The 2013-14 Legislative Session
The 2013-14 Legislative Session mercifully ended on July 26, leaving in its wake a deluge of legislation that Republican legislative leaders insist will make the State stronger, while their critics , including NCRSP, charge that the governor and his buddies who run the General Assembly have made a sharp right turn that has done incalculable harm to the State, particularly education. Politics aside, an objective review of this legislative session can lead to only one conclusion - that the critics are right! And there is an abundance of evidence to substantiate this view.
This legislative session will long be remembered for its assaults on education, the reproductive rights of women, voting rights of minorities and youth, and healthcare, along with tax reform that favors the rich. Unprecedented for its aggressive and overreaching Tea Party agenda, this session has been variously described as “transformative”, by a Republican legislator; “ mean-spirited, vindictive, and foolish”, by the Raleigh News and Observer; and “among the worst sessions in State history”, by a spokesman for NCAE. Even the New York Times Editorial Board weighed in with its editorial, The Decline of North Carolina, in which it deplored what Republicans had done in a few short months to dismantle a State reputation that took years to build”.
The most fervent expression of dismay and discontent directed toward legislators came from a grassroots movement called Moral Monday, which brought together a broad coalition of faith groups, civil rights groups, educators, women’s rights groups, immigration rights groups, and others to protest and demonstrate against outrageous budget cuts and attacks on democracy, which the protestors deemed immoral. This nascent movement, appropriately named the North Carolina Model, is now spreading around the country like a pandemic to target the erosion of civil rights, liberties, and what has been dubbed the “takeover of unelected secretive Big Money politics”.
Education Cuts – Rhetoric vs Reality
The rhetoric coming from the Governor and legislative leaders, insisting that education was not cut, is a patently false claim. In assessing the funding status of education from one year to the next, it is necessary to use not only real dollars but also other factors, such as the rate of inflation and increases in student enrollment. Using real dollars alone, as was done in this case, is disingenuous, and the result is totally misleading. Here’s how the budget treats education:
A Revealing Poll
In a July article published in the Raleigh News Observer, Frank Hyman, a Durham businessman, cites figures from the Raleigh-based Public Policy Polling group showing the level of North Carolina voter support for the job that the General Assembly has been doing. The fact that PPP is highly rated by the Wall Street Journal, Los Angeles Times, Business Insider, and a Fordham University Study for its accuracy lends considerable credibility to the report. Hyman notes an interesting anomaly, or divergence, between what Republicans claim and the level of support expressed by the voters. For example, Republicans claim that they are merely carrying out their campaign promises. But Hyman questions the accuracy of that claim, given the low level of support for Republican policies. What’s the explanation for the divergence? Did the voters misunderstand the campaign promises? Not likely. What we have here is a conundrum. Consider the following:
Whatever the explanation for this divergence, it’s obvious that constituents are not happy with the kind of representation they’re getting in Raleigh. And if the polling data are credible, one might reasonably conclude that some eviction notices may be issued in 2014, changing the balance of power. That will be a banner day for North Carolina!
Graduation Rate Reaches All-Time High
Following the report August 8 that the North Carolina graduation rate had reached an all-time high of 82.5 percent, Governor McCrory praised “the work and talent of our classroom teachers and school principals” for the graduation improvements. To be sure, this improvement deserves applause. But it should be emphasized that, while McCrory and Republican legislative leaders were quick to take credit for the news, they deserve none of the credit. After all, they did absolutely nothing to maintain the upward momentum of the graduation rate. Indeed, what they did – or failed to do - to damage education in this year’s legislative session is antithetical to the improvement of the graduation rate and to education in general. Claiming credit is beyond the pale. They should be ashamed. The credit belongs to all those things that fell victim to education cuts this year. Teachers and students deserve better.
Retirement Fund Sound
We are gratified to learn that the General Assembly met its statutory obligation and appropriated $36 million for 2013-14 and $36 million for 2014-15 to meet the Annual Required Contribution (ARC) to the Teachers’ & State Employees’ Retirement System (TSERS), keeping the system solvent. The system is among the three top systems in the nation in terms of its funding level. Detailed contribution rates are as follows:
Retirement System Pension Fund 8.69%
Death Benefit Trust Fund 0.16%
Retiree Health Benefit Fund 5.40%
Disability Income Plan 0.44%
The employer contribution rate payable for members of the Teachers’ and State Employees’ Retirement System increased, effective July 1, 2013, from 14.23% to 14.69% of the covered payroll of members.
Bob Severs, Chair