By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Actin League
July 10, 2014
RALEIGH — North Carolina lawmakers agreed this week that expanded lottery advertising is not the best way to fund teacher raises — a move applauded by the Christian Action League. Nevertheless, as of Thursday the General Assembly still hadn’t settled on a final spending plan.
“I am relieved that House members have decided not to pursue the expansion of lottery advertising. In a state and nation where liberty is considered our most sacred right, it is unconscionable the state promotes something that sustains or profits state coffers by making many of its citizens expendable to a form of slavery,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, the League’s executive director. “Lotteries make approximately 80 percent of their profits from 10 percent of their users — people who are addicted to its games.”
He said no North Carolinian should be reduced to collateral damage because of a teacher pay raise, no matter how deserved.
“State government’s involvement in the gambling business has left a stain on our state seal with its motto, Esse Quam Videri, which means ‘To be, rather than to seem,'” Dr. Creech added.
“That being said, however, since we have a lottery in North Carolina it ought to be an honest one. The General Assembly, whether now or later, needs to pass language from The Honest Lottery Act. The content restrictions on the lottery that were included in the House budget were good. I pray the effort to include a good proposal on the lottery along-side a bad one, as occurred with the House budget, won’t discourage lawmakers from revisiting the issue of making our state’s lottery more honest.”
Meanwhile, Wednesday’s budget conference committee meetings were marked with controversy as Senate members walked out when the House brought in various county school superintendents and other personnel to offer testimony against the Upper House’s proposed cuts to teacher assistants.
“You decided you were going to be the rule maker for this committee. The Senate is not going to let that happen,” Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow) told lead House negotiator Rep. Nelson Dollar (R-Wake), in explaining the walkout. Brown said although the sessions are open to the public, only conferees are allowed to be part of budget negotiations. He said the Senate had not agreed to outside speakers and would not do so, as they had already heard all sides of the arguments and were ready to make the tough decisions that such negotiations require.
While the Senate has proposed an 11 percent pay increase for teachers, their plan would not include pay for some 7,000 assistants in second- and third-grade classes. The House had suggested a more modest 5 percent salary increase, and would leave in the teacher assistants. Initially demanding an end to tenure, the Senate dropped that condition in the name of compromise, and as of Wednesday afternoon, the House agreed to remove the lottery expansion.
Still, the bodies remained far apart with some commenting that it might take until Christmas to work out their differences — remarks that led staffers to hang wreaths and string up holiday lights in between meetings and had Sen. Tom Apodaca (R-Buncombe) handing out lumps of coal.
“We have balanced our budgets on the backs of K-12 and teachers for years… I think it is time we turn the tide,” Apadoca told the committee.
“We are more than happy to back up our numbers and debate them. We don’t need more outside sources,” he said of the Senate. “We need to move on.”
Similarly Sen. Brown challenged the House to settle on a specific priority and then make cuts elsewhere to fund it. He said if the House wanted to keep teacher assistants and the Senate wanted the full raise for teachers, then the committee could fully fund both and “back into the budget” from that direction if that’s what they wanted. Or they could split the difference and give teachers a medium range pay raise and fund half of the assistants.
But Rep. Dollar and other House negotiators said the Senate was describing a budget that would be balanced on the medically needy. He answered Brown’s criticisms of years of increased Medicaid funding at the expense of teacher pay by saying that the Legislature had inherited a Medicaid program fraught with problems that were costly to correct.
“I have thrown different ideas on the table. Sooner or later the House has got to do the same,” Sen. Brown said at the end of the morning session.
After hearing the House would concede the lottery expansion, he said he believed both sides could work on plans to move the process forward.