House passed a scaled down budget plan that included teacher and state employees pay raises, new coal ash regulators and a few other provisions. Senate leaders called it a gimmick and said they couldn’t accept the House Medicaid estimates that create an “unbalanced, unsustainable budget.”
And it appears the private view matches the public rhetoric. Reportedly Senate budget negotiators left Raleigh for the weekend and will resume talks next week as the new fiscal year begins. It may be quite a long short session indeed.
The House scaled down budget leaves many cuts passed last year in place, including an additional $73 million reduction to the university system in the fiscal year that begins Tuesday.
House Budget Chair Nelson Dollar said the mini budget was a “fulfillment of the top priorities of this General Assembly and as a fulfillment of our commitment to education in this state at all levels.”
That’s an odd way to describe a plan that makes another round of deep cut to universities and leaves in place all the cuts to public schools made last year, the reduction in teacher assistants, instructional support personnel and help for kids with limited English proficiency.
House Speaker Thom Tillis moved to the House floor to defend the plan and said it was “fulfilling a commitment” the House made to raise teacher pay. He didn’t talk about the university cuts or the budget the House passed two weeks ago that cynically and erroneously counted on increased lottery revenue to fund an increase in teacher salaries.
“Not helpful” hate speech and praise for Strom Thurmond
The last couple of weeks have also brought reminders of how out of touch the folks currently running the General Assembly are with most people in North Carolina.
Rep. Paul Stam received a torrent of well- deserved criticism for suggesting during a debate about prohibiting charter schools from discriminating against gay students that pedophilia and bestiality were also sexual orientations.
House Speaker Thom Tillis said in a statement that Stam’s comments were not helpful—which is almost as ridiculous as Stam’s bigoted claims.
They were far more than not helpful, they were disgusting and offensive, and it’s too bad that Tillis didn’t take the opportunity to point that out and distance himself from them.
Then there’s Senator Jerry Tillman, who said last week during the debate about the confirmation of a questionable appointee to the Industrial Commission that Strom Thurmond, who ran for president in 1948 as the leader of the segregationist Dixiecrat Party, was a “great American.”
Here’s one of Thurmond’s more notable quotes from that campaign.
There’s not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the Nigra race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes, and into our churches.”
It’s pretty clear what was on Thurmond’s mind when he uttered those remarks. The question is what’s a leader in the North Carolina Senate in 2014 saying by praising him?