The Follies

By: - May 18, 2012 12:07 pm

The embattled Speaker

It is getting close to the time when many people who refer to House Speaker Thom Tillis will call him the “embattled Speaker of the House.”

Tillis came under fire this week for giving severance pay to two staff members who resigned after their affairs with lobbyists came to light.  Tillis defended the payment of public money to the two former staffers by claiming they had worked for free during the period before he was elected House Speaker in 2011.

That’s not likely to quell the controversy that has some other House leaders hanging up on reporters who are seeking a comment and has other Republican legislators openly making jokes ridiculing Tillis’ office.

It also didn’t help that Tillis’ first try at justifying the severance pay was to cite Wikipedia, which was quoting employment law from the United Kingdom.

Thursday, Sarah Ovaska with NC Policy Watch reported that Tillis was among a group of legislators that a voucher lobbying group took to Florida in March to build support for vouchers and education tax credits in North Carolina.

The trip may have been a violation of the state’s gift ban law that prohibits lobbyists from giving lawmakers even a cup of coffee. Officials with the group, Parents for Educational Freedom, cite a 2008 opinion from the state ethics commission that a similar trip was allowed under an exception allowed for educational purposes.

It would be interesting to know what the commission would say if it heard the group’s president and registered lobbyist Darrell Allison, boasting on a podcast about the March trip laying the groundwork for voucher legislation.

Tillis also made news during the days before the May 8 vote on the marriage amendment when he admitted that the amendment would be repealed in the next 20 years because the younger generations don’t support it.

Then there are Tillis’ comments about his goal to “divide and conquer” people on public assistance by convincing people with disabilities to look down on people who are poor.

Embattled seems about right.

Commerce study blames tax cuts

Interesting news this week about the state’s $2.4 billion debt to the federal government for unemployment benefits the feds paid when the state ran out of money during the depths of the recession.

The News & Observer reports that a study done for the N.C. Department of Commerce finds that the problem was basically caused by a series of reductions years ago in the unemployment tax that businesses pay.

The North Carolina Chamber wants state lawmakers to pay back the money with a bond issue and by reducing benefits to unemployed workers.

The commerce report says the bond issue is only a short-term solution because the current unemployment rate is not raising enough revenue to pay benefits.

It’s obvious that the debt cannot be repaid and further problems cannot be avoided without employers paying a higher tax. They have received the benefit of the unwise tax cuts for years.  Unemployed workers shouldn’t lose benefits because of unwise tax cuts for businesses.

Republicans for and against federal education money

One of the biggest issues facing the General Assembly is what lawmakers will do about the federal stimulus funding for education that disappears this year. It’s roughly $250 million and it pays for almost 5,000 teachers.

Republicans like Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger have bizarrely criticized Democrats for using the federal money for teaching positions. They apparently wish that local schools systems (LEAs) had been forced to fire 5,000 teachers three years ago.

That’s absurd on many levels because Republicans seemed happy to keep using the federal funds last year when they put the budget together.  Here’s what the conference report from the 2011 budget says.

“LEAs are expected to utilize federal EduJobs availability to minimize reducing position allotments.”

The Republican budget expected local schools to use federal fund to keep as many teachers as they could, but the Republican leader of the Senate doesn’t think federal money should have been used?

In case you missed it

And finally, what do proposals to end state funding for the Consumer Protection Section of the Attorney General’s Office, to abolish the appropriation for the NC Victims Assistance Network, and to slash funding for district attorneys’ office have in common?

Two things. All three of them are recommendations of the House Appropriations Committee on Justice and Public Safety and all three have received very little attention in the media.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Chris Fitzsimon

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina. [email protected] 919-861-2066