Sen. Tillman's Surprise
House Speaker Thom Tillis said recently it is almost a sure thing that the General Assembly will reverse itself next year and repeal a budget provision that added five days to the public school calendar.
The extra days were touted by Senate leaders when the budget passed as part of their "education reform," but many local school officials raised concerns about the cost of providing the extra days, especially considering the massive cuts made in education spending.
Tillis seems willing to respond to the concerns, though it is not the first time he has expressed reservations in public about a decision made by the General Assembly only to back away later from his second thoughts.
Maybe more interesting than the familiar Tillis two-step on a controversial issue was the reaction by Sen. Jerry Tillman, who is the co-chair of the education budget committee.
Tillman still seems to support the extra days and recently brushed off concerns about the costs, saying a surplus in the fuel budget for school buses could make up the difference.
The problem is that the fuel budget is running a deficit, not surplus, a point Tillman later acknowledged to The Winston-Salem Journal this week.
That's strange enough - that a key budget writer would suggest using a surplus he knows doesn't exist - but it is not the most troubling part of Tillman's reaction.
Tillman said he thought the fund would eventually realize a surplus because the final spending plan he helped write increased the per-gallon budget for fuel above last year's level of $2.51.
The Journal reports that's not the case. Lawmakers did not adjust the per gallon cost for the diesel fuel, and the average cost this year has been $3.13 a gallon, nowhere close to $2.51.
Tillman told a reporter he would be "very shocked" if the final budget did not increase the funding for fuel. The final budget didn't, and how can Tillman really be shocked? He wrote the budget.
Is he shocked at himself?
It's not the first time that Tillman has seemed to have trouble with the reality of his own budget decisions. During a Senate floor debate last summer, Tillman scoffed at the notion that the Republican budget would result in the layoffs of teachers and teacher assistants and told his colleagues not to believe people who claimed otherwise.
Among the spectators in the Senate gallery that day were several teacher assistants from western North Carolina who had already received their pink slips because of the cuts made by the budget Tillman was saying did not lay off any teacher assistants.
Adding extra days to the school calendar may be a good idea, but it ought to be decided by determining what is best for students and the money ought to be provided by the state to pay for the extra costs.
The current leadership of the General Assembly wanted it both ways, credit for expanding public education while slashing the money to pay for it.
Sadly, given the long list of troubling decisions made by the current General Assembly, that is not very shocking at all.
Chris Fitzsimon is executive director of N.C. Policy Watch. Contact him at email@example.com.
More like this story