With the passage by the NC House of the 2008-2009 budget this week by overwhelming margins, some took the opportunity to hail it as a “historic” event – only 12 members voted “no” on 2nd reading and only 10 on 3rd reading. Unfortunately, this budget and the events that surrounded it were business as usual for the N.C. House of Representatives. The majority used favoritism and a selective enforcement of the rules yet again this session, both to marginalize the minority and to silence dissent.
Those in leadership are able to set the rules that govern the House. But does that mean they are also able to apply the rules only when it benefits them?
Take for example, the land transfer tax. According to the General Assembly’s self-imposed budget rules, for a provision to be included in the final Conference report on the budget, it must be included in either the House- or Senate-passed version of the budget. When the House and Senate passed their respective budgets, the language granting counties the authority to hold referendums on the land transfer tax was no where to be found. However, it miraculously appeared in budget conference report (along with approximately 100 or so other provisions ineligible for consideration). So technically, the way counties received authority to offer the transfer tax violated the General Assembly’s own budget rules.
When the 2008-2009 modifications to the budget came around this year, Rep. Skip Stam (R-Wake) offered an amendment in both the Finance committee and on the floor of the House to remove the provision that allows counties to hold referendums on the land transfer tax. Each time, the amendment was ruled “out of order” due to violation of budget rules. Huh? A provision that amends or takes something out of last year’s budget is out of order?
So removing a provision that broke the rules to be included in last year’s budget is apparently against the rules this year? I’m having a hard time understanding that one.
If the whole point of the short session’s budget is to “modify” last year’s budget, someone needs to explain to me how an amendment to do just that is ineligible to be considered.
Another example of House leadership’s favoritism and disregard for rules occurred on the last day of debate on the budget bill. Both Rep. Ty Harrell (D-Wake) and Rep. Cary Allred (R-Alamance) offered identical, but separate amendments modifying the eligibility of NC Education Lottery employees from receiving pay raises more than that of every other state employee.
Rep. Allred filed his amendment first, approximately two hours before Rep. Harrell’s amendment was filed with the clerk’s office. Yet, which amendment was the first to be heard on the floor of the House? You guessed it, Rep. Harrell’s. Now, they wouldn’t have given him preferential treatment would they? I’m sure it was just an honest oversight by the Speaker and his staff.
Add to all of this a special budget provision to boost one person’s state pension, an earmark for a legislator’s hometown airport that bypasses normal application procedures and you have a budget that may not raise taxes or increase spending by extraordinary amounts, but continues the tradition of disregard for rules and procedure and special favors for friends of the Speaker.
No, not a historic budget, but just business as usual for the NC House where ignoring the rules and favoritism seem to be the norm. No, a truly historic budget would be one that does neither. I hope we get to see it someday.