Critics question what North Carolina lawmakers got done this session

Monday, August 4, 2014
Critics question what lawmakers got done this session
New rules for coal ash and fracking didn't get done as General Assembly haggled over budget.

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- Ever shake your head at how 2 people can see the same thing very differently?

Well, there's a lot of head-shaking in the wake of this long, 'short' session at the North Carolina General Assembly.

Going in, legislative leaders said they would get the budget done quickly, pass a couple other key pieces of legislation that have wide bi-partisan interest, and get out of Dodge by July 1.

Four weeks later, they just left and are promising to come back in hopscotch fashion once or twice more this year.

So.. Pledge One, broken.

Score one for the critics.

There were a lot of other promises and pledges made going in (April/May). Some were met. Some weren't. Many were met somewhere in the middle.

Here's our scorecard of some of the bigger issues:

Coal Ash Legislation

Folks on both sides of the aisle will tell you this is the biggest disappointment of the session. On the heels of a major environmental disaster (unless you're asleep at the switch or new to the state, you know about the huge coal ash spill on the Dan River back on February 2), both Senate President Pro-Temp Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis called coal ash legislation "a top priority." But they leave without any legislation passed whatsoever. The House and Senate couldn't agree on how to regulate the proposed changes and the legislation stalled. Both sides have plans to come back to Raleigh later this summer and fall to continue working on the bill but the delay has environmentalists and others around the state fired up. The issue could well be a factor going into the November elections. Coal ash was the first bill filed in the Senate and it was left on the table. It may be the one issue that has both sides (in general) hanging their heads.


Teacher Raises. This will be the most mis-quoted, mis-represented, mis-understood issue to come out of the short session and stands to be the one most both boasted on and roasted for. Bottom line: teachers in NC are getting an average 7% raise. Republicans have taken to calling it the 'largest teacher pay raise in state history' and you can expect a lot of campaign signs leading up to November that make that claim. By historical standards, though, the I-Team has learned it not accurate; it's in the conversation but doesn't take home the prize. The term average has meaningful implications for teachers in the classroom. Newer teachers will get a much bigger raise than veteran teachers. The bill was crafted that way intentionally: this state is in dire need of new teachers and we were at the bottom of the pay scale nationally. But many believe when the dust settles, veteran teachers will be on the other side of the scales, receiving much smaller raises (some predict in the range of 1-2%). That would set up a situation in which the most experienced teachers get the smallest raise and - worst case - leads to an exodus of top-tier educators who feel disrespected after years of no meaningful raise. The teacher raise has also meant some grumbling within the ranks of state workers. The budget provides a $1,000 salary bump to most other state employees (non-teachers; TAs get a $500 raise), but it's not uncommon to hear workers grumble about teachers getting - on average - more than twice that.

Teacher Assistants

Republicans will rightly tell you that no TAs are cut in this budget. The problem, as some critics see it, is they took money from elsewhere in the education budget to keep the TAs employed (and to help foot the bill for the teacher raises).

Charter Schools

Charter school proponents chalk this up as a major victory; critics call it lunacy. In short, it eases regulations and shores up privacy claims for charter school ownership groups. Among the changes, teacher pay at charters will be shielded from open records laws to which public school employees are subject. Critics worry that instead of hiring teachers, charter schools could hire management companies to hire teachers on a contract basis and out of public scrutiny but on the public dime (remember, charters are still paid for with taxpayer dollars).

Common Core

Critics of the national educational platform have been trying to dismantle it since the idea germinated some four years ago. Broadly, the program links North Carolina's educational testing to that of other states (who are also on the Common Core). Advocates say it helps standardize education across the state and country. You'll hear detractors say it's the result of an overreach by the federal government that robs the state of autonomy. However you feel about it, Republicans won the day and passed a bill to repeal the national standard. The bill - now law - sets up a commission to study the Core curriculum and advise the state to make certain changes. It leaves it up to the Department of Education to implement the changes as it sees fit.


Here's another one the two sides see completely differently. Fracking advocates in the legislature (generally Republicans) fast-tracked the underground drilling process with a bill that opens the floodgates in two years. The rules, however, still haven't been finalized (that's what the two years are for). Now last year when they passed the footprint legislation for the general plan, Republicans promised that they wouldn't make it legal until the rules were finalized; critics say this is a blatantly broken promise. Still, proponents of fracking are crowing about the legislation with much the same mantra we've heard before: drill, baby, drill.

Tax Cuts

Not much new happened on the tax front but that's not what people on the ends of the spectrum wanted. Free-market conservative groups wanted lawmakers to double down on the tax cuts they passed last year. Liberals wanted to see those tax-cuts repealed or dulled. This is another great example of the two sides seeing an issue completely differently. You will hear Republicans boast about the cuts as a main talking point through the November elections; they'll tell you the cuts are working, helped pull the state out of the Great Recession, and are creating jobs. Tell a Democrat they said that and you might just actually see a head explode. On the left, they point to the state's own numbers, which show the state losing hundreds of millions of dollars as a result of the tax cuts. Good chance you'll see just as many posters, slogans, signs, and commercials from critical progressives on this as you will from crowing conservatives.

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