Let me start by thanking everyone for all of their hard work on this budget. They deserve our appreciation. And thank you to Speaker Moore for giving those of us who had no part in this budget an opportunity to review it. With really only a day to digest it, I will attempt to accurately state my objections.
Although, I must confess, the review process was painful. I was surprised at how painful. After all, I knew the ending. Tax cuts primarily benefitting millionaires that would come at the expense of middle class education opportunities.
Yet page after page was painful to read. And I read it all.
I had the pleasure two weeks ago to speak at a Baccalaureate service. That was a lot of fun. Non-partisan, non-political, hopeful and joyous remarks. I used Ecclesiastes 3:1-8
1 To every [thing there is] a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
This is the season for this debate and just like you have a job to talk about the good things in the budget, I have a job to point out all the bad. My job just happens to be easier because of how bad it truly is. My children are here in the chamber, and that makes it a little harder, because I want my children to think of me as a positive influence of change. However, my remarks today cannot be like those from Baccalaureate. My job today is different.
Let’s start with the tax cut. It’s a Republican idea through and through. Most of the benefits go to the wealthy. A millionaire gets many times more than a middle-class family.
You could have done it differently. Instead of rate cuts, you could have tackled sales taxes or the earned income tax credit. Look at the winners and losers of your plan. Cam Newton gets a $59,000 tax break. God bless ‘em, he only completed 53% of his passes last year. A single mom with two kids earning $40,000 gets $127. Your previous sales tax expansions and increases in gas taxes have cost her more than that.
The cashier at the Speedway earning $8.40? She gets nothing. Not a dime. 528 million dollars in tax cuts. Cam Newton gets 59k break on 25 mil in income. Michael Jordan gets 236k break on 100 mil in income, and the cashier at the store, she gets not a penny.
And in today’s world, you know how many jobs she is working? More than one, I promise you that. She could have used a child care tax credit but that’s not here.
A crisis facing our country today is one that is bigger than this budget. But this budget only compounds the problem. We have too many people, working too many jobs, earning too little money, who are one health care event or one loss of a driver’s license or one lay off from utter poverty. President Trump’s budget will make it worse with its tax cuts for the rich and health care cuts for working families. Our budget follows the Trump model.
It does not have to be this way. In our own way, in our own budget we can begin addressing this problem. Governor Cooper’s budget showed us some ways how. I know you will never accept his ideas. I almost want to tell him to stop suggesting good ideas as it makes it impossible to achieve them.
During the budget debate, we offered amendments on free community college tuition, teacher stipend reimbursements, rural broadband – just to name a few. All were defeated. None are in this conference report.
Instead, this budget prioritizes tax cuts and pork barrel spending. It’s hard to believe I am even saying that last part. I stand before some of the most ardent conservatives I know. You are proud. You are adamant. You never compromise. You vote against every occupancy tax that comes through here.
Of all the things, I thought you would emulate from Democrats, I never expected this to be on the list. I guess it’s good that, in our professional relationship, after all this time, you still have the ability to surprise me.
Most of you were not here when Democrats were in charge. There was pork then. No doubt about it. I can’t speak to it. I wasn’t part of it – except for the last Democratic budget. I was here for that under Speaker Hackney.
Let me break it to you, truthfully and directly. You don’t want to hear it. But it’s true. Ask anyone who was around. This budget is so much more loaded in pork than that one was – there is just no comparison. Your budget is the Golden State Warriors of pork. Legendary. Almost undefeated. I didn’t think you had it in you. I’m impressed, in a way of how you gave away pots of money.
The pork in this budget is astounding. Truly astounding. As I read it late Monday night, I felt like I was in a legislative hot tub time machine. Yet I did not wake up at a 1986 ski resort party weekend like in the movie. I woke up in the old Capitol in a smoke-filled room of old men trading favors and the taxpayers’ money.
The pork in this budget is like Kudzu. It’s insidious. Creeping into all parts. When you turn the pages, you can feel the grease on your fingerprints. A Bojangles ham and cheese biscuit. Delicious, satisfying … you can feel your arteries seizing up as you read. That’s why I wore my NC pork pin today. In honor of this budget.
My original intention before I saw the conference report was stand here and read out every pork item. I knew there was going to be pork, after all when democratic members are allowed to give out pots of money. But it’s impossible to cover it all. There’s just not enough time. Like me, I know you read the entire budget. So, I’ll just highlight a few.
Think hospice is important? I sure do. Page G 21 says it is in Davidson County. But nowhere else.
You like Senior Centers? Drive to Columbus County on G 22.
Boys and Girls Clubs? Wilmington and Sanford on G 41. Greene County on J 80.
Supporter of 4H? Tyrrell County 4H Club gets $125,000 on H 10. That’s a lot of county fair ribbons for a population of 4,000 people.
Everyone likes their local chamber of commerce? But we only show the money to Cary on H 69.
The Salvation Army is a great organization. But only Winston-Salem’s gets $100,000 on H 70.
Is your local library gearing up for summer reading? On H 87 you see which lucky six get over a half a million dollars.
Our criminal justice system does not escape the trough. Our fine Bladen Sheriff gets $200,000 on I 12. And communities across the state get new ADAs.
Let me pause to say once upon a time in a land far, far away assistant district attorneys were assigned by under a workload formula. The number of ADAs you got, depended on the workload. It was a radical concept.
We can all relax now that the system is gone. We have returned to the good ole boys and girls way of giving out govt. jobs. Our chairs will make those decisions. And our wisdom is infinite. It knows no bounds. Justice and fairness will prevail. And, spoiler alert, the good people of Cleveland County will have an extra ADA. No doubt they need it desperately. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that out 6 of the 7 JPS chairs got one.
Also, desperately needed is a new middle school athletic field in Ellerbee on J 78. The booster club can take the next few seasons off.
J 79 shows you which YMCAs are in vogue and which are not.
Last, but not least, the desperately-needed, long-awaited youth development center for Raise the Age on page M 5. At a cool cost to taxpayers of $13.2 million. Placed in Rockingham County. Of course. Good news is that staff tells us they can put it anywhere in Rockingham County they need to. Do they have the best location? Don’t know. Do they have the cheapest site? Don’t care. Do they have access to the types of professionals we need for this type of facility? No worries. It’s the price we all pay to have policy put in the budget.
Have you ever watched the Hunger Games? Or read the books? Looking at this budget, Rockingham and Cleveland are The Capitol. The pinnacle of power. The rest of us are in Districts. Some more favored than others. All united in servitude. No doubt in this analogy, I, and my Democratic colleagues, are the tributes to be sacrificed for The Capitol’s enjoyment. But my caucus doesn’t mind a good fight and we look forward to the one coming soon.
The tax cuts and the pork blended together in this budget is so confusing. Imagine if the late Senator Jesse Helms was with us today. Senator No. What on earth would he think?
But it is not so confusing when you look at the impact. The millionaire tax cuts and the pork barrel spending achieve the same purpose. They both reduce what we can invest in North Carolina.
Take teacher pay. Governor Cooper proposed a teacher pay increase that is 5% this year and then 5% on top of that. Yours is only 3.3% this year. The result? This budget puts $440 million less in teacher’s pockets than the Governor’s plan. The details can get confusing with pay schedules and steps and all of that. The bottom-line is clear. $440 million dollars less in your budget for teachers with a 25-year teacher getting a 300 a year raise.
No money for a $150 stipend to help teachers pay for classroom supplies. Governor Cooper found the money. We do not. We are missing an opportunity to put more money in teachers’ pockets. What’s worse, we do it to give out downtown revitalization grants to areas that haven’t even asked for them. Heck, we even give them to unincorporated areas. So, if you aren’t even a town, how do you have a downtown area to revitalize. No matter, that 25- year teacher isn’t going anywhere and if she does, we can just replace her with a new one fresh out of school at a pay rate 15k less. That is after all why you treat veteran teachers so poorly isn’t it? Just remember when word gets around that starting in 2021 new employees no longer get health care benefits upon retiring, don’t be expecting more teenagers to enter teaching programs at our universities. You just made sure that will not happen with the class starting school this fall. In fact we didn’t increase the starting teacher pay a single dollar in this budget. So much for attracting teachers to the profession.
There is no money for rural broadband. We are already behind here. Urban areas are growing. Coastal areas are growing. The rest of the state is struggling. We have to connect them to the world. If my Republican House leadership friends would pool together all of the pork they get in this budget, we could do it. We could invest the $20 million that Governor Cooper calls for. It might not buy pretty signs that say welcome to downtown x, but it would be much more effective in attracting new businesses.
The same is true for the opioid crisis, NC Ready job sites, eliminating the pre-K waiting list. This budget takes very small steps on those issues when bold action is needed. We are Waiting for Godot. Waiting for investments that will never come. Next year, next budget, next decade. The waiting will continue. But the bill comes due on the tax cuts very, very soon. Budget year 2020-2021 $1,024,000,000. Year 2021-22 $1,066,000,000. Don’t believe anyone that says this tax package is closer to the House version. The Senate got their billion-dollar tax cut after all. It will amount to over a billion dollars a year going forward.
No doubt you are waiting for me to say something positive about this budget. Here you go. I applaud the 1% COLA you found for state retirees. No budget prior to today included a permanent COLA which I have railed in favor of for years. Kudos to the conferees for doing a COLA and moving us a step in the right direction.
On state employee pay, however, we fell short. A $1000 raise. A big chunk of which we will lose to higher health care premiums likely announced in the coming months. Most striking is there is no raise next year. This has been badly under-reported. The budget we are voting on today has no state employee pay raise next year. If we want a raise, we will have to find recurring money to pay for it. At the same time your teacher pay raise is ramping up (a year too late) and your tax cuts are set to kick in. And President Trump’s cuts to health care and everything else will be coming down the pike. Good luck with that.
I want to wrap up with the pettiest part of this budget. The voters had the audacity to elect a Democratic Governor and a Democratic Attorney General. Shame on them for splitting their tickets. You are the party of Trump. He won North Carolina. And the voters should have voted Trump right down the line. Your desire to is to show which party is the party that runs this state and has the power. It’s important that we as democrats know our place in the minority.
So, you are cutting the Governor’s staff by 17%. You are cutting the Attorney General’s legal services team by 38%. 10 mil cut from a 27 mil budget. In the AG’s Office, that is 123 people, lawyers and non-lawyers, who will lose their jobs. Some of them probably even voted for Buck Newton. A double whammy for them, I guess.
These people defend criminal cases, state agencies, and boards and commissions. They are not partisan or patronage hires. What will the State do without them? We asked staff yesterday. No one knows. This are people that make sure that violent felonies sentenced to long prison sentences don’t get off on a technicality. You have decided those jobs aren’t important because their boss is a democrat. They are just casualties in a partisan conflict. I asked the question, when a serious criminal appeals his conviction and sentence who will represent the state to make sure he stays in prison. Committee meetings every Tues Wed Thurs at 8:30. I promise you it was never discussed. Nobody knows. What’s worse is that you don’t even seem to care. And please don’t tell me it’s the Senate’s idea. Everyone single one of you that votes green today is voting for it These people will lose their jobs. They won’t get your tax cuts. Many will enter the worst unemployment system in the nation for laid off workers. I don’t have answers. Just weariness at the pettiness of it all. I hope this is just a stunt you plan to fix in a technical corrections bill. Hopefully, that’s your plan. I hope the plan is not more pork. My constituents are just going to have to be left out. Because no amount of pork would get me to vote for something so insidious, so dangerous.
Not a single Republican in this chamber can stand up and honestly say that this cut would be happening if Buck Newton had won. That’s really sad.
What is not a stunt is the big picture. What matters to most of North Carolina is this is a budget that misses big opportunities for education. The tax cuts come at the expense of the middle class and working families. A republican friend asked me this morning not to say We can do better. So, I won’t. I’ll say we can do much better. Voters will know we can do better. Whether it is the pork barrel spending or the failure to invest in our schools. In primary elections and general elections. The people will have a vote. As for my vote, I vote No. A proud No. And I hope you join me.