Not inclined to shift money away from schools?
The state budget debate shifts to the House next week even as more details buried in the 413-page budget bill that passed the Senate this week are coming to light. One provision that was reported earlier in the week but sparked another round of controversy Thursday would remove the requirement in the law that directs lottery proceeds to specific education programs.
Chief budget-writer Senator Pete Brunstetter told the News & Observer that “he doesn’t believe Republican colleagues are inclined to spend the money on non-education needs.” Apparently, we’ll just have to trust them. That’s reassuring.
Pay attention, the schools are open
The budget debate on the Senate floor included the usual hyperbole from the folks who put the plan together in their secret meetings in last few weeks, though many of the policy provisions were never mentioned.
The debate also gave us a few memorable quotes from Senate leaders, two of which deserve special mention.
Senator Bob Rucho, the architect of the yet-to-be-released regressive Senate tax plan that the budget allocates $770 million for, was pontificating against a proposed amendment when Senator Malcolm Graham asked if Rucho was properly debating the amendment or talking more broadly about the budget itself.
Before Lt. Gov. Dan Forest could respond, Rucho told Graham, “Pay attention and you will learn something.”
It’s not the first time Senate leaders have exhibited a troubling condescension toward their Democratic colleagues or the public. A few weeks ago Senator Tommy Tucker told a newspaper publisher “I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet.”
It’s become a theme in the Senate. The folks in charge believe they are smarter and more important than everybody else.
Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger also made the notable quote list in his remarks on the Senate spending plan. Berger claimed that many of the dire predictions about the effect of recent budget cuts to public schools haven’t come true, pointing out that “the schools are still open.”
The cuts have made it harder for teachers to do their jobs by increasing class size, slashing supplies, textbooks, and support services, and taking teacher assistants out the classrooms—all things that the budget passed this week by the Senate will make even worse.
But Berger apparently believes that schools merely remaining open is the appropriate way to measure the impact of budget cuts, never mind how many kids are in a classroom or how many of them have the textbooks they need.
So relax—the schools are open. That’s all you need to know.
Notes from McCrory’s softball questions media tour
Governor Pat McCrory has been making the rounds with local television anchors, giving ten-minute on camera interviews across the state. Most of the headlines from the interviews have focused on McCrory’s opposition to the Senate budget provision to move the SBI under his control and his thoughts about tax reform.
McCrory will not be submitting a tax plan of his own and seems more inclined to support the basics of the House proposal than the Senate tax shift, but he said several times that he wanted any final plan to be revenue neutral.
The regressive Senate plan would cost the state $770 million over the next two years, more than a billion dollars when fully implemented. The slightly less regressive but still troubling House plan would cost more than $500 million a year over the next two years.
Neither plan is anywhere near revenue neutral, a fact that McCrory seems unaware of and that no interviewer thought to ask him about.
A few other notes from McCrory’s carefully controlled blizzard of media appearances, which notably did not include any newspapers with the exception of his hometown Charlotte Observer.
McCrory spent most of his time offering the same stale talking points about how badly everything in North Carolina was broken, especially Medicaid, and that it was all the fault of the Democrats.
No one thought to ask him why the Republican General Assembly passed a budget that underfunded Medicaid so dramatically even after the folks in the Perdue Administration repeatedly warned the lawmakers that their projected spending levels for the program were unrealistic.
McCrory told a Greensboro television station that he was glad that Health and Human Services Secretary and Greensboro resident Aldona Wos was heading up his efforts, to “reform” Medicaid, which is his way of saying turning over the care of the most vulnerable people in North Carolina to for-profit out-of-state managed care companies.
McCrory didn’t mention Wos’ recent claim that Insurance Commissioner Wayne Goodwin made the decision not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and provide health coverage to more than 500,000 low-income adults.
Legislative leaders and McCrory made the decision, not Goodwin and it’s startling that McCrory could have confidence in Wos heading up the state’s reform efforts when she apparently doesn’t even understand how decisions about the program are made.
Alas, no one thought to ask him about that either.
Chris Fitzsimon is Director of NC Policy Watch and an NC Spin Panelist