Tree removal not my line, jobless woman says

May 29, 2011 

Like many members of the General Assembly, Rep. Stephen LaRoque has been getting lots of calls and emails from unemployed people urging legislators to break their logjam with the governor and release jobless benefits for tens of thousands who have been without it since mid-April.

But in an angry email exchange with one Goldsboro woman on Thursday, LaRoque said most people can find work as long as they can pass a drug test and are physically able. He said he couldn't even find people willing to do yardwork at his 31/2-acre home in Kinston, where he recently removed 80 trees and had debris to clean up. The woman, Kathryn Treadway, said she'd do it, and showed up Friday morning ready and willing.

Treadway, 35, worked about an hour before deciding it was too hot for manual labor. "Picking weeds from a potted plant, fine - but to ask a woman to haul off limbs that were 2 feet around across his 3-acre yard was more than anything I could have possibly done," Treadway said Saturday. LaRoque, a Republican, paid her the $8 an hour agreed upon.

"I think if you really want to work you can go out and find work," LaRoque said in an interview with The News & Observer later Friday, recounting his own childhood lawn-mowing enterprises. "I've had a hard time finding reliable people willing to do yardwork. It's frustrating."

Treadway's point, though, was that the legislature has allowed up to 46,000 people to go without extended unemployment benefits because the payments are tied up in a budget dispute with the governor. She has been out of work as a transcriptionist since last year, and her welder husband has been unable to find work for 31/2 years, she said. Her family of four has been evicted and is living with her parents. She and her husband have sent out hundreds of résumés and phone calls without any job offers, she said.

"If it was that easy to find a job, the unemployment rate wouldn't be above 9 percent," Treadway said. "It's hogwash and he knows it." Her plea to lawmakers: "All you have to do is snap your fingers and you can end the suffering of 50,000 people, but you won't do it because of politics."

Senate budget hits Perdue's office hard

Chrissy Pearson, Gov. Bev Perdue's top spokeswoman, loses her job in the Senate budget, which strips 18 other positions out of Perdue's office.

Also on the chopping block, Mark Johnson, the deputy communications director; Myra Best, a special adviser to Perdue on education; and teacher adviser Dawn Pope.

In all, the Senate budget eliminates eight filled jobs and seven vacant positions, and transfers two jobs to Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton's office. In addition, the budget cuts two Education Cabinet jobs from the state Department of Public Instruction. Though DPI pays for them, the Education Cabinet employees work in Perdue's office.

The Senate proposes to take $1.3 million from Perdue's $4.9 million office budget.

Sen. Andrew Brock, a Davie County Republican, said Perdue's staff is too large, considering she controls other executive branch offices and can use their employees for reinforcement. In February, Perdue had a staff of 69.

The GOP legislature has had its differences with the Democratic governor this year, if the veto count and sniping are any indication.

Brock repeated an objection voiced earlier this month by GOP state Chairman Robin Hayes that, in naming Stephen Neuman her senior adviser, Perdue was using state money to pay a campaign consultant. Neuman, a former aide to U.S. senators and Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan, was chief of staff for Barack Obama's presidential campaign in North Carolina.

Brock, who helped craft the budget proposal for Perdue's office, said she does not need several education advisers when she has Bill Harrison running the State Board of Education.

"Your jobs program isn't the jobs in your office," he said.

The Senate budget eliminates one vacant position from Dalton's office, and tells him to find $284,000 in savings.

Pearson said Perdue's office is already taking advantage of policy experts in other departments, and noted that the Senate cuts the governor's office 20 percent and the General Assembly budget a little more than 2 percent.

"It's interesting that we got hit so hard," she said.

Arts education wins one

Music, drama and painting classes would get a boost under a bill that cleared the House last week establishing an Arts Education Commission. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Becky Carney, a Charlotte Democrat, would create a 14-member commission that would come up with plans for an arts curriculum in kindergarten through 12th grade, and make it part of teacher evaluations. The commission, working with the State Board of Education, would report back to the General Assembly by May 2012.

The bill passed the House on a vote of 112-1. Rep. John Blust, a Greensboro Republican, cast the dissenting vote.

cjarvis@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4576

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