Under the Dome

Record changed on Folwell's vote for loans

STAFF WRITERSJune 29, 2011 

Two weeks after he voted in favor of legislation allowing interest rates that might make a loan shark blush, Speaker pro tempore Dale R. Folwell got the House clerk to rewrite history.

On June 16, the Winston-Salem Republican asked that the official record be changed to show he voted "no" on House Bill 810, which would have allowed the consumer finance industry to issue short-term loans with effective annual interest rates as high as 50 percent.

Folwell had voted "aye" on June 2, along with most members of his party. The bill, opposed by North Carolina's military brass and advocates for responsible lending, never made it to a floor vote in the Senate.

Legislators routinely ask to change their votes, often blaming a "mechanical malfunction" with the electronic tabulators.

But Folwell said there was no error. He just felt bad about his original vote and wanted to change it.

"It's just one of those votes I kept thinking about and realizing how little I knew about the legislation," Folwell said this week. "I've always been the kind of person that when I'm in doubt I've always voted 'no,' and I realized that's what I should have done. ... I just didn't focus on it like people expect us to do."

Folwell, who lists his occupation as private investor, said he completely understood when he voted June 2 that the legislation contained provisions allowing sky-high interest rates.

"I watched my mother struggle with that world," Folwell said, growing emotional. "She was trying to raise three kids on a $5,000-a-year salary. I would say she was just never able to get ahead."

Folwell is widely rumored to be considering a 2012 run against Democratic State Treasurer Janet Cowell. He insisted his decision had nothing to do with politics.

"None whatsoever," he said. "I would have done the same thing whether I was retiring or running for the House again. But, at the end of the day, people have to own their votes. ... I just didn't do my homework like I'm normally known for."

A bigger rainy day fund?

A new study argues that North Carolina needs a larger rainy day fund to help the state better handle economic downturns.

During the 20-year history of the rainy day fund - known officially as the Savings Reserve Account - the fund has never exceeded 5 percent of the previous year's budget. It will be 8 percent in the new budget.

But the N.C. Budget and Tax Center said it should be doubled in the future to 16 percent to avoid the kind of huge shortfalls that the state has been facing during the 2001 recession and the Great Recession.

"The Great Recession has not only highlighted the need for such reforms, but also increased the public support needed to enact them," said Edwin McLenaghan, a center analyst and author of the report.

Accreditation bill slides in

Gov. Bev Perdue took a break from bill signing Tuesday after plowing through a stack of legislation Monday. What made news Monday was what she chose to veto (the "abortion" bill), but educators are likely just as interested in what she chose not to veto.

The bill, which becomes law without her signature, prohibits North Carolina-run colleges, universities and community colleges from considering whether a student came from an accredited school when making admissions, scholarship and loan decisions.

The law, motivated by the recent fights in Wake and Burke counties, says UNC-system schools and community colleges can only consider accreditation if it comes from a state agency. The law directs the state Board of Education to accredit schools when local school districts request it and pay for the costs.

The law is aimed at the private nonprofit groups that accredit most of the nation's high schools.

AdvancED, a Georgia group, has warned that it might remove accreditation from high schools in Burke and Wake counties over questions about how both school systems are being governed.

The law goes into effect just as Burke County schools face loss of accreditation for their high schools at the end of the month.

In March, AdvancED accused the Wake school board of regularly violating its own policies as it made key strategic decisions such as eliminating the use of socioeconomic diversity as a factor in student assignment.

The issue is how many school districts will abandon AdvancED in favor of state accreditation.

rob.christensen@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4532

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