The Saga Continues on Pensions and Retirement
Pensions & Retirement
The Saga Continues
In my last (March 23) newsletter, I recounted the ridiculous story of how the Pensions and Retirement Committee was given 1999 balance sheets rather than current reports. At that meeting I requested (and was promised) the 2000 balance sheet as well as those for January, February and (as soon as possible) March 2001.
Well, it is over two weeks later and I still don't have them. This week that committee was meeting to decide on important issues, still without enough information to make an intelligent choice. I informed the committee that I strongly suggested that acting without information was the height of irresponsibility and I left.
Apparently the Treasurer's office was a little embarrassed, because I received a call from the head of the retirement fund who wanted to come see me. He wants me to quit saying I don't have current information. My response is that if he wants me to stop, all he has to do is give me the information I asked for. That shouldn't be difficult, but apparently there is a problem because I still don't have it.
Hoof & Mouth
Better Safe Than Sorry So far we have escaped the horrors Europe is enduring with this disease, but this week the General Assembly fast tracked legislation intended to quickly quell any outbreak if one should occur.
No one liked the bill we passed, even after we placed a little more oversight in it as well as a shorter sunset (the bill ceases to be effective in 2 years), but the overwhelming majority agreed that the cost of any delay in dealing with an outbreak made the bill a necessity.
"A Child Who Can't Read Is Unlikely to Succeed"
Pretty obvious, isn't it? That's why I developed a bill that puts reading first. It says the legislature wants every child to read well enough to enjoy it by the end of first grade.
This week former Speakers Harold Brubaker (R-Randolph) and Dan Blue (D-Wake) joined me in a press conference to announce the bill we're jointly introducing titled "Teach Reading by the End of First Grade." Having two former speakers, one from each party, as co-introducers, should help people realize the importance of this bill.
The bill's intent is not to heap more burdens on teachers, but to direct DPI (the Department of Public Instruction) to give them the tools they need to teach reading.
The bill does call for standardized tests, but the intent is not multiple choice tests or the high stress, high stakes test DPI likes to design. What we have in mind are the kinds of diagnostic tests that will permit teachers to identify small problems before they become large problems.
According to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, fewer than 1 in 3 NC students in the fourth grade is proficient in reading, and for black students the number is closer to 1 in 10. This must change.
We must attack the root cause of our racial gap in education, and that is without question the reading gap. Failure to teach reading is also the root cause of disorderly classrooms and our high drop out rate. Implementing this program will save millions of dollars for our taxpayers, as well as the lives and futures of thousands of children.
Tax Lawn Fertilizer?
A host of Senators and Representatives have introduced legislation that will place a tax of $5 per ton on the fertilizer sold for use on turf grass, which includes lawns, golf courses, athletic fields, etc. Actually, the sponsors call this an assessment, because they don't like to say tax, but it sure looks like a tax to me.
Of course the sponsors say that it isn't a tax because anyone who objects can apply for and receive a refund, but how many homeowners or average taxpayers will realize they can get a refund? On the other hand, any big user can and probably will get a refund.
In fact, the bill is almost funny because it says anyone who purchases "fertilizer on which the assessment was not paid within 30 days by the manufacturer shall report these purchases and pay the assessment" to the Department of Revenue. Later it says "Any person who has purchased for use turf grass fertilizer upon which the assessment has been paid has the right to receive a refund of the assessment by making demand in writing to the Department within 30 days of purchase of the fertilizer." What a ridiculous paper chase.
The bill is supposedly intended to raise funds for turf grass research and promotion.
Bottom line, the people who will get to spend the money love the bill, and they're in Raleigh to push it. The ordinary citizens who will get stuck paying the bill may never hear of it.
Since the same bill was introduced in both the House and the Senate with a host of sponsors in both, it will probably pass. If you want to see who is sponsoring it, go to www.ncleg.net and look up House Bill 688 or Senate Bill 679.
Don't Tax Food For Fun
A few weeks ago the City of Monroe asked me to introduce legislation to permit them to collect a 1% prepared food tax and a 5% occupancy tax in order to finance a civic center. Unfortunately, they sprung this on me without advance notice at a meeting at Hilltop with Senator Plyler, who seemed quite familiar with the request and more than willing to raise taxes for the City.
I said that I would not take a position until I had more information and the public had a chance to voice their views. The people I heard from were unenthusiastic about higher taxes, particularly a tax on food. I told the city that I could not support the food tax, because the heaviest burden would fall on our poorest citizens, but that I would consider the occupancy tax.
Senator Plyler has now introduced 3 bills at the request of the City of Monroe, S 664 - City of Monroe Prepared Food Tax, S 665 - City of Monroe Occupancy Tax, and S 666 - Monroe Property Acquisition.
We have never discussed the third bill, dealing with letting Monroe acquire land for the courthouse. The courthouse issue is one the city and the county commissioners are working to resolve, and I hope they reach a satisfactory resolution.
As for the taxes, the food tax requested is not earmarked for a civic center but may be used "for any public purpose." 5% of the occupancy tax is for promoting tourism & economic development with 95% spread among several alternative uses.