The Follies

The Follies

Follies TillisTillis abandons House budget provisions before budget passes

In what is likely a legislative first, House Speaker Thom Tillis started caving in to Senate budget negotiators even before the House had given its own spending plan final approval.

After the House passed the budget on its first floor vote Thursday, Tillis told the News & Observer that he was willing to give up the controversial House proposal to increase lottery advertising to raise money for a teacher pay raise.

Tillis said that the House had a way to fund teacher raises “through other sources.”

Nice of him to share that minutes after a debate where Tillis’ own leadership team defended using the increased lottery revenue to give teachers an average of a five percent salary increase.

The reliance on higher lottery revenues has drawn widespread criticism and for good reason. Lottery revenues are historically unreliable and low-income people disproportionately play the lottery, making the House plan a cynical and regressive way to raise revenue.

Republicans legislative leaders know all about that. Many of them have been pointing out the problems for years as a part of their opposition to creating the lottery or expanding it.

Now they are basing their proposal to give teachers a raise on the state’s ability to convince more people to buy lottery tickets.

The hypocrisy is breathtaking. And right after it was on full display, Tillis pulled the rug out from under his own leadership team by saying the House had another way to pay for teacher raises.

He is clearly ready to be done with the legislative session and get back on the campaign trail in his bid to unseat U.S. Senator Kay Hagan.

House says they want to help poor kids, but vote against helping poor families

The about-face on the lottery wasn’t the only example of hypocrisy during the House budget debate.

House leaders fended off an amendment to defund the school voucher scheme created last year that they said would give low-income families more choices about where to send their kids to school.

That’s not exactly true. The voucher plan would allow 2,400 children to receive vouchers of $4,200 this fall that they could use for tuition at a private or religious school.

But the tuition at many private schools is far higher than $4,200, leaving poor children locked out of the best private schools anyway.

There are plenty of problems with diverting public money to almost entirely unaccountable private and religious academies, but none of them seem to bother House leaders who say it is all about helping low-income kids.

Not long after the amendment to defund the unwise and likely unconstitutional voucher scheme was defeated, Republicans also voted down a proposal from Rep. Yvonne Holley that would have reinstated the state Earned Income Tax Credit that helps more than 900,000 low wage workers in the state.

The EITC is not a liberal idea. Former President Ronald Reagan called the federal EITC the best anti-poverty program Congress ever came up with.

Many Republicans in the General Assembly supported the state EITC in the past.

Not anymore. The amendment was defeated.

The same members of the House who seemed so eager to help low-income children during the voucher debate voted against helping low-income families with a state EITC.

But they can always buy more lottery tickets.

A long hypocritical walk on a short pier

And finally on the hypocrisy front, the House budget also includes a provision to sell Jeannette’s Pier in Nags Head.

Republicans have long railed against the $25 million pier that was approved by the General Assembly in 2009 and opened in 2011.

They ran ads against Democrats for using state money to build the pier, portraying it as a waste of taxpayer money engineered by Senate President Pro Marc Basnight from Dare County.

Now the animosity towards the pier has apparently returned, with one nagging question still unanswered.

If Republicans thought it was a waste of money in 2009 and apparently still believe the state should never have built it, why did every Republican in the House and Senate five years ago vote for the bill that appropriated the money to build it?

The money for the pier was not buried in the budget bill then, like the provision to sell it is in the current House budget. It was a stand-alone bill that passed the House and Senate unanimously in 2009.

Every Republican currently in the House or Senate who was a lawmaker in 2009 supported the pier that they used against Democrats in the 2010 election and that they now want to sell.