In Exile this week

Already out of date -- this week's Exile on Jones Street.

Not a stalemate, but not exactly a sprint to the finish either.

The state budget is close to done, but with a few major items — mostly on the revenue side — yet to be ironed out. So, how long before the deal is struck?

The president pro tem of the Senate says it could be a good be a long discussion. The governor says get on with it. And the speaker of the NC House says predictions are pretty useless.

The revenue hang-ups are significant and interwoven — a sales tax, a top-tier tax rate, Medicaid relief to counties and a land transfer tax are all in play.

Over the weekend, Gov. Mike Easley reminded everyone that a few years ago his office was granted veto power. He cut loose some funds for his chief education priorities and chided the Senate for sucking up to the developer and homebuilders lobby.

In a recent interview, Speaker Joe Hackney was his usual matter-of—fact self when it comes to discussing the negotiations. He points to some progress, with the capital spending plan being nailed down and most of the special budget provisions — which the House disdains but the Senate still, uh, deigns — worked out.

But the finance piece is still the big hang-up and Hackney’s not fond of the Senate’s latest offer on Medicaid relief to counties, saying it doesn’t help high-growth areas. For Chatham County, 707 square miles of the speaker’s district, the deal, he says, is a wash.

A wash does a county like Chatham, where development is fueling high school and infrastructure costs, no good.

And the speaker, who almost a decade ago first proposed a real estate transfer tax as a necessary tool in the growth-management toolbox, says he’s serious about keeping the transfer tax as part of the budget.

He said that the counties who have the tax (thanks to an effort years ago by the president pro tem himself) have used it to keep property taxes low.

“The tax rate in Dare County,” he noted, “is 25 cents.”

The rest of the state, the speaker said, ought to have the same option.

Grand Old Pantaloons
While Democrats are slugging it out over tedious matters of policy, Republicans are staging one of the oddest sideshows since Gov. Jim Martin slugged too much cold medicine ahead of a press conference.

Cabarrus County Commissioner Coy Privette, who aspired to Cotton Mather status during his years in the N.C. House, was arrested for aiding and abetting prostitution. A sad case, yes, but hardly a private matter since Privette was a former president of the Southern Baptists Convention of N.C. and, until late last week, president of the Christian Action League — the state’s highly active champions of godliness and protectors of marriage.

Then there’s Joe Boylan, who in a GOP grudge match defeated former House Speaker Richard Morgan in the ’06 primary. At first, Boylan was accused of fondling a female representative whist in his cups at a Raleigh nightspot. But in his vehement denial of the incident to the Southern Pines Pilot, Boylan apparently went too far and committed the cardinal sin of putting words in Minority Leader Rep. Skip Stam’s mouth. That, Rep. Boylan, is Skip Stam’s job.

A retraction followed, which also included Boylan’s admission that he kinda overstated how OK the female representative he allegedly groped, Rep. Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenberg), was with his behavior.

Then, shortly after getting what she called hate mail from a Boylan supporter, Rep. Debbie Clary (R-Cleveland) said she was going to break what appeared to be an agreement among the elephants to keep quiet about the incident and dished the goods on Boylan.

Should be a right interesting ’08 primary ahead down to Moore County.