Budget Was Worth The Wait

Guest post by John Hood

old-capitolIt’s the journey, not the destination, that matters most — or so we have been assured by deep thinkers ranging from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Steven Tyler. When it comes to North Carolina’s revised 2014-15 state budget, however, the journey proved to be less an idyllic journey through the countryside than a drive through rush-hour traffic with a station wagon full of cranky kids.

It took longer than expected for the House and Senate to resolve their differences (although not particularly long by historical standards). The dialogue among conferees got heated on more than one occasion. Other legislators fidgeted in the backseat and repeatedly asked “Are we there yet?”

Still, I must say that the destination was worth it. The 2014-15 revised budget continues to implement the crucial tax reforms and reductions approved in 2013. At $21.25 billion, the General Fund will grow by just over 3 percent, less than inflation and population growth. The budget contains both structural reforms and sizable enhancements to teacher compensation, while giving other public school staff and state employees smaller but welcome raises. It also makes significant additions to the state’s savings accounts (a wise precaution given that the current national economic “recovery” is, again by historical standards, getting long in the tooth).

The provision attracting the lion’s share of attention is an average teacher pay raise of 7 percent, which will cost about $282 million. It works out to roughly $3,500 per teacher, on average. Under different circumstances, I and other fiscal conservatives might have questioned the wisdom of such a large hike in a single year. In the past, politicians have oversold the premise of North Carolina’s underpaid teachers — using national rankings without any attempt to adjust for variances in cost of living, years of experience, and the value of non-wage benefits. They’ve also tended to pour more money into a broken compensation system that put too much emphasis on longevity-based salary schedules at the expense of offering competitive starting salaries and paying teachers more for high performance or challenging jobs.

But in 2014, the circumstances are different. During the lean budget years of the Great Recession and its aftermath, teachers received only a single across-the-board pay raise (in 2012). Even after adjusting for relevant factors, North Carolina’s compensation package has clearly become less competitive. It needed attention this year.


Senate, House Budget Agreement Provides Largest Teacher Pay Raise in North Carolina History

Thom Tillis
Speaker of the House
Contact: Anna Roberts, Communications Director: 919-733-5917

Thursday, July 29, 2014

Senate, House Budget Agreement
Provides Largest Teacher Pay Raise
in North Carolina History

Raleigh – House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) and Senate Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) held a joint press conference Tuesday to announce details of the $21.25 billion budget agreement reached between Senate and House conferees this past weekend.

The budget will provide public school educators an average seven percent raise – averaging $3,500 per teacher. The $282 million investment will be largest teacher pay raise in state history – moving North Carolina from 46th to 32nd in national teacher pay rankings.

It will also preserve teacher assistant positions, protect classroom funding and continue to give superintendents broad flexibility to tailor classroom spending to their districts’ needs.

“Making positive and historic changes to the status quo isn’t easy – and we commend our Senate and House colleagues for their hard work, patience and perseverance in crafting a plan that provides the largest teacher pay raise in state history without raising taxes,” said Senate Leader Berger and Speaker Tillis. “Investing $282 million in pay raises will make North Carolina competitive nationally and encourage the best and brightest teachers to make a long-term commitment to their profession, our students and our state.”

In addition to the teacher pay raise and preservation of classroom funds, the budget agreement will:

  • Reform and replace an archaic 37-step teacher pay system with a six-step schedule and a transparent compensation package;
  • Preserve current Medicaid eligibility;
  • Provide most state employees a $1,000 pay raise and five bonus vacation days;
  • Increase pay for step-eligible Highway Patrol Troopers between five and six percent;
  • Maintain funding at current levels for the state’s university system; and
  • Fulfill the commitment to extend supplemental pay for teachers with Master’s degrees who have completed at least one course in a graduate program as of August 1, 2013.

The budget will also boost early-career teacher pay by 14 percent over the next two years to $35,000 – making North Carolina a leader in the Southeast and fulfilling a promise made by state leaders in February.

The full budget compromise bill will be posted to the North Carolina General Assembly’s website on Wednesday.

Statement on the Passing of Rep. Jim Fulghum

Representative Jim FulghumThe following statement is from House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) regarding the death of Rep. Jim Fulghum (R-Wake):

“I am saddened to learn of the passing of Rep. Jim Fulghum this weekend. The residents of Wake County were lucky to have Dr. Fulghum represent them – his leadership as a legislator was second only to his compassion and expertise as a doctor serving his constituents and the state of North Carolina. He was a friend who will be missed by me and our entire chamber and my deepest sympathies go to his family and friends during this very difficult time.”

Repealing Common Core

books_lgThe General Assembly voted this week to exercise North Carolina’s constitutional authority over academic standards by replacing Common Core with age-level and developmentally appropriate curriculum. An appointed 11-member advisory board, in cooperation with the State Board of Education, will bring together teachers, principals, parents and subject matter experts to develop standards that will replace Common Core. The new statewide academic standards are expected to be among the highest in the nation, enabling North Carolina students to succeed academically and professionally.

North Carolina schools began implementing Common Core in 2010 as part of a national movement. However, statewide efforts to repeal Common Core standards soon followed when parents and educators found that it’s related testing requirements and teaching methods to be confusing and often age-inappropriate.

The bill passed this week is a compromise between similar House and Senate versions. The final bill allows the advisory board to consider keeping parts of Common Core if they believe they serve the best educational interests of North Carolina students. Current standards will remain in place until the new standards are completed.

The passage has already been lauded by the North Carolina Chamber of Commerce who has long fought to bolster the state’s workforce with higher educational standards. The measure now goes to Governor McCrory for final approval.

Don’t Feed the Trolls

Legislation passed the House unanimously last month that, if signed into law, would protect business-owners from frivolous lawsuits by predatory patent-holding companies — often referred to as “patent trolls.” The bill now awaits action in the Senate.

Patent trolls assert patents on commonly used technologies (e.g. the aggregation of news stories into podcasts, sending photocopies to email, scanning documents to email, the use of shopping carts on a website, etc.) and then sue other companies for “infringing” on their patents in an attempt to collect fees.

These companies (non practicing entities, or NPEs) don’t actually otherwise manufacture products or provide services themselves — they exist for the sole purpose of suing other companies, who are then put in the untenable position of defending themselves against these meritless claims or settling out of court. With litigation in these cases running into the hundreds of thousands (or in some cases, millions) of dollars, it’s usually cheaper for a company to just settle than to pay the exorbitant costs associated with proving their innocence.

In the event that a targeted company makes the decision to defend itself against a baseless charge of patent infringement and eventually prevails, the victory is a hollow one. Honor and innocence may be restored, but at a cost which then comes out of the company’s bottom line and costs that are passed along to the consumer. Patent trolls use the costs associated with the litigation to force settlements from the operating companies, and for smaller companies, it could result in shuttering their business.

Currently, there is no legal mechanism for the injured company to recoup the enormous expense associated with defending its innocence; in North Carolina, we do not have a “loser-pays” system. In an attempt to deter these predatory practices, House Bill 1032 changes North Carolina’s Unfair and Deceptive Trade Practices Act to allow for the civil punishment of clear and demonstrable “bad faith” patent infringement litigation.


Throwback Thursday: Coal Ash

Oh my!Rewind six months ago to the tragic accident in Rockingham County that spilled 32,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River. Coal ash is a by-product of coal-fired plants that produce electricity; and leachate from coal ash contains toxic metals and other hazardous substances. There are 14 coal-fired plants in North Carolina, including the one in Rockingham County, and around 30 or so other coal ash ponds and pits.

Environmental groups, bloggers, and advocacy journalists pounced: social media lit up with criticism of the Republican legislature and a flurry of fundraising emails squawked about how it was obviously all Governor Pat McCrory’s fault for not properly regulating coal ash ponds.

To hear them tell the story, the coal ash problem began when Republicans, who assumed control of state government for the first time in 140 years, could finally realize their nefarious dreams of destroying the environment — in this case, by poisoning the water supply.

It’s a convenient fundraising narrative in an election year. But as with everything in politics, there’s always another side to the story — and it’s one that’s conveniently forgotten by activists and not mentioned by our friends in the media.

Let’s rewind further back to 2006, when the state placed a moratorium on all new landfill permits. At the time, Democrats controlled both chambers of the General Assembly, the Governor’s office, and the Department of Environmental Resources. So, what did the Democrats do? They specifically exempted hazardous coal ash basins from the new environmental controls. [See Session Law 2006-244; S353; Section 3(5)]

In 2007, when solid-waste regulations were tightened, what did the Democrats do? Then, they exempted hazardous coal ash pits yet again — allowing dangerous coal ash to be placed in unlined landfills. [See Session Law 2007-550; S1482; Section 8(b)(5)]

When the most catastrophic coal ash spill in the nation’s history occurred at a TVA facility in 2008 (spilling over 1.7 million tons of coal-ash) what did the Democrats do? Nada. Not a single bill on the coal ash crisis ever emerged from committee in the North Carolina General Assembly.

But last week, in a strong bipartisan vote, the Republican-led House of Representatives passed the Coal Ash Management Act of 2014 to finally deal with the problem at long last. The bill is a collaboration between the House and Senate, and members from both chambers worked proactively to create a comprehensive and sensible plan to address the threat of coal ash in every pond statewide. The bill’s chief architect was Representative Chuck McGrady, himself a national past president of the Sierra Club. No one in the entire legislature has better environmental bona fides.


Tillis Statement on Most Recent N.C. House Budget Offer

Thom Tillis
Speaker of the House
Contact: Anna Roberts, Communications Director: 919-733-5917

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Tillis Statement on
Most Recent N.C. House Budget Offer

Raleigh – The following statement is from House Speaker Thom Tillis (R-Mecklenburg) regarding the most recent budget offer from the House to the Senate:

“The House was pleased to present the fifth House offer to the Senate this morning that included our revised lottery position, increased teacher pay to an average of six percent and maintained the House’s commitment to preserving existing teacher assistant positions without impacting Medicaid eligibility. We will continue to move towards a budget compromise that fulfills the promises we made to teachers while maintaining classroom resources across the state.”

Copies of the most recent offer are available through Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake).

Facts are stubborn things

From Fred Lucas at The Blaze:

The Blaze: Critics Who Claim Voter ID Laws Are Racist Won’t Like the Results of This StudyCritics Who Claim Voter ID Laws Are Racist Won’t Like the Results of This Study

If there was a hidden agenda behind North Carolina’s voter ID law to suppress minority turnout – as the law’s opponents claim – it hasn’t worked, based on a study showing not only more voters overall, but an increase in black voter turnout especially, after the law’s implementation.

The findings came before a scheduled hearing next week where the U.S. Justice Department will ask a U.S. District Court for an injunction against the law going into the November midterms. The Obama administration has argued that such a law will make it more difficult for minorities to vote.

Comparing May 4, 2010 North Carolina primary election data with the May 14, 2014 primary data, the study found that voter turnout increased across the board, but particularly among black voters, where it increased by 29.5 percent, compared to an increase of white voter turnout of 13.7 percent. The findings were based on Census Bureau data and public names who signed the voter rolls.

“Comparing May 4, 2010 North Carolina primary election data with the May 14, 2014 primary data, the study found that voter turnout increased across the board, but particularly among black voters, where it increased by 29.5 percent…”

Judicial Watch, a conservative watchdog group, commissioned the study and included the findings in an amicus brief for the July 7 hearing. Judicial Watch was joined in its legal brief by the Allied Educational Foundation and by former Buncombe County commissioner candidate Christina Kelley Gallegos-Merrill.

The North Carolina law also eliminated same-day voter registration, which is why Gallegos-Merrill joined the brief. She alleges that her close loss in the state resulted from ineligible same-day registrations.

North Carolina adopted a law in line with 37 other states that don’t allow same-day voter registration, Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said.

“The recent election in North Carolina shows that the Obama administration is engaged in a race-baiting canard when it suggests that voting integrity measures suppress minority votes,” Fitton said. “It is high time that the Obama administration comes into line with the majority of the American people who want to strengthen rather than weaken ballot box integrity.”

One expert prediction from the federal court filing projected that 915,426 North Carolina voters would be burdened in off-year, non-presidential elections. Specifically, this was projected to mean 209,959 black voters and 710,567 white voters facing burdens that might dissuade them from voting.

Steven A. Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies, led the study and analyzed the data.

The brief asserts these finding “fundamentally undermines” the Justice Department’s case for an injunction against the law, which includes about 900 pages of predictions and probabilities of how voter turnout would go down. The brief says the “expert reports are unreliable, because they predicted the opposite of what happened.”

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed the bill into law in August 2013.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of voter ID in a 6-3 decision in 2008. Since that time, 34 states have adopted some form of ID laws, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures…

The preceding article first appeared in The Blaze on July 1, 2014 and was written by White House correspondent Fred Lucas. Follow him on Twitter at @FredVLucas3.

North Carolina Got It Right on Unemployment Benefits

WallStreetJournal-logoFrom the Wall Street Journal:

A year ago, North Carolina became the first state in the nation to exit the federal government’s extended-benefits program for the unemployed. Facing the prospect of job-killing hikes in payroll taxes to pay back Washington, Gov. Pat McCrory and the state legislature instead reduced the amount and duration of unemployment-insurance benefits, which had been higher in North Carolina than in most states. As a result the state lost its eligibility to participate in the extended-benefits program on July 1, 2013.

Unemployment in the Tar Heel State dropped by 17% in the second half of 2013 after extended benefits expired.

National media and liberal activists pounced. Citing the decision and several other “outrages” by the state’s first Republican-led government since Reconstruction — such as adopting a pro-growth flat tax, clearing out the state’s regulatory thicket, and rejecting ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion — left-wing critics subjected the Tar Heel State to months of invective and ridicule.

Within the state, the so-called Moral Monday movement drew thousands of protesters to the capital on a nearly weekly basis. Hundreds of arrests were made for violating the rules of the state’s Legislative Building. Outside the state, liberal media outlets excoriated North Carolina for ending extended benefits. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman called it a “war on the unemployed.” Even some conservative columnists and policy analysts criticized the decision as unwise and inconsistent with the principles of their new “reform conservatism” movement.

North Carolina didn’t descend into the Dickensian nightmare critics predicted. For the last six months of 2013, it was the only state where jobless recipients weren’t eligible for extended benefits. Yet during that period North Carolina had one of the nation’s largest improvements in labor-market performance and overall economic growth.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of payroll jobs in North Carolina rose by 1.5% in the second half of 2013, compared with a 0.8% rise for the nation as a whole. Total unemployment in the state dropped by 17%, compared with the national average drop of 12%. The state’s official unemployment rate fell to 6.9% in December 2013 from 8.3% in June, while the nationwide rate fell by eight-tenths of a point to 6.7%.


The Declaration of Independence

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IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.