Fitzsimon: Saying they should have known doesn’t cut it

By Chris Fitzsimon


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It turns out that thousands of teachers, teacher assistants and other rank and file state employees won’t be the only people laid off by the Republicans in the General Assembly this year.

A few members of House Speaker Thom Tillis’ staff soon may be looking for work too. Tillis told the News & Observer recently that he plans to reduce his staff in the next few weeks and that his final payroll costs for the year will be roughly 17 percent less than his predecessor, Democrat Joe Hackney, spent in his last year in office.

Tillis came under fire earlier this year for giving raises of as much as 27 percent to senior staff members in a year when lawmakers were firing teachers and state employees and slashing funding for education and human services. Tillis gave his Chief of Staff Charles Thomas a $30,000 a year increase, which is the starting salary for a public school teacher.

Tillis says that some staff members “know or should have known” that their jobs would end when the legislative session was over, which makes you wonder if he thought to tell them or decided to let them figure it out on their own.

More likely is that he is now scrambling to save face and several of his employees will suffer as a result. Tillis promised at the start of the session in January that he would spend less on his staff than Hackney, presumably to prove himself as a real “fiscal conservative” and to set an example for the rest of state government.

When the story of the raises broke in June, Tillis defended the increase by saying his payroll costs were still less than Hackney’s and made no mention of laying anybody off. But the N&O compared the salaries and found that Tillis was spending more.

That didn’t seem to faze Tillis, who told the Asheville Citizen-Times just two weeks ago that his office costs were less than Hackney’s despite published reports with the numbers showing that it was simply not true. And again there was no mention of laying anybody off.

It seems that Tillis finally realized that denying the truth was no longer working so he came up with the idea of firing a few staff members instead and acting like that’s what he meant all along.

That would be a little more believable if he had announced at the beginning that was his plan. And the actual salaries aren’t the point anyway, though it is easy to understand why people who are losing their jobs would be upset at legislative staff members getting big raises and being paid more than the governor.

The real question is Tillis’ credibility. He made a promise, broke it, and then denied he broke it when the facts came out.

Now he is trying to rewrite the promise to restore some of his credibility. Too late. And too bad for the employees who were not told their jobs were not full-time and would end after the session.

Saying they “should have known” doesn’t sound like the professional business leader that Tillis claims to be. But it’s not a surprise really.

Tillis has said repeatedly that no teachers or teacher assistants are losing their jobs when the pink slips are flying across the state.

When it comes to Tillis talking about jobs, it turns out we all “should have known.”

Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of NC Policy Watch.



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