Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Let's get further away

The House budget proposal, which WRAL's Laura Leslie describes here, strikes me as a major move away from governor's bargaining position in a more detailed, matter-of-fact and tangible way than even the recent acrimony has portrayed.

There's also quite a bit of legislating from within the budget. No wonder Republicans wanted a continuing resolution in place.

From Laura:
The bill, H200, weighs in at 333 pages, 63 of which are devoted to basically dismantling the Department of Environment and Natural Resources. ...

(Among other things it) institutes strict new curbs on the Governor’s power to manage the budget when lawmakers are not in session. Perdue would have to call an interim committee back to add so much as one position in the executive branch. Grant money would also be subject to new oversight.
Yeah, she'll probably sign that. It also raids Golden Leaf.

Particularly when it comes to DENR, it would seem (LIBERAL!) watchdog Chris Fitzsimon was right yesterday when he said the GOP is "using the budget crisis to remake state government philosophically."

Or, to put it in Speaker of the House Thom Tillis' words, doing "what we said we were going to do" last year.

Gary Robertson did a good piece for the Associated Press on the new fees in this budget. He also touches on the $230 million set aside in the budget bill for a "tax package":
The budget bill released late Tuesday sets aside $230 million in reserve for the separate tax package, of which about $130 million would be used to lower the corporate income tax rate, said Rep. Harold Brubaker, R-Randolph, senior co-chairman of the full Appropriations Committee.
Tillis said this morning that the rest of that package will "relate to job creation, most likely tax relief for small businesses, maybe some for corporate filers."

Update: According to Jordan Shaw, the speaker's spokesman, the 2 percent corporate tax rate cut in the governor's budget, which Brubaker and, in a vaguer sense, Tillis allude to above is not assumed in the House budget. Basically, they're still working on a tax package that may include it. Tillis said Friday it may also include a personal income tax rate cut.












Tillis: Probably not holding his breath.

Image: File. December, 2010.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Heights of the storm

From preliminary National Weather Service reports describing tornadoes and other storms this weekend in a large swath of North Carolina:

In the Lemon Springs / Sanford area, before heading into Raleigh:
TORNADO CONTINUED TO INTENSIFY TO EF3 ALONG LEMON SPRINGS ROAD STRIKING THE ST ANDREWS SUBDIVISION. ONE FATALITY OCCURRED IN A VEHICLE ALONG LEMON SPRINGS ROAD. NUMEROUS HOMES WERE COMPLETELY DESTROYED AND SEVERAL TWO STORY HOMES HAD THEIR UPPER FLOORS REMOVED. WIND SPEEDS WERE ESTIMATED AT 140 MPH WITH A PATH LENGTH OF OVER A QUARTER MILE. ADDITIONAL HOMES WERE BLOWN OFF THEIR FOUNDATION ON CEMETERY DRIVE.

CONTINUING NORTHEAST ALONG CAMERON DRIVE...THE UPPER FLOOR WAS BLOWN OFF TWO APARTMENT BUILDINGS. THE TORNADO THEN ENTERED AN INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX ALONG INDUSTRIAL DR WHERE IT MULTIPLE STEEL CONSTRUCTED RETAIL BUILDINGS WERE DESTROYED IN ADDITION TO AT LEAST THREE LARGE WAREHOUSES AT THE STATIC CONTROL FACILITY. WINDS IN THIS AREA LIKELY EXCEEDED 160 MPH. THE TORNADO THEN DESTROYED THE TRACTOR SUPPLY COMPANY... BIG LOTS... AND LOWES HOME IMPROVEMENT STORE ALONG HIGHWAY 421.
In Dunn:
ONE FATALITY OCCURRED WITH THIS DAMAGE. ANOTHER BRIEF BREAK IN THE DAMAGE OCCURRED NEAR THE CAPE FEAR RIVER...THEN DAMAGE BEGAN AGAIN JUST SOUTH OF DUNN. IN DUNN...EF1 DAMAGE WAS COMMON...WITH AREAS OF EF2 DAMAGE (WIND SPEEDS TO 130 MPH) WHERE MOBILE HOMES WERE COMPLETELY WIPED OFF OF THEIR FOUNDATIONS AND TREES WERE DEBARKED. A SECOND FATALITY OCCURRED HERE. THE TORNADO DAMAGE PATH WAS ABOUT ONE THIRD TO ONE HALF MILE WIDE.
God bless us, everyone.

I did a short piece for The Indy, about a cross that — apparently — didn't blow down, despite being in the path of the storm.

People said it was a nice symbol.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Gov to Legis: Boom

There's really only one answer to "check," if you want the game to keep going.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Republicans to Perdue: check

It was interesting to watch the new GOP leadership yesterday plan and respond to Gov. Bev Perdue's vetoes (see Wednesday's column), and to maneuver on the more immediately important issue of unemployment checks for 37,000 people. Legislators have smartly / jerkily? tied that to a continuing resolution with a 13 percent cut on a budget that doesn't start until July.

It would indeed seem a checkmate, unless Perdue can prevail upon the federal government not to require the legislative change, which surely a president can do if he can bomb Libya. Or Perdue may veto the bill, and try to win the public relations war that follows.

After House Bill 383 passed yesterday, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis said Republicans had offered Democrats a 4 month continuing resolution with a 13 percent spending cut, instead of the full year that passed. He did not tell reporters this deal would have required Gov. Perdue's promise not to veto the bill, but surely that was expected.


The speaker also said Gov. Perdue called him Thursday morning and "I made it clear I'm open to meeting with her." He told reporters he would
hope to see a member at the governor's staff at all important public legislative meetings.


Tillis with reporters Thursday evening.

On charter schools, Tillis said Democrats walked away from negotiations, "we didn't." He said he expects to reach a deal on the employee health care plan, which Perdue one of two bills Perdue vetoed Wednesday evening.

If Democrats rejected the four-month compromise, you have to think Perdue is willing to veto this conjoined bill Republicans sent her. Tillis had some tortured-logic story about the CR and the benefit extension being connected because both give people "certainty" about the future, but rationalizations are largely irrelevant at this point.

The ball is in the governor's court.

A few other pictures from yesterday after the jump. They're not particularly technically proficient (potential employers), but they give a sense of the controlled tension often on display Thursday at the General Assembly.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The adults in the room

With today's GOP maneuvering, and the governor's subsequent vetoes, it has become clear that this legislative session may well devolve to a series of plots, insults and vetoes, and it is difficult to predict what you lose when that happens.

Obviously the governor and legislative leaders have legitimate philosophical differences.

But how much are they really listening to each other, and talking to each other reasonably? Barry Smith reports they met today, but how many decisions are based on doing what's right, as opposed to winning political battles?

Republicans are churning out bills. But they're turning conservative-minded ideas into mediocre legislation because of an over-aggressive style.

Look at the Charter Schools bill, Senate Bill 8. It is a Christmas tree of lowered requirements for new schools. They'd have to serve students lunch, but not necessarily nutritious ones. They'd have to provide transportation, but only for a three mile radius. Schools couldn't discriminate against children based on race or disabilities, but they're also not required to accept every nearby student that asks for enrollment.

No wonder Democrats cry out and say these changes will simply drain the best students out of traditional schools, leaving the poor kids condensed together. Of course, the Democratic Party has had more than a century of rule to make North Carolina's schools better on their own, but that's another column.

Look at House Bill 7, which the governor vetoed today. Is there really any reason to allow community colleges to opt out of federal loan programs, other than it will help banks who don't want to compete with the federal government? Is there any evidence that a college has ever been held liable for student defaults, as some college presidents say they are concerned will happen?

If so, no one ever brought it up on the House floor, and yet the GOP moved that thing merrily along.

As for the governor, she's been keeping quiet, publicly, about most legislation until it's approved, which is not unusual. But last Thursday she spoke at Winston-Salem State University, and an excerpt was posted to her YouTube channel. Said Perdue:
"I'm smart enough going into it not to try to pick a fight in the school yard. Because at the end of the day, I am the adult. And when push comes to shove. I'm going to do what we need to do. Let me tell you a funny story. ... You know I've been governor two years ... I've vetoed one bill and that's just because they were messing with me and I got mad. I vetoed it and I didn't even know where the veto stamp was. ... After some of this mess started happening (a staffer) came in my office and he had this brown bag and it was swishing. You could hear the liquid swishing and I thought, "Holy no, he didn't bring me beer or a glass of wine. I mean, this is state property." ... And I pulled the bag out and it's like a quart jar of red ink. Because the law says I've got to veto the, veto stamp, in red ink. And, so, I'm right with you brother. I'm right with you. I'm prepared and ready to go."
That's a great story. But I'm not sure it's one "the adult" throws out there, baiting the other side, picking a fight in the school yard just as you say you won't.

Speaker Thom Tillis mentioned Perdue's comments during a Tuesday press conference. I got the feeling he marked her words.

One day later, the House and Senate majorities threw an end-around at the governor on next year's budget, tying it to an extension of unemployment benefits. The legislature has to make a formula change, or 37,000 people won't get their federal unemployment checks. Tillis and Berger said the state's Employment Security Commission took its sweet, incompetent time telling them this. Everybody's accusing everybody of playing politics, and they're all right.

Later in the day, Perdue told reporters that the GOP move amounted to "extortion ... dereliction of duty, all those words." She reminded legislators they "were sworn to take an oath, I mean they took it themselves on the Bible."

"It's tough being a leader," she said, "and sometimes I guess they're overwhelmed."

So we may be done here.

Perhaps more legislation will be crafted to put the governor in a hard place. Perhaps more legislation will be vetoed, in some cases for the wrong reasons. You look at the state health plan bill, Senate Bill 265, which Perdue also vetoed today. Is asking teachers and other employees to pay a monthly fee for personal insurance truly unfair in this climate? Did the House and Senate really take just "60 seconds in front of a committee" to hear from retired workers and teacher's groups, as the governor says?

If the governor is serious about negotiating a solution, will she work toward one with the House and Senate, without insulting their leadership? Will they let her?

That would seem the adult thing to do, for both sides. Or instead of making North Carolina better now, they can fight, and we'll talk about who deserves the blame. And maybe someone will make it better in 2012.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Blasphemy in the U.S. Capitol

In the United States we often refer to ourselves as a Christian nation, even if we seldom seem to govern by the values laid out in the Sermon on the Mount.

But I was in Washington, D.C., this week and toured the inside of the U.S. Capitol for the first time. The Capitol rotunda is an awesome sight, and I was surprised to see a painting called "The Apotheosis of Washington" gracing the domed ceiling.

Apotheosis basically means to become a god. And the painting depicts George Washington rising into Heaven.

So what does it say about this Christian nation that, for the last 146 years, we've had a fresco of one our earliest leaders "rising to the heavens in glory" painted onto the highest indoor point of our most important building?


Image: Architect of the Capitol.gov.