Republicans keep control of legislature


NC Speaker Thom Tillis

RALEIGH — While state Republicans celebrate today, some student and advocacy groups are worrying about the future of higher education.

Republicans were certain Tuesday night that they would maintain coveted control of both the N.C. House of Representatives and Senate.

Republicans now have 77 N.C. House seats and 32 N.C. Senate seats, according to unofficial results. Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory was elected governor.

This is the first time in 140 years that Republicans have control of the governor’s mansion and both chambers of the N.C. General Assembly.

There were few surprises Tuesday night. Republicans, who won House and Senate seats by margins as high as 19 percent, were expected to continue their electoral success of 2010 — when the GOP gained control of both chambers of the legislature for the first time in more than 100 years.

Rep. Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg and N.C. Speaker of the House, praised last year’s bipartisanship but said having McCrory in office will speed up the legislative process.

But some students and experts have raised concerns that a new era of Republican leadership in both the legislature and governor’s office could undermine the affordability of the UNC system.

After facing a budget shortfall of as large as $3.7 billion in 2010, the new GOP leadership enacted spending cuts, including a $414 million budget cut to the UNC system last year. The legislature restored $24 million to the budget this summer.

But the system is still operating with 11 percent less money than before the recession, said Alexandra Sirota, director of the N.C. Budget and Tax Center.

In order to offset the budget cut, the system’s Board of Governors approved a controversial 8.8 percent tuition increase systemwide last year.

Gary Pearce, a Democratic strategist, said the UNC system should expect budget cuts to continue.

“Republicans see their election as a mandate to cut spending, and that’s going to include the university.”

But Tillis said the UNC system could see funding increases. He and other state Republicans also support programs like the performance-based funding model being considered by the UNC system.

The model would allocate funding to schools based on factors like retention, degree efficiency, and six-year graduation rates. The system is trying to get more funding for the model.

“We want to start taking legislators out of the details and get more measured results — it’s a perfect model,” Tillis said.

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, who was re-elected Tuesday, also said the legislature should stay out of the UNC system’s decisions.

Chris Fitzsimon, director of the left-leaning N.C. Policy Watch, said the legislature’s history of spending cuts is troubling, and a Republican governor will only exacerbate the cuts.

“I’m concerned that there won’t be a check on a Republican legislature working closely with McCrory,” he said.

Matt Hickson, member of the UNC-CH chapter of the N.C. Student Power Union, said many conservative legislators are not committed to higher education affordability.

Students bore the cost of the budget cuts through tuition increases and cuts to financial aid, he said.

“It would be a shame if one of the things that distinguished us from other universities — affordability — was lost in the era of conservative control,” Hickson said.

Staff writer Eric Garcia contributed reporting.

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