As the General Assembly has been going about its business of adjusting a grossly flawed state budget during what should have been a “short” special legislative session, you’ve probably been tempted to label those proceedings with a number of disparaging comments, among them, “What bozos are driving this bus?” To be fair, some might say that would be an inappropriate slap at the world’s bozos.
It’s certainly fair game to ask who’s in charge up there, given Thursday’s news that Gov. McCrory, a Republican, has now threatened to veto the Senate’s version of a new budget, despite the fact that the Senate is also controlled by ... Republicans. (As is, of course, the House.)
Two weeks after the beginning of the new fiscal year, the General Assembly appears not to have made much progress in finalizing the new budget. In fact, one could argue that the war that’s broken out between differing segments of the dominant party is so serious that they’re farther away from a resolution of the serious issues than they were when the special session began.
As of today, McCrory and the House Republicans want a budget that raises teacher pay 6 percent (that’s up 1 percent from Thursday), as opposed to the Senate’s 13 percent. The difference in the governor’s/House plan would go to the state’s Medicaid users and teacher assistants. Under the Senate plan, estimates are that upwards of tens of thousands of medically needy North Carolinians, depending on whose study you believe, could go without healthcare of any kind. And as many as 4,700 teacher assistant jobs could be lost statewide. The Senate’s plan also dropped its previous requirement that teachers who accepted any raises would only receive them if they also agreed to forgo their tenure status.
Meanwhile, there’s a fairly intense debate going on concerning a resolution to Duke Energy’s coal ash ponds, on the heels of the spill into the Dan River in February. The Senate bill’s backers believe the House’s version gives Duke too long to clean up the ponds and weakens the power, makeup and independence of the regulatory commission that would oversee the process. But both chambers’ plans fall far short of what environmental groups believe is necessary.
The House decided it would forgo trying to increase the state’s income by increasing lottery ticket sales, which leaves unanswered the question about where the extra revenue will come from. This is important, as many analysts say the current budget shortfall, which has forced this short session, was caused by last year’s tax cuts and, as such, trying to squeeze more income from the lottery-ticket buyers, composed primarily of low-income earners, was particularly egregious.
The one arena where there seemed to be progress as of Friday morning was in education, where a compromise between the House and Senate over the curriculum standards known as Common Core seemed to resolve what has been a bitter dispute - although that agreement is between the Republicans alone, with the minority Democrats labeling all versions of the legislation as weak.
Is there any real sense of urgency to end this short session? While the Senate was quite busy this week, so much so that by week’s end it was facing McCrory’s veto pen, most of the members of the House took the week off. Which means we'll be back at this ... next week.