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Fitzsimon: Republicans ones who refused to compromise on budget

By Chris Fitzsimon

Columnist

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The latest talking point by Republicans desperate to distract attention from the disastrous budget they just passed is that it is all Governor Perdue’s fault since she “refused to compromise.”

It is understandable why legislative leaders are scrambling to create a new narrative about the budget. Their claims that they protected public school classrooms by funding every teacher and teacher assistant position just aren’t working.

People across the state personally know teachers and teachers assistants who have been laid off and others who are waiting for their pink slips to come in the mail.

A story on WRAL.com with the headlines “Layoffs sweeping through school districts” tells the story directly.

The new “Perdue didn’t compromise” budget talking point falls flat on two counts. First, it doesn’t make any sense. Perdue didn’t compromise so the Republicans’ response was to fire teachers?

And secondly, it is not true. The Republicans were the ones who refused to budge on their silly no tax pledge and insisted on cutting the state sales tax by a penny by letting 2009 temporary tax increase expire.

Perdue recommended cutting the sales tax by  1/4 of a penny, leaving  3/4 of the temporary tax on the books to prevent some of the draconian cuts to education and human services.

Perdue wanted to keep  3/4 of the sales tax increase, the Republicans wanted to keep zero. A compromise would have been to keep half of a penny, which would have raised $500 million, which is roughly the spending difference between the two budgets.

Perdue did not refuse to compromise. The Republicans refused because of their no-tax pledge to radical right wing anti government groups. In the end that was more important to them than keeping teachers in the classrooms across the state.

One of the more telling pictures in the last week of the legislative session was a shot of lawmakers huddled in the hallway on the second floor of the Legislative Building. It wasn’t a handful of Republicans or Democrats gathering for a quick impromptu private strategy session.

It was a conference committee appointed to work out the differences between House and Senate versions of legislation. It was supposed to be a public meeting, where reporters, lobbyists and the public could attend and hear the debate and discussion.

That is impossible when meetings are held in the hallway or around a legislators’ desk, which also has happened during the last few days.

It is exactly what the Republicans promised before the election they would not do if they gained control of the House or Senate.

They promised an open, transparent legislative process. The sessions of the last few days have been exactly the opposite.

The News & Observer reported that “members of both parties admitted they had not had time to read much of the legislation under consideration before casting votes.”

If legislators do not even know what they are voting on, how are the media and the public supposed to know?

It is also worth noting that the silence about the undemocratic process from the think tanks on the right is deafening. Groups that couldn’t criticize Democrats fast enough when they engaged in this troubling behavior haven’t said a word about it this year.

Here are a few poll findings worth considering as the General Assembly prepares to leave town. More voters in North Carolina approve of the job Governor Perdue and President Obama are doing than disapprove and more voters in the state oppose the Tea Party than support it.

And 59 percent of the voters believe North Carolina does not spend enough on public schools. That’s true even though the poll was conducted well before state lawmakers approved the Republican budget that makes deep cuts in public education, dropping North Carolina to 49th in the nation in per pupil spending.

The survey was not conducted for the Democratic Party or the N.C. Association of Educators. It was done by the Pope Civitas Institute. The findings must have sent a few tremors through Popeville. The voters are clearly catching on to the right-wing charade.

Chris Fitzsimon is director of NC Policy Watch