Gov. Perdue sends GOP leaders letter

And so the budget battle continues. Gov. Perdue seemed angry during an appearance Thursday. Then she sent GOP leaders at the legislature a letter again criticizing their latest version of the budget that passed the Senate Thursday.

The House will approve it Friday and Saturday and then it goes to the governor. All signs are pointing to her vetoing that budget. However, House leaders believe they have the votes to override any veto.

In her letter, it seems clear Perdue is no longer having direct communication with Speaker Tillis or Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.

Read the letter here

To tax or not to tax

While legislative leaders and the governor spar over what is the best way to deal with education in the budget, it may be the issue of finding that money that holds up the budget.

Wednesday at the end of a statement by Governor Perdue’s Communications Director Chrissy Pearson, she writes "And the hallmark of North Carolina – our education system – will be defunded like never before. All because legislative leadership refuse to consider extending a portion of the sales tax, an option widely supported by North Carolinians everywhere."

Republicans made a campaign promise to let those temporary taxes expire. While what I’m writing may not surprise those who follow the General Assembly closely, it does draw a very distinct line in the sand.

Both sides are talking about saving teacher assistant jobs and shifting money around but at the end of the day it appears the governor and legislature will not get a budget together until they settle the disagreement over the sales tax issue.

That is, unless, the five Democrats in the House stay on board and can help override a potential veto by the governor.

Gov. Perdue’s office also sent out several documents detailing DPI’s analysis on the impact of Senate budget cuts on education.

Below is the full statement by Pearson.

"I spoke to Gov. Perdue today about the ongoing debate in the Senate about the budget.

The budget choices in front of us have made the governor angrier than any other issue she’s faced during her time in office.

People will suffer when their services disappear. The mentally ill and the aging will have fewer resources available to them. Our highways will be less safe, and our capability to respond to emergencies will be diminished.

And the hallmark of North Carolina – our education system – will be defunded like never before.

All because legislative leadership refuse to consider extending a portion of the sales tax, an option widely supported by North Carolinians everywhere.

Apparently the Republican leaders in the General Assembly are not interested in doing what’s right for our people. If they choose to pass this budget, they choose to move North Carolina backward."

Gary Pearce talks about John Edwards

As you probably know by now, the Justice Department has given federal prosecutors the green light to indict former North Carolina Senator and presidential candidate John Edwards for campaign finance violations.

Gary Pearce helped launch his national career in 1998 as a consultant for his senate campaign. Pearce was reluctant this week to talk about it but did with us on Friday. Here are some of the more interesting things he had to say.

"I feel like I should apologize for having anything to do with his career. I feel like a lot of people I’ve talked too – feel the way that I do that is their tired of this whole affair, their embarrassed by it and they’re wishing this whole thing would go away."

"Yes, when I worked with John Edwards in 1998 we were trying to elect a great senator
and beat a Republican and all of this comes from it – my only defense is that I didn’t have anything to do with it after the 98′ election but I do feel like I should go around and apologize to people for what has happened ever since and that’s partly why I feel can’t was just put an end to this – can’t you just put us out of our misery."

"I apparently ran a foul of Elizabeth and you certainly don’t want to speak ill of her but she was a strong minded person she wasn’t as involved in that campaign because they had just lost their son and apparently she disagreed with some of the advice I gave them and she told me that after the campaign she said I never listened to her which isn’t true. I listened to her I just didn’t’ always do what she wanted. But from that point on I was pretty much frozen out and that bothered me. I did honestly resent that for a long time – I always wanted to be part of a presidential campaign and I missed out on that chance but now I look back and say well gee I got lucky didn’t I – because I didn’t’ have to to through any of this."

It sounds like he’s going to fight it – he made his fortune and his career in the courtroom. He has a lot of confidence in that but it strikes me that’s a heck of a gamble particularly for a man who has small children and his wife is dead so I would think it’s a heck of a gamble to take on to something."

"I would much prefer that he plea but that’s from a selfish standpoint that reflects a lot of Democrats in North Carolina that they just don’t want this to go on and there is a political aspect to it which is this could be all playing out during a campaign which is that this can’t be helpful to democrats during an election year to be reminded of all of this."

For more of this and much more on budget developments, check out Political Connections tonight at 6pm or Sunday at 11am!

Teachers, parents and students rally for education funding

GREENSBORO — Community education supporters in Guilford County are standing up saying "no more" to cuts to education from the state.

The group that now call themselves "Team Kids" rallied in Downtown Greensboro Thursday, in an effort to raise awareness of what the pending cuts could mean for students in their school.

"We are 46th in the nation for spending per pupil. If this budget passes, we are going to be last, dead last. This is embarrassing. This is North Carolina. You know, we need to be proud of our state, proud of our children, and it’s not happening,” said mother Kristine Potochar.

A number of speakers took the stage including Guilford County Superintendent Mo Green, who says state funding makes up 60 percent of his school system’s budget.

"If we continue to suffer on through the types of cuts that we’ve had the last few years, it’s going to have a dramatic impact on our schools," said Green.

In addition to raising class sizes, Green says they’re been doing what they can to save money as they wait to see how deep the state reductions will be.

"We’re doing things like rebinding textbooks. We’ve cut instructional technology. We’ve changed our transportation system to save money. We’ve eliminated a lot of central office administrative positions," Green added.

But those rallying say they refuse to sit back and watch cuts like these continue year after year.

"This is something we need to standup, rally around, make our voices heard, and we also know that you can make a difference,” said mother Carol Camp.

But the work won’t stop here, organizers say they will continue to push for funding for education.

"Education affects our whole economy, this is such a huge issue. Even if you have kids in private school this is going to affect you down the road,” organizer and mother Lisa Donato added.

The group also launched a writing campaign to allow students to express their concerns directly to state legislators.

They hope to continue collecting the notes for a few more days before hand delivering them to the state capital.

Sen. Stein talks budget, unemployment

Democratic Senator Josh Stein stopped by the studio this afternoon to talk about the budget proposal released this week (Republican Senator Pete Brunstetter did the same on Tuesday).

Sen. Stein believes the Senate budget proposal would cut about 2500 teachers, nearly 15,000 teacher’s assistants, 100’s of principals, schools personnel, and faculty at community colleges. He says it will lead to 25,000 jobs lost in education alone.

Republicans say they are adding 1100 teachers in early grades but Sen. Stein says that’s just a ploy to cover up the other 24,000 education employees they are laying off. Incidentally, Republicans believe they will cut less than 20,000 positions across state government, not just education.

He also had some interesting points on the Republicans efforts to reduce class size in early grades. He basically says that’s not true and, in fact, it will get worse.

He also had an interesting argument against the Republicans theory that cutting taxes will spur the economy and help budget in long term. Sen. Stein prefers to use that tax money to pay teachers and teacher’s assistants now. He believes it saves jobs and those people will spend money in the economy.

On the unemployment of the 44,000 waiting for legislative action to get checks and the Senate’s proposal to include it in the budget, well that is probably left best with a direct quote.

"I think what the Republicans are doing to the folks who are on extended unemployment is heartless. It is callous in a way that defies comprehension.

Check out the entire interview on Political Connections this Friday night at 6pm and Sunday at 11am!

Transit leaders on edge regarding fate of Charlotte area rail projects in state budget

Pardon the pun, but right now, it’s unclear if the Charlotte area’s two planned rail lines will still be on track after the final state budget.

The original House proposal included money for both the Lynx Blue Line Extension – from Uptown to the University area – and the Lynx Red Line through Mecklenburg County.

But the Senate version Tuesday called for the blockage of any contracts which involved the commitment of any current of future state dollars for the rail projects.

Transit leaders – including NCDOT Secretary Gene Conti – were happy to hear House Speak Thom Tillis express confidence Wednesday that the rail projects would be included in the final spending plan compromise between both chambers.

Stay tuned – the fate of these projects appears to be a fluid situation during these budget negotiations.

Is it time to mandate seat belts on school buses?

Tuesday saw news about one of the fears that plague parents of school age children – a serious bus accident. A bus rolled over on the way to a middle school in Davidson County after a collision with a truck – sending 31 children to the hospital.

Luckily, none of the students were seriously injured, but the accident again raises questions about why we don’t have seat belts on buses.

The parents who picked up their children at the hospital had to strap them in to ride home in their family cars and trucks.

While some think seatbelts would prevent injuries, others contend they’d increase them, especially if they’re not worn properly.

And bus companies have argued that compartmentalization – high backed seats installed closer together – and improved padding – adequately protects students.

Some believe school buses don’t have belts because of the cost. Guilford County’s Transportation Director Jeff Harris says it would cost an estimated $10,000 per bus to equip them with safety belts.

So far only 5 states have some kind of seatbelt requirement for buses, including Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas.

ON JONES STREET- More protests, more arrests

RALEIGH — You would think the biggest news of the day would be the senate’s $19.4 billion dollar budget proposal. (Well- it actually is the biggest news– but the loudest news- that is another story). Instead, what everyone is talking about in Raleigh, is the disruption during the House session. NC NAACP President William Barber was scheduled to speak at a rally at the Legislative Building Tuesday afternoon- but never got the chance. Instead, he was taken away in hand cuffs after he began yelling from the House gallery.

Speaker Thom Tillis handled the disruption calmly- and moved the house session along afterwards. But did release this statement afterwards:

"Today’s disruption was one of the most disrespectful displays I have witnessed during my tenure in the House of Representatives. It was a clear violation of the rules of the House, and those rules will continue to be enforced to ensure safety and dignity in the people’s House."

Barber, and six others, were charged with disorderly conduct. (Which, by the way, is the exact same thing the protestors earlier this session were charged with– no special treatment, or harsher punishment for Barber).

Senate budget writer talks about proposal

One of the top budget writers in the Senate, Republican Senator Pete Brunstetter, joined me in studio this afternoon to talk about the budget proposal released today.

The Senate eliminates teacher assistants in grades 1-3. The House just eliminated them in grades 2 and 3. It means 13,000 positions in education alone will be cut. Across the state, more than 19,000 positions would be cut. However, he points out attrition will take care of a lot of these positions. Keep in mind the actual number and the number of real people it will impact is a major point of contention between Republicans and Democrats.

Sen. Brunstetter says research shows teacher assistants beyond kindergarten do not have much of an impact on kids. They are using the money to hire 1100 more teachers at those levels to reduce class size.

He thinks the House agrees with the idea but wants to do it later instead of now in this budget.

The Senate also does not include a corporate tax cut the House and governor included. Senate leaders believe it would only benefit about 400 large businesses. Senate Republicans want to target their tax relief on small business.

As far as those 42,000 unemployed people still waiting for a resolution. It is included in the Senate budget. That means it wouldn’t happen until at least the end of June. Brunstetter says this would guarantee it gets done because the budget has to get done. Senate GOP members are still not interested in a separate bill

For the entire interview with Sen. Brunstetter and Sen. Josh Stein watch Political Connections Friday night at six and Sunday morning at eleven.

Democratic Party chair names 2012 DNC convention senior leadership team

The team set to lead Charlotte up to and through the 2012 Democratic National Convention is taking shape.

Friday morning, new DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz announced the dozen or so people who will serve on the Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) senior leadership team.

The list includes a mix of longtime Democratic party veterans – who will be in charge of showcasing not only Charlotte, but President Obama’s first term track record in his bid for reelection.

Each member of the DNCC senior leadership team will also collaborate with Charlotte’s local host committee – led by former Mecklenburg County Commissioner Dan Murrey.

The 2012 DNC convention is scheduled to begin Monday, Sept. 3.