Under the Dome

SUNDAY DOME: 2016 already? Budget spawns campaign talk

A new mailer from a conservative group targets Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican, on the House budget.
A new mailer from a conservative group targets Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican, on the House budget. AFP

Several top Republicans are already getting heat about the state budget now under debate in the legislature – but from within their own party.

The conservative group Americans For Prosperity has sent out campaign-style mailers targeting two House GOP leaders: Senior budget chairman Nelson Dollar of Cary and Finance Committee Co-Chairman Jason Saine of Lincolnton.

“Rep. Nelson Dollar voted to waste your tax dollars on a bloated state budget,” one mailer says in bold letters, alongside a photo of Dollar and a garbage can labeled “wasteful government over-spending.”

The back of the mailer details the budget provisions that AFP objects to: $40 million for “Hollywood film production handouts,” $200,000 for a youth baseball tournament – and $1.5 million “to dig up a pirate ship.”

The latter refers to efforts to excavate Blackbeard’s ship, the Queen Anne’s Revenge, from off the North Carolina coast in an effort to create a tourist draw. The baseball tournament is in the home district of the speaker of the House, Tim Moore.

Dollar has defended the House budget, emphasizing that the House’s proposed spending increase tracks previous budgets.

“This bill was 5 percent, which interestingly was in line with what we did in 2011,” he said. “The tax reductions that we have currently in place – total for this upcoming year – is actually over $1.7 billion dollars.”

House budget writers have said their plan will lead to jobs and economic development in industries and locations that need the help.

Does the campaign against Saine and Dollar mean that the two could face challenges in the GOP primary next year? AFP state director Donald Bryson says his group doesn’t get involved in primaries.

“If primaries come up because taxpayers in those districts become informed on what their lawmakers are doing, then so be it,” he said.

Through mailers and door-to-door campaigning, AFP wants to mobilize voters to call their legislators and help shape the budget compromise that emerges from the General Assembly.

Bryson said more positive mailers will go out next week in the districts of five of the 11 House Republicans who voted against their chamber’s budget.

And AFP is running TV commercials, too, drumming up support for the Senate version of the budget, which doesn’t include tax credit programs the group objects to. AFP is spending $36,500 on TV commercials, to run through July 12, on WRAL in the Triangle.

AFP also likes the corporate and personal income tax cuts in the Senate budget, Bryson said, and that version “does much better overall controlling spending.”

Democrats in the legislature have been attacking that Senate budget, zeroing in on education issues.

A campaign refrain

It’s been a refrain of the debate in last year’s U.S. Senate race between Thom Tillis and Kay Hagan and a clear signal that Democrats are looking to focus on education again in their 2016 campaigns. (Reminder: Tillis won.)

Senate Republicans have been just as eager to defend their education components, arguing that their budget represents the highest level of education funding in state history. They have highlighted plans to hire more teachers while cutting teaching assistants – it’s an effort to reduce teacher-to-student ratios in elementary grades.

And they have dismissed Democrats’ calls to consider inflation and population growth in the funding debate.

Democrats, especially in the Senate, took an almost singular line of argument against the spending, choosing to emphasize their belief there could be more for schools.

“The priorities of this particular budget are upside down,” said Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat who’s expected to run for attorney general next year. “It spends $3 billion on tax giveaways to large corporations at the expense of our schoolkids and the middle class.”

Stein spoke for nine minutes on the Senate floor recently, highlighting what he sees as inadequate funding for public schools, community colleges and universities.

As soon as Stein wrapped up, Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca called for a break.

“After listening to that campaign speech and untruths, I feel compelled to go to the restroom,” Apodaca said. “Can we take a 10-minute recess please?”

Democrats’ strategy during the budget process mirrored Stein’s concerns. Four Democratic senators proposed amendments that would kill further corporate income tax cuts – already set to take effect in the coming years – and direct the additional revenue to education in, say, textbooks or teacher assistant salaries.

With a Republican supermajority, none of the amendments stood much chance of passing. But the voting seemed designed to allow Democratic campaigns to criticize GOP senators for prioritizing corporate income taxes over education funding. Stay tuned for 2016.

Colin Campbell

Reaction on rulings

Same-sex marriage decision

Gov. Pat McCrory (R): “Like many North Carolinians, I still believe the definition of marriage should be determined by the states and it should be the union between one man and one woman. However, I took an oath to uphold the constitution which compels me as governor to ensure that North Carolina upholds the rule of law.”

House Speaker Tim Moore (R) and Senate leader Phil Berger (R): “The majority of North Carolina voters who define marriage as between one man and one woman deserved a final resolution from the Supreme Court. While this decision is disappointing, we respect the ruling and will continue to work to ensure North Carolina complies with the law of the land.”

House minority leader Larry Hall (D): “The Supreme Court’s decision ... is a victory for equality. We must remain vigilant in ensuring that discrimination is not legislated on behalf of a radical agenda for any reason. The Republican majority has repeatedly passed legislation that we know is unconstitutional and the courts have repeatedly had to protect our citizens when this legislature refuses to do so. I applaud the judicial decision for equality and equal treatment of all citizens under the law.”

Health-care law decision

McCrory: “Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on this matter, we must build a North Carolina-based reform plan that focuses on healthier patients at a cost taxpayers can afford. We must give doctors, hospitals and all health care providers the flexibility to provide their patients the highest quality care possible.”

Moore: “The Affordable Care Act has forced many North Carolinians to pay higher premiums, has limited personal choice of doctors and coverage, and has cornered businesses of all shapes and sizes. Today’s Supreme Court ruling is disappointing, but does not change the fact that this flawed policy is doing more harm than good for our State.”

Hall: “The ruling ... reinforces our efforts to expand Medicaid to improve health care for people of this state, foster new jobs and support our hospitals. The Governor’s inaction and the continued refusal by the Republican-majority in the legislature to expand Medicaid is costing our state jobs and putting the health of North Carolinians at risk.”