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Friday, July 18, 2014

Another week slides into the dustbin of legislative history

Posted By on Fri, Jul 18, 2014 at 3:50 PM

It’s a lovely Friday afternoon and there’s no better way to send you off to a glorious weekend than to wrap-up the week’s follies in Raleigh. Every day has continued to bring us more developments on a host of issues. So, let’s get started:

First, minority Democrats reacted in near-record-setting time to a Wednesday proposal that would have scuttled a sales-tax referendum scheduled to go before Mecklenburg County’s voters in November. The highly controversial offering passed the Board of County Commissioners by a 5-4 vote. It was Republicans who, by and large, opposed the measure, which was designed to increase local teacher salaries. Even some Democrats, particularly Senator Joel Ford of Charlotte, thought the proposal was a mistake, as was the process by which it was approved. Given that Republicans control both the House and the Senate, the early consensus was that the bill to limit the county’s ability to tinker with the sales-tax would sail through the Senate, and then through the House.

That didn’t go quite as planned.

After passing an initial vote on Wednesday afternoon, the bill hit something of a brick wall. First, Democratic Party activist groups, such as the N.C. Justice Center, mobilized its opposition quickly. The group sent out an email to its supporters early Thursday morning saying that the bill “would only allow counties to levy a sales tax increase for either education or transit - not both.” It described the bill as “particularly harsh for Mecklenburg, Forsyth, Guilford, and Wake counties because they are currently authorized to levy up to a 2.75 percent tax under a transit law passed several years ago.”

But then came the “coup de gras”: Employing a philosophy normally found in the tool box of conservatives who favor local governmental control over a more remote, centralized model. The email emphasized that “not only does this bill decrease localities’ authority to meet local needs and balance their budgets, but it also is aimed at shifting the responsibility of funding public education away from the state and towards the locals.”

And that seemed to confuse the matter just enough that, by late Thursday, a second scheduled Senate vote had to be postponed until Monday night at the earliest. The bill’s proponents failed to come up with language that everyone could agree on - and which, frankly, could afford all legislators the necessary “cover” to answer their critics’ claims about problems with it. Mecklenburg County’s State Senator Bob Rucho, a die-hard conservative, even went so far as to claim the bill wasn’t meant to stop the sales-tax referendum - which, frankly, didn’t pass the “smell” test.

Moving on, we’d be remiss not to acknowledge that North Carolina’s new poet laureate, Valerie Macon, resigned from her post on Thursday night. “I do not want the negative attention that this appointment has generated to discourage or distract attention from the Office of the Poet Laureate.” Macon, who was on the job less than a week after her controversial appointment by Gov. Pat McCrory, wrote in a released statement. She went on to thank the Governor “and the many individuals” she said had supported her. Of course, this means the ball is back in McCrory’s court - and we’ll be watching to see what process he follows, this time, in choosing her successor.

One last note: Another week has passed and we have no resolution to the budget shortfall. Most observers expect the General Assembly to make an attempt to adjourn sometime soon, especially given that summer school break will end soon. Districts need to start making plans, hopefully, to accommodate changes that may mean a reduction in the number of teaching assistant positions they can pay for, in conjunction with some resolution to the teacher pay debate.

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