N.C. house speaker visits county

Catawba County-area residents met State House Speaker Thom Tillis on Tuesday with questions and concerns about the state budget adopted this summer.

Multiple residents voiced concerns about large cuts to education that the state approved in June. Cliff Moone, the 10th District Democratic Party chairman, called the cuts “reckless and short-sided” on Tuesday and referenced the nearly 1,800 teaching and teaching assistant jobs that have been eliminated since June across the state.

State cuts to public education cost Catawba County’s three school systems about $11 million in public funding this year. The cuts forced superintendents to make choices of what to cut, and now more than 54 classroom positions have been lost in Catawba County, according to the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

On Tuesday, Tillis said irresponsible fiscal cuts in the past were partly to blame for the education reductions this year.

“We’re setting the rhetoric aside…and are finding out what the numbers are,” he said. “We had to make some tough decisions, but for the most part, I think we got it right.”

Justin Guillory thinks Tillis and other state legislators got it wrong.
Guillory is the research and communications director of Progress North Carolina, a Raleigh-based movement that seeks to protect a strong educational system, business competitiveness and forward-thinking government.

Guillory and Progress NC Executive Director Gerrick Brenner set up displays outside Tillis’ “town hall” meeting at Catawba Valley Community College’s Auditorium on Tuesday that listed how many teaching jobs were cut after this year’s budget was adopted. Two displays featured thousands of pink sticky notes, each one having the name of a county on it to represent a teacher or teaching assistant laid off in that county.

“We don’t want Speaker Tillis to blame the superintendents,” Guillory said. “We want him and the state to take responsibility. What we’re asking is for him to come up with a plan and deal with it.”

Progress NC — which has been to the last eight or nine of Tillis' “town hall” meetings — says the cuts to teaching were made despite promises the speaker and other representatives made.

Education was not the only subject discussed Tuesday night. Tillis addressed comments about transportation and health care at the meeting, too.

He addressed each brief comment with a lengthy argument and explanation in a “town hall” format. He said he would take the residents’ comments back to Raleigh and use them when sessions start again.

Resident Thomas Griffin asked Tillis about the state’s motivation behind the Voter ID law, a proposed bill that would require all North Carolina residents to present a valid photo ID at the polls to vote. Gov. Beverly Perdue vetoed the bill this summer after a Republican-led legislature approved it.

“If you only implement laws after something bad is happening, then you’d have to repeal a lot of existing laws,” Tillis said. “You can end the significant prospects of voter fraud with this simple request. We can’t say that simply because it hasn’t happened a lot that the risk isn’t there."