Senator Tom Apodaca represents District 48 (Buncombe, Henderson, and Transylvania counties) in the North Carolina General Assembly. He is in his sixth term and serves on two dozen different committees, including as Rules Committee chair. Senator Apodaca is widely respected and is one of the most powerful figures in the state. The following article was originally published on Tuesday, September 23, 2014 in BlueRidgeNow.com, the online edition of The Hendersonville Times-News. It reappears here with the gracious permission of both the author and editor.
Apodaca rebuts naysayers,
defends GOP reforms
By Nathaniel Axtell, Times-News Staff Writer
During a Tuesday luncheon speech before the Henderson County Republican Women’s Club, Sen. Tom Apodaca sought to refute what he characterized as Democratic distortions being spread in recent television ads.
Speaking before roughly 45 GOP faithful at The Cedars, the six-term senator challenged claims that the Republican-led legislature has slashed education spending and erected hurdles to voting while giving tax breaks to the richest North Carolinians.
“You hear a lot out there and they never let the truth get in the way of what they say,” Apodaca said. “My grandmother used to say, ‘You tell a lie long enough and you’ll believe it’s the truth,’ so that’s what they’re trying to do.”
Contrary to the TV ads targeting House Majority Leader Thom Tillis, who’s in a tight race with U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, Apodaca said Republicans have invested more in teacher pay and textbooks than their Democratic predecessors in Raleigh did, all while balancing the budget.
“We gave the largest teacher raise in memory, one of the largest in the history of North Carolina,” he said. “It did even out to 7.1 percent. Longevity pay goes on top of that. So when you hear it wasn’t a raise, you’re not hearing correctly.”
Apodaca acknowledged that teachers with zero to 10 years of experience fared better than veteran teachers, but added, “They’re the ones who actually needed it the most, because they went in at $30,000 a year and it had been frozen for so many years, they were unable to really live on that salary.”
However, he said every teacher got a raise by statute, bringing North Carolina’s national ranking in teacher pay from 48th to 32nd in the country. Overall, he said North Carolina sits in the top 15 states when it comes to state appropriations for education.
However, the National Education Association says it ranked 46th in 2012-13 in per-pupil spending.
“Where we have problems, and we don’t really have the problems here, but we have problems in our poorer counties not being able to a give a supplement,” Apodaca said. “So by them not being able to give a supplement, it makes the whole state look bad, cumulatively.”
Republicans leaders have been taking it on the chin for cutting textbook funding, he said, yet they’ve actually raised those funds since taking control of the General Assembly in 2010.
My grandmother used to say, ‘You tell a lie long enough and you’ll believe it’s the truth,’ so that’s what they’re trying to do.”
—Senator Tom Apodaca of Henderson County
Under Democratic control, he said, textbook appropriations during the recession dropped from $100 million in the 2008-09 school year to $2.5 million in 2010.
“We’ve raised it pretty much each year over the last three to four years,” Apodaca said, noting the $24.3 million allocated in 2014. “There’s also something else that doesn’t get a lot of publicity: by the year 2017, we’re supposed to be strictly e-books. So why (do) we want to go out and spend a fortune on textbooks for three years?”
Some GOP critics have noted that state funding for K-12 education in North Carolina is about $500 million less than pre-recession levels. Apodaca said TV ads bashing Republicans on the issue fail to explain that figure fully.
“They used to have an accounting trick,” he said. For a decade before they lost power, Apodaca said Democrats had “allocated $500 million in negative reserves. Which was no money, it was just a bookkeeping method. And we said, ‘You know what? It’s time for us to go to straight-forward budgeting…
“We cleaned it up,” he said. “It had no monetary affect, but we wiped off that $500 million item that was sitting there, just there holding money that had already been cut. So there was no dollar loss.”
Apodaca also defended Republicans’ decision to phase out the N.C. Teaching Fellows, a scholarship program created in 1986 to recruit talented students to the profession. He said lawmakers found an alternative that better addresses teacher shortages in depressed areas of the state.
Teaching fellows who graduated from a school such as Hendersonville High or West Henderson High often wanted to return and teach at their alma maters to meet their service requirements, Apodaca said.
“That’s great — I would, too,” he said. “But from a legislative standpoint, I need a teacher that’ll go to Hyde County, Tyrrell County, Jones County, inner-city Charlotte, Robbinsville. And we found that Teach for America was a better program to fit the needs we had for teachers.”
Challenging claims that Republicans gave tax cuts to the rich, Apodaca said Democrats were the ones who rewarded buyers of expensive boats and airplanes with tax breaks in the 1990s.
“What they’re beating us up on is we didn’t change that program when we did tax reform, but it was theirs,” he said. “It was put in for a reason. We have boat manufacturers in North Carolina that depend on selling boats, but that didn’t change with us — that had been there, and the same for airplanes.”
Countering claims that Republicans want to suppress voter turnout, Apodaca said a judge who recently ruled that upcoming elections could be held with GOP-backed reforms in place complimented lawmakers in his decision “on our due diligence and the procedure we did implementing this…”
U.S. District Judge Thomas D. Schroeder last month denied a preliminary injunction barring GOP reforms from being used this November, but also allowed a trio of lawsuits from the League of Women Voters, the state NAACP and other plaintiffs challenging their constitutionality to go to trial next summer.
“Everybody says, ‘They cut early voting,’” Apodaca said. “Yeah, we cut the days, but we left the hours the same. So if you’ll look at that list, you’ll see some of our early voting sites are open until 8 o’clock at night. How great is that? Because it means working folks can get in and vote.”
Reach Nathaniel Axtell at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-694-7860.