The Follies

The Follies

- in Fitzsimon File


The battle over UNC in 2014

One of the more interesting political battles in 2014 might come over state funding for the university system and calls for more tuition hikes to replace the deep budget cuts made in the last three years.

UNC Board of Governors Chair Peter Hans told the Triangle Business Journal this week that he opposes any increase in undergraduate tuition next year and he also made the case for more investments in the university system by state lawmakers.

There have been reports that the McCrory Administration is considering paying for a salary increase for teachers next year with more cuts to the UNC system.

Some of the think tanks funded by State Budget Director Art Pope have long called for tuition increases as high as 25 percent at UNC schools, ridiculously claiming that the state improperly “subsidizes” a university education for North Carolina students.

The state constitution says that a higher education must be provided to all North Carolina residents “as free as practicable.”  Low tuition is not a subsidy. It is a constitutional mandate, not to mention the right thing to do.

Republican legislative leaders have made no secret of their animosity toward the UNC system and one Pope-funded group is currently on a crusade against the core curriculum at UNC-Chapel Hill. Another Pope group is openly attacking UNC Law Professor Gene Nichol, a frequent critic of Governor McCrory and the radical agenda pursued by state lawmakers since Republicans took over in 2011.

Hans is a well-connected Republican himself and he presides over a board entirely elected by the General Assembly in the last two sessions, setting up an interesting battle over tuition, funding, and the future of the UNC system, long considered one the crown jewels of North Carolina.

The disappearing statesmen and stateswomen

Events in recent weeks have confirmed again a disturbing trend in North Carolina politics. There doesn’t seem to be very many statesman or stateswomen in power these days.

Consider the comments of N.C. Secretary Tony Tata at a press conference at the Bonner Bridge complaining about a lawsuit filed by an environmental group that believes construction of a longer bridge is a better solution for the problems with the current bridge than the plan Tata and his boss Governor Pat McCrory prefer.

Tata told the media, “These ivory tower elitists file these lawsuits from their air-conditioned offices in Chapel Hill. And they do so with their lattes and their contempt, and chuckle while the good people of the Outer Banks are fighting hard to scratch out a living here based on tourism and based on access.”

Putting aside that Tata likely has an air conditioned office and nobody’s chuckling about anything, his absurd attacks were ridiculous for an elected official, matched only by McCrory’s call for people to harass board members of the environmental groups and demand that they drop the lawsuit.

Not too many years ago, a governor might have convened a meeting about the bridge, maybe even in public, to talk about the disagreement and see if there was room for a compromise and leave the overheated rhetoric for the advocacy groups and commentators. Not any more.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger responded to this week’s lawsuit against the school voucher legislation passed by the General Assembly this summer with a nasty attack on the groups that filed it, calling them “left-wing special interest groups who want to trap underprivileged and disabled children in failing schools.”

You might expect that from attack groups like Americans for Prosperity, but not the elected head of the state Senate.  Another response would have been for Berger to say that he was confident that the courts would uphold the voucher plan and that he believes it helps children to give them more choice, etc.

But Berger can’t help himself. And neither can House Speaker Thom Tillis, who in a recent Politico story had this to say about folks not happy with the radical legislation passed by the General Assembly under his leadership. “I think for the most part, what I see from the folks who are opposing our agenda is whining coming from losers.”

Such a dignified response. Tillis apparently thinks that laid off workers who lost emergency unemployment benefits because of the General Assembly are whiners. Same for 13-year-old rape victims forced by legislation Tillis supported to view an ultrasound and listen to right-wing propaganda prescribed by the General Assembly if they and their parents are trying to access abortion services.

Tillis could have said he stands by what the General Assembly has done and believes it is being mischaracterized by his opponents, and leave the name-calling to others. But he doesn’t.

He and Berger and McCrory simply cannot be statesman. They have to be bitter, sniping, nasty partisans, demeaning the offices they hold in the process.

More on the unaccountable voucher scheme

And finally speaking of vouchers, if you haven’t read the latest story from Lindsay Wagner at NC Policy Watch about the voucher scheme that will divert taxpayer money from public schools to unaccountable private and religious academies, you need to.

Here one thing Wagner found. One of the schools eligible for taxpayer money in Davidson County has three students and one teacher. It has never been inspected and it teaches kids that the earth is only a few thousand years old and that gay people have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists.

And that school, Paramount Christian Academy in Thomasville, will be eligible to receive taxpayer funding next fall.