Legislators get a greeting upon return, though not a pleasant one

Sep. 03, 2013 @ 08:26 PM

RALEIGH — Critics of Republican policies in North Carolina used the return of legislators for a veto override session Tuesday as an occasion to call for an investigative hearing and to give GOP legislators failing grades this year.

The North Carolina Association of Educators and Progress North Carolina Action held a morning news conference at the Legislative Building before the General Assembly gaveled in its session.

They lamented the lack of salary increases for teachers this year while key young members of Gov. Pat McCrory's administration got large pay raises in recent months. Much of the focus has been on to two members of McCrory's campaign team now each making more than $80,000 at the Department of Health and Human Services.

Speakers at the groups said House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, and Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, should commit to ask questions publicly about the pay raises and others who got them after McCrory directed state government offices in March to trim costs to deal with a Medicaid shortfall.

Teachers have received one across-the-board pay raise in the past five years.

"Now is the time for (them) to stand up for state employees, educators and taxpayers," NCAE President Rodney Ellis said at a news conference. "They need to commit to an investigative hearing on these pay raises, ask the questions and demand answers."

McCrory said last month that two HHS employees — communications director Ricky Diaz and policy adviser Matthew McKillip — got promotions because they were the most qualified applicants, beating out older candidates. But HHS hasn't yet provided evidence their positions were ever advertised to other potential applicants or that other candidates were considered.

House and Senate Democratic leaders recently asked for similar meetings to be held Tuesday while lawmakers convened, but that didn't happen.

A Tillis spokesman has said a legislative oversight committee on health matters meeting often through next spring would likely look at salary and other health issues. McCrory has said he wanted to give pay raises to teachers this year but didn't have the money because Medicaid overruns siphoned it away.

Participants from this year's "Moral Monday" protests gathered later Tuesday morning to highlight a "report card" that gave failing grades to Republican lawmakers and passing grades to only Democrats. They dropped off the report cards at legislators' offices, including those of Tillis and Berger.

The report card was developed by Democracy North Caroilna and the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. The checklist counted how all legislators voted on a wide variety of matters. They included votes on the state budget, allowing the earned income tax credit to expire, overhauling the state unemployment insurance program and repealing the Racial Justice Act.

What Republicans have done "is constitutionally inconsistent, morally indefensible and economically insane," said state NAACP president the Rev. William Barber. He and about 60 supporters of the "Forward Together" movement entered the Legislative Building peacefully and gave workers in Berger and Tillis' offices their messages.

There were no arrests Tuesday. More than 900 people were arrested inside the Legislative Building from April through July in acts of civil disobedience through the Moral Monday protests.