Senate GOP leader Berger making headlines ... up


By Chris Fitzsimon

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger continues his Trumpish ways, this week making headlines for, well, changing headlines.

The News & Observer reports that Berger’s staff has been changing the headlines of news stories they post on Berger’s Facebook page, apparently in violation of the policy of Facebook, giving the impression that they were the original headlines posted by media outlets on their own websites.

The headlines have been altered to make Governor Roy Cooper look bad and prompted a protest from the News & Observer.

Berger’s staff was predictably defiant about the whole thing, even questioning Facebook’s interpretation of their own policy. Apparently Berger’s staff know much more about Facebook’s rules than the folks who actually work for Facebook.

Berger’s fake news flap comes a few days after a speech at a Rockingham Republican Party event last weekend where according to the Greensboro News & Record, Berger complained about “liberal progressive elites” and “vulgar rallies and left-wing protests” that he called “wild demonstrations at the seat of government.”

If that absurd hyperbole sounds like Donald Trump, it’s not an accident. Berger said that the Republican leadership of the General Assembly was following through on promises just like President Trump and was being treated the same way by political opponents.

Berger is right about one thing. His rants and his behavior do sound troublingly familiar.

Moore’s curious logic about redistricting

House Speaker Tim Moore also weighed in with a bizarre quote this week on a bipartisan proposal for redistricting reform, an overdue idea that Moore himself voted for as a member of the House in 2011.

Reporter Josh Bergeron with the Salisbury Post tweeted that Moore said at a legislative breakfast held by the N.C. Press Association that he now thinks that a nonpartisan redistricting process would mean legislators are passing the buck because legislators are closest to the people. He added that if people don’t like legislators, they can vote them out of office.

Apparently Moore thinks that the solution to gerrymandering, which makes it virtually impossible for people to vote their legislator out of office because of the way the districts are drawn, is to vote their legislator out of office.

And he said it with a straight face.

Born-again lottery lovers

Senate leaders this week announced a plan to increase funding for school construction in rural areas and to give principals an overdue raise — convince low-income people to throw away more of their money on buying state lottery tickets.

Senators want to increase lottery advertising to generate more revenue, which will help pay for a salary hike for principals and create a special school construction fund controlled by the new school superintendent.

The Republican senators, who ferociously and correctly fought against the creation of the regressive lottery in North Carolina, are now born-again lottery lovers, using lottery proceeds for all kinds of things in recent years and now counting on the shady scheme to pay principals more and build more schools.

The lottery does not keep demographic information about who buys the tickets. Lottery officials know better. Studies have shown that low-income people spend a much higher share of their income playing the game.

Information is available about where lottery tickets are sold in the state and the highest per capita lottery sales are in the poorest counties, many of them in eastern North Carolina where people can least afford to play.

That means that Senate leaders want to raise more money from people who are struggling to fund their new priorities instead of relying on the state tax structure to come up with the funds.

It’s worth noting that the corporate income tax just went down again this year thanks to a trigger put in tax cut package passed a new years ago.

Corporations pay less and low-income people will be enticed to pay more through more aggressive lottery advertising.

Rewriting the history of Teaching Fellows

And finally, Senator Barefoot and Rep. Carl Horn this week unveiled something that ought to sound familiar, a Teaching Fellows Program that provides college scholarships for high school students who commit to teaching in science or technology or working with special education students.

North Carolina used to have a Teaching Fellows Program that was nationally recognized but the General Assembly abolished its funding in 2011, primarily because it was operated by the Public School Forum, a widely respected education policy and advocacy group with ties to former Gov. Jim Hunt and other Democrats, though many Republicans served on its board for years.

The program served as a model for other states, including Indiana where then Gov. Mike Pence was one of its champions.

Legislative leaders gave no explanation for ending the program six years ago but they came up with a reason this week as they announced plan to bring a form of it back. A news release from the General Assembly says the program “fell victim to the longest and deepest recession to hit North Carolina since the Great Depression.”

Sure, that must have been it.

And it stayed the victim while Republicans cut taxes by close to $2 billion in the last few years and funded their own pet projects instead of a teacher scholarship program. Probably just an oversight.

Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of NC Policy Watch.