RALEIGH — Since the 1940s, public school teachers who earn a masters degree have earned more money as an incentive to teachers to become more expert in their fields. That is now on the legislatures chopping block.
Since 1985, North Carolina has banned the construction of jetties and terminal groins in an effort to prevent the New Jerseyfication of the states coastline. Now that is likely to change.
In 1951, Gov. Kerr Scott helped push through a law extending unemployment benefits to 26 weeks. That will change this year, when a new law goes into effect, passed by the Republican legislature, that reduces benefits to a sliding scale of between 12 and 20 weeks.
Numerous programs, laws and initiatives started by Democratic governors and Democratic legislatures are now on political life support as the first unified Republican government in Raleigh in more than a century gives new scrutiny to what has gone before.
Generations of programs involving education, the environment, health care, election laws and economic development are being eliminated or gutted in the budgets proposed by either Gov. Pat McCrory, the Senate or the House.
Not all the proposed changes will make it through the legislative gauntlet. But in a few cases, programs are already gone.
Such wholesale changes can be expected when governments change hands, especially when one political party has been out of power for so long. Democrats had controlled the governors office for 20 years, and until last year, they had controlled at least one body of the legislature since the 1800s.
There is obviously a sense by many Republican leaders that the status quo policy was too far to the left and their preferences are much further to the right, said Andrew Taylor, a political science professor at N.C. State University.
Taylor said some of the changes are almost tribal, with Republicans looking askance at programs associated with Democrats.
We are seeing more than a half-century of Democratic programs in jeopardy, said state Sen. Dan Blue of Raleigh, a former House speaker. There is a genuine feeling on the part of the (GOP) leadership that the New Deal should never have been enacted, he added, referring to Franklin Roosevelts programs of the 1930s.
Pruning seen as overdue
Senate President Phil Berger, a Republican from Eden, denied that Democratic programs were being targeted.
I dont see it as us looking at it as Democratic programs or not Democratic programs, he said.
Berger said the GOP leadership is looking at more market-oriented approaches where appropriate.
We are looking at things in state government, whether they work or not, whether or not they are consistent with what we believe the people have asked us to look at and to do, Berger said.
Some Democrats, even while decrying many of the cuts, say it makes some sense for Republicans to trim the shrubbery.
A fresh look is always a good thing, said Gary Pearce, a Democratic strategist. What made sense 10 years ago may not make sense today.
John Hood, president of the John Locke Foundation, a think tank that argues for small-government, sees what is happening as a much-needed review of the states policies, now that there is no longer a Democratic legislature that feels obligated to protect the legacies of past leaders.
In some cases, Hood says the programs were set up for partisan purposes, such as the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center, which he argues was created in 1986 by a Democratic legislature so that it not Republican Gov. Jim Martin could control grant money.
In other cases, Hood says subsequent research has raised questions about whether some programs are as effective as once thought. One such program is Democratic Gov. Jim Hunts signature 1977 reading program, which put a reading aide in every classroom, grades 1-3.
Hood says GOP lawmakers are funding reading aids in first grade only because studies show that is the grade where they are effective.
So when the legislature comes in and says lets convert these second- and third-grade teaching assistant positions into something else teaching positions for example thats not a spiteful act, thats not a partisan act, thats a response to empirical evidence, Hood said. The fact that the program was initially associated with Hunt is not relevant to the decision.
The Republican legislature decided to keep a signature Democratic program the Smart Start early childhood program although it is cutting it, Hood notes. That is because studies have shown that such early childhood programs have value, he said.
Shift affects education most
Taylor, the NCSU political scientist, said ideological shifts are often more profound today when party control changes, because of political polarization and because redistricting has left the districts either strongly Republican or strongly Democratic, so lawmakers dont have to appeal to moderates.
No where is the ideological shift more apparent than in education.
Even though North Carolina is one of the most rapidly growing states in the country, the states education budget is contracting. Spending on public schools was $7.9 billion in 2007-2008 and is $7.5 billion in the current year.
As a result, North Carolina has now fallen behind most of the rest of the country in what it invests in its childrens education. The state now ranks 46th in the country in per capita spending on public schools.
They want to set themselves apart from the old leadership, said Rodney Ellis, president of the N.C. Association of Educators. Unfortunately, its disheartening, seeing some of the advancements made over the years rolled back. Right now (were) looking at state teacher pay ranked 48th in the nation. It would take a 4 percent increase just to get up to South Carolina.
Blue argues that the GOP legislatures proposed changes to education represent a marked ideological shift in North Carolinas governing philosophy. Since the 1920s, the state has relied on increased spending on education whether for the university system, community colleges, or secondary or elementary education system to drive the states effort to modernize.
He said it was a philosophy adopted by Democrats and Republicans, including GOP governors such as Jim Martin and Jim Holshouser. Now, that philosophy, he said seems to have been replaced by one that places free markets above every other consideration.
The current brand of Republicanism, Blue said, even rejects ideas advanced by President Ronald Reagan. That was the case earlier this year, when the legislature repealed the Earned Income Tax Credit, which helps low-income working families with children.
While many Democratic programs have been cut, the Republican legislature has offered its own alternatives. On education, for example, it has moved to expand the number of charter schools, to approve tax-paid vouchers for parents from disadvantaged backgrounds to send their children to private schools, and it is proposing a program to entice people without a background in education into the classroom to teach.
Democratic legislation under the ax
Here is a list of programs initiated by Democratic governors or passed by Democratic legislatures (sometimes at the urging of Republican governors) that could be ended or have their funds deeply cut by the Republican legislature. A few have already been repealed.
• Since 1941, under Democratic Gov. Mel Broughton, public school teachers who earn a graduate degree earn a pay supplement. The Senate budget proposes to end the supplement, which is currently a 10 percent pay increase for teachers who earn a masters degree. The House budget proposes to keep the supplement, as does the governors budget.
• Smart Start, the public-private early childhood initiative, was an effort to help young children who come to school unprepared to learn. The program teamed government with local organizations to give local communities control. It was started by Democratic Gov. Jim Hunt in 1993 as a centerpiece of his third term. The program hit a high mark of state funding of $231 million in 2000-01, but that has fallen to $151 million per year, which Gov. Pat McCrory is proposing to continue. The Senate wants to fold the program into the Division of Social Services in a move that it estimated would reduce funding to somewhere between $90 million and $100 million.
• When Hunt first took office in 1977, his major initiative was the Primary Reading Program, which put a reading aide or what would later become known as a teacher assistant in every classroom in grades 1-3. That program is being cut way back by Republicans. McCrorys budget and the Senate budget would eliminate teacher aides in grades 2 and 3, but keep them in kindergarten and first grade. Some of the money for teacher assistants could be used by local school officials for other purposes.
• The Teaching Fellows program was passed by the Democratic legislature in 1986 in an effort to convince the best and brightest young people to enter teaching. It provided college scholarships to talented high school students who would agree to teach in North Carolina schools for at least five years, particularly in rural areas. There are now 4,443 teaching fellows working in 99 of the states 100 counties. The legislature has been phasing out funding, with no freshman class of fellows this year and with the program ending in 2015. Senate Republicans include no money for the Teaching Fellows Program in their budget. The House GOP budget would reinstate money for the teaching fellows.
• The North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching was created in 1985 in Culllowhee with a smaller facility in an old Coast Guard station in Ocracoke. It provided about 66,000 teachers sabbaticals, allowing them to take courses and seminars. The $8 million budget had been reduced during the recession, was cut in half in 2011, and the Senate budget would eliminate it. It would be continued in the House budget and the governors budget.
• With the passage of the Excellent Schools Act in 1997, Hunt and the legislature made a commitment to raise North Carolinas teacher pay to the national average. That goal was not reached, but teacher salaries did rise to 95 percent of the national average, and North Carolina ranked 21st in the country in teacher salaries in 2001. The recession took its toll, but the current legislature doesnt seem interested in turning things around. Teacher pay has now fallen to 46th in the nation and in the South tops only West Virginia and Mississippi.
• Since 1985, North Carolina had banned the construction of jetties or terminal groins along its coast first as a rule and then as law. The move was designed to protect the environment, because jetties cause beach erosion further along the coast, and cost taxpayers up to $10 million each. But developers and homeowners have pushed for such structures for years to protect local beaches. The GOP legislature in 2011 passed a compromise measure to allow four pilot project jetties but included language that had certain taxpayer protections. This session, the Senate has passed a measure to allow unlimited jetties and removes the taxpayer protections. McCrory has opposed the move.
• In 2007, the legislature passed the Solid Waste Management Reform Act partly in response to three landfills that were proposed for Eastern North Carolina. The restrictions became an issue in the 2008 governors race, when Democrat Bev Perdue ran ads against Republican McCrory accusing him of wanting large landfills in the east because he opposed the bill. A Senate committee has approved a bill that would undo a number of environmental standards in the 2007 law, weakening protections for parks, wildlife refuges, wetlands, endangered species habitat and sensitive or high-quality surface waters.
• Concerned about water quality problems in Jordan Lake, an important water supply for Triangle communities, the Democratic legislature in 2009 adopted environmental rules for nutrient reduction. The legislature, responding to pressure from land developers and uplake communities, has been moving to repeal the rules and set up a new study.
• Partly in response to the pollution problems caused by the industrial-size hog farms in the east as well as fish kills, the Democratic legislature largely at the urging of Senate leader Marc Basnight created the Clean Water Management Trust Fund in 1996. At its height it was distributing $100 million per year in grants to local governments, state agencies and non profits to help finance projects dealing with water pollution such as building wastewater treatment plants and for storm water management problems. This year the GOP legislature cut it to $10.7 million, and McCrory is proposing to cut it to $6.7 million. The Senate would dismantle the fund, while the House is proposing to fund it at $20 million next year.
• The N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund was created in 1987 with the strong backing of Basnight to provide supplemental funding to state agencies to acquire land for parks and historic sites. It sets aside 25 percent of the states real estate deed transfer tax and a portion of fees for personalized licensed plates. It raises $12 million a year for land acquisition more than $300 million over the life of the program. The Senate would combine the Clean Water Management Trust Fund with the N.C. Natural Heritage Trust Fund into a smaller fund and take away the deed stamp tax as its source of funding, making it rely on regular budget appropriations. At their height the two funds raised $150 million annually. The Senate budget would raise $12 million combined.
• In the 1970s, when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was first being formed, the Democratic legislature passed a series of provisions known as the Hardison amendments, after a conservative lawmaker saying no state environmental law could be more stringent than the federal law. During the 1980s as the Reagan administration relaxed enforcement of environmental regulation, there was a push to repeal the Hardison amendment to give the state more flexibility. Among those who campaigned for repeal was Republican gubernatorial candidate Jim Martin in 1984. It was finally repealed by the Democratic legislature in 1991, which by then had grown more environmentally friendly. But the Republican legislature, with the backing of business and farm groups, re-installed the Hardison amendments in 2011. The Senate this year has passed an additional version, saying that local governments can not pass any environmental laws more restrictive than the state laws.
• North Carolina has had a progressive income tax since 1921, when it was passed under the leadership of Democratic Gov. Cameron Morrison. The money helped finance North Carolinas big push to build its university system and roads, making it a leader in the South. The Senate is proposing to abolish the income tax, and the House is proposing a flat tax, so that rich and poor pay at the same rate. The GOP plans make up some of the loss of revenue from income tax through broader use of the sales tax, which economists describe as regressive.
• In an effort to provide relief to low-wage workers, the Democratic legislature, with the support of Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, in 2007, passed the Earned Income Tax Credit. It provided a refundable tax credit to nearly 907,000 North Carolina workers in 2011. But the Republican legislature voted to repeal the tax credit this year, and McCrory signed it into law.
Women and children
• In 1987, at the urging of Republican Gov. Jim Martin, the Democratic legislature expanded Medicaid to pregnant women with income at 185 percent of the poverty level. The program was called Baby Love and was aimed at reducing infant mortality. The Senate budget would change the requirement for pregnant women who are Medicaid-eligible, changing it from 185 percent ($21,256 for a single person) to 133 percent ($15,282 for a single person.) The Senate bill would provide a small voucher to a narrow group of pregnant women who are thrown off Medicaid to help them buy private insurance.
• Child Fatality Task Force was created in 1991 by a Democratic legislature and Martin when there was concern about the states high infant mortality rate. The task force has focused its efforts on child health and safety and supported policies to reduce infant and child deaths. The child death rate has dropped from 107 children per 100,000 in 1991 to 57.4 per 100,000 in 2011. The House budget would end the program.
• N.C. Rural Economic Development Center was created in 1986 under the leadership of Democratic Lt. Gov. Bob Jordan in an effort to address the growing gap between urban and rural areas. The center hands out $600 million grants for water and sewer projects and other projects. McCrory is proposing to cut the budget from $18 million to $6.6 million, and the Senate proposes to end funding, creating a new division with the Department of Commerce to oversee rural economic development. The House budget would fund it at $16.6 million.
• The Biofuels Center of North Carolina in Oxford was created by the Democratic legislature in 2007 to promote feed stocks for use as fuel. McCrory proposes to cut the budget from $4.3 million to $1 million, and the Senate budget would eliminate it.
• The N.C. Biotechnology Center is a nonprofit created in 1984 in the Research Triangle Park by the Democratic legislature under Hunt to promote life-science businesses. McCrorys budget would cut its budget from $17.2 million to $7.2 million, while the Senate budget would abolish it.
• Golden Leaf Foundation, a nonprofit in Rocky Mount was created in 1999 by the Democratic legislature to receive money from the state settlement from cigarette manufacturers. The money is used largely to help rural communities. McCrorys budget would cut off the annual revenue, or $69 million, to the Golden Leaf Fund, as would the Senate. The House would divert payments for two years.
• The Racial Justice Act was passed in 2009 by the Democratic legislature with the support of Perdue. It allows people sentenced to death to use statistical evidence to argue that race played a significant part in their trial or in the prosecutions decision to seek the death penalty. The legislature has repealed the law, arguing that its a back-door attempt to ban the death penalty. Its now on McCrorys desk.
• Unemployed workers have been receiving 26 weeks of benefits since 1951, when under the leadership of Democratic Gov. Kerr Scott, the benefits were expanded from 20 weeks. That will change this year, as the result of a new law passed by the Republican legislature and signed by McCrory, which reduces benefits to a sliding scale of between 12 and 20 weeks.
• Annexation law was passed in 1959, pushed through by Democrat Pat Taylor, who later became lieutenant governor, as a way to make sure that North Carolinas cities continued to grow in an orderly way. The Republican legislature changed the law in 2011 to make annexation of established residential areas very difficult.
• The birthplaces of two of North Carolinas most famous governors, Charles Brantley Aycock in Wayne County and Zebulon Vance near Asheville, became state historical sites in 1955 and opened shortly thereafter during the administration of Democratic Gov. Luther Hodges. McCrorys budget would close the historic sites, but still maintain the property.
• Following the Watergate scandal, the Democratic legislature in 1977 with the encouragement of Hunt sought to limit the influence of special-interest money in campaigns. It passed a law that would allow taxpayers to voluntarily check a box on their individual tax forms to give $3 to fund that helps finance the political parties. The funds are distributed based on party registration. McCrory has proposed abolishing that program, and the legislature seems likely to follow.
• In 2007, the Democratic legislature approved public financing through voluntary tax check-off for statewide races for state treasurer, insurance commissioner and superintendent of public instruction. The theory is that special interest groups were most interested in financing those races. The Republican legislature is in the process of ending the program.
• Worried about the potential influence of big money in judicial campaigns, the Democratic legislature in 2002 passed the first public financing system for races in the country. The law applies to races for the N.C. Supreme Court and the N.C. Court of Appeals and is funded through voluntary tax check-offs and lawyer fees. The Republican Senate has proposed repealing it, and the House is considering doing it as well.
• The N.C. Museum of Forestry was created in Whiteville in 1998 with the support of Democratic state Sen. R.C. Soles, who got $1 million to get it off the ground to celebrate the states forestry industry. Two years ago, the state spent $2 million to renovate the museum. But the Senate budget will kill the $357,000 operating budget.
Staff writer Rob Christensen