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Revenue-starved Budget Rattles and Rolls

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The debate is familiar: State government is too big. No, it’s too small. People in the too-big camp typically think government – the state agencies and institutions that North Carolinians support with their taxes — is too expensive. That it tries to do too much in the way of regulating business. That it saps individual initiative with aid to folks who should be working harder to help themselves and makes everyone else pay. Across the philosophical fence are those who view robust regulation, robust social programs – including public education…

Warning Signs in Budget ‘Deal’

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UPDATE: After this blog was posted, the final budget was unveiled and passed by the House and Senate. The large reductions in Medicaid reimbursement rates mentioned in the blog below did not materialize. The approach of an agreement to keep North Carolina state government operating with a balanced budget, as required under the state constitution, usually brings at least a sigh of relief. Budgets seldom are approved without plenty of give and take — honest disagreements over spending priorities and how to raise the money. Settling such conflicts in line…

Capital Clash over Education, Health

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North Carolina legislators faced with vexing conflicts over a new state budget spent a solid week pawing and snorting at each other without a lot of movement on the main sticking points. Another case of partisan gridlock? Well, one could say so – except this is a standoff between members of the same party. The stakes are so big, in terms of both policy and politics, that Gov. Pat McCrory has joined the fray, siding with one set of his fellow Republicans against the other. Here, then, are the contending…

Twists, Turns on Teacher Pay

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If this year’s session of the N.C. General Assembly were a work of drama for stage or screen, the plot would be coming to a head. And we in the audience would be perched on the edge of our seats as the actors resolved the mystery: Will the state’s public school teachers get a raise, and if so, how big? There’s little doubt that the state capital powers-that-be – Gov. Pat McCrory and his Republican allies who control the House and Senate – have decided teacher pay is an issue…

Protesters’ Last ‘Salute’ as Legislators Wrangle

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With one final gathering that on June 25 drew more than 1,000 people to the heart of North Carolina’s state government, the NC NAACP and its allies say they have concluded the latest round of Moral Monday protests that focused national attention on policies of the General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory. With rare exception, leaders of the Republican-controlled legislature outwardly paid little heed to the protests, which peaked last summer with crowds that could fairly be described as massive. Still, in keeping with the old rule of watching what they…

Council Spotlights Education, Opportunity

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The NC Council of Churches aims to exert a positive influence on public policies that have implications for what is commonly known as social justice. What this often boils down to is spotlighting areas of decision-making in which the interests of ordinary residents – people hoping to live healthy, productive, fulfilling lives, sometimes against the odds – hang in the balance. At this moment in North Carolina’s history, could there be any such area more important than the state’s commitment to its public schools, its community colleges, its public universities?…

Choices, Conflicts Amid Budget Squeeze

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First it was Gov. Pat McCrory who tried to fashion a state budget giving teachers a badly needed raise while hamstrung by large tax cuts. Then the N.C. Senate took its turn. Yes, teachers willing to give up their job security could get a pay boost. But the proposed Senate budget fails tests of fairness and adequacy. Now along comes the state House to take still another whack at the budget challenge. While its plan drops a couple of the Senate’s most dubious ideas, when it comes to teacher pay…

Health Crunch for the Vulnerable

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For most North Carolinians, the myriad choices that comprise the state budget may affect the quality of their children’s education, or whether their favorite state park is kept in good shape, or whether the DMV has enough employees to keep wait times to a minimum. Then there are our neighbors for whom budget decisions can bear directly on their personal well-being. Case in point: people who, if the state Senate has its way, would lose their health insurance coverage under Medicaid. And it’s not as if this group of people…

Early Voting — Contact Your Local Board of Elections

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One of the most harmful parts of last year’s voter suppression bill was the limitation on early voting. There had been 17 days of it. Last year’s bill, adopted by the General Assembly and signed by the Governor, shortened that to 10 days. This can make it harder on working people who must take time off from work on Election Day to vote, for churches which have promoted “Souls to the Polls” voting after Sunday services, and on others who benefit from early voting. But the bill also requires local…

Senate Budget, Fracking Roar Through

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Say this much for the leaders of the North Carolina Senate and House: When they make up their minds on a course of action, they don’t mess around. The General Assembly was in only the second full week of its 2014 session. But already the Senate, marching quick-time to the cadence set by President Pro Tem Phil Berger, Republican of Eden, was passing its version of a state budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. It’s a budget that significantly raises the stakes in the debate over teacher pay,…

Tax Cuts’ Sour Notes

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If a session of the NC General Assembly can be compared to an opera — comedy, farce or tragedy yet to be determined – then the governor’s recommended budget might amount to the overture. It introduces main themes and sets a mood. But there’s no guarantee that the governor and the legislators who are the opera’s singers will end up making music together. As the 2014 legislative session gets under way in Raleigh, the overture is finished and the curtain is rising to reveal a bevy of performers. As usual,…

Looming Battles Over the Schools

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North Carolina legislators may think they have their hands full trying to defuse the hot political issue of the moment – the state’s woeful pay levels for its public school teachers, now averaging 46th in the nation – while also closing budget shortfalls aggravated by unwise tax cuts. Gov. Pat McCrory wants his Republican allies who control the General Assembly to raise teachers’ salaries, but finding the money while keeping budgets in balance won’t be easy without admitting that the tax cuts went too far. That’s the immediate dilemma facing…

Buckle Up – Here Comes the Legislature

Photo by Flickr member yashmori

The motto of North Carolina’s General Assembly during the past few years could well have been something like “Never a dull moment!” That’s especially been the case as the economy has muddled through various slumps, none so damaging as the Great Recession from which the state and nation still feel aftershocks in the job market. Setting state budget priorities, which for the legislature amounts to Job No. 1, is never more difficult than when the economy tanks. A scandal here and there – a Democratic House speaker went to prison…

Teachers Feel the Strain

Photo by Flickr user twbuckner

North Carolina’s public school classrooms these days seem to be running short of happy campers where they’re most needed — among the teachers whose noble job it is to lead the way toward learning. Teachers in this state have been put through a professional and career wringer, thanks to a General Assembly that has systematically devalued them. Salaries are meager, especially in light of teachers’ profound responsibilities and in comparison with pay in other states. Job security is being weakened, class sizes and thus workloads have been increased, collaboration with…

Deadline for Voters — April 11

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There’s an election in the offing, and over the next few weeks candidates and their allies will be ramping up the rhetoric. North Carolinians settling in to watch some television might want to buckle their seat belts while they ride out the onslaught of campaign commercials. This year, though, there’s a catch. To vote in the May 6 primary, people who aren’t already registered with their county board of elections have to meet a deadline of Friday, April 11, to sign up. Otherwise, they’ll be out of luck – no…

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