Raleigh update: uncertainty rules

In a county that’s home to more than the usual number of state employees, watching the N.C. General Assembly grind out a budget isn’t exactly a night at the movies. This kind of drama can be excruciating, since beneath the posturing and rhetoric and gamesmanship that tell the watchful voter that down deep politicians are pretty shallow there lie some unresolved issues of personal importance — among them, a pay raise, a return to a five-year vesting period, a tax credit for teachers who buy school supplies and, for thousands of state employees in public school systems, the prospect of being out of work.

These are today’s kitchen-table issues, not only because the topics come up at dinnertime, but because their resolution will determine to some extent what actually goes on the table. Republicans running the show might see themselves as steak-and-potatoes earnest, but state workers can’t help but worry that the steam rising from Raleigh carries the strong odor of mystery meat.

Uncertainty rules. It is especially so for people in public education. More than 40 pieces of legislation involving education have been introduced this session. Only five had progressed beyond the committee level as of last week. Of those, one has gone to the governor. http://tinyurl.com/lbrgrok Work on the two biggies still in limbo — the budget bill (or bills) and the evisceration of Common Core — could preclude resolution with many of the others, if the even-year session is at all to live up to its nickname of “short.” The General Assembly must produce a budget and most legislators have sworn to bury Common Core.

But real barriers to progress remain in both areas. The House, which authored a budget plan immensely more palatable to public education, tried to chart a middle course between that proposal and the slash-and-burn Senate plan by separating school funding from other contentious issues. Gov. Pat McCrory supported the strategy. A lot of good that did. On Monday, the Senate swatted the idea away like a bothersome summer bug. http://tinyurl.com/md7k7lo and http://tinyurl.com/obz5nkd Legislators are not back at Square One, but they’re not too far up the board either. Hanging in the balance are long-overdue pay raises for teachers and other state employees and how to pay for them. A compromise will have to combine the Senate’s broad-axe approach with the House’s magical thinking on lottery revenues. Our bet is this will be a long, hot July.

The repeal of Common Core is a done deal. Its replacement is another matter. Bills in the Senate and House that repealed the educational standards — used in North Carolina for the past two years and now the rule in more than 40 states — both establish a commission to write new standards. Legislators just can’t agree on what instructions to give these new standard writers. House members insist that no Common Core standards can be considered in the new N.C.-centric version. The Senate says all available sources, including Common Core, should be considered in the rewrite. Only in an atmosphere of self-importance can the clash of reasonable and dumb produce a stalemate.

As the summer heats up, the most powerful legislators move into the shade of the conference committee to hash out their differences. It’s closer combat than a floor fight. Reports from the front become more scarce, less detailed. People at home wait for word, perhaps telling themselves there are worse things than uncertainty and certainty could be among them.