Republican Senate hopeful Thom Tillis cut $500 million from education budgets while giving tax breaks to his rich friends, the campaign arm for Senate Democrats said Wednesday, in the first piece of a $9.1 million ad campaign set to stay on the airwaves through November's elections.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's efforts to help endangered first-term incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan center on Tillis' tenure as speaker of the state House. Democrats have spent months combing through Tillis' voting record and now are starting an ad blitz to tell voters about the conservative GOP caucus he led in Raleigh.
Tillis' campaign called the ads "shamelessly false."
"House Speaker Thom Tillis drew a bulls-eye on public schools, cutting nearly $500 million," a female narrator in the 30-second ad says. "Tillis sliced and diced education, creating chaos in our classrooms and hurting middle class families."
The criticism by Democrats focuses on GOP budget plans that slowed the pace of year-to-year spending increases. That led to a $480 million gap between what budget writers said would be needed to maintain the same level of services and what lawmakers actually approved.
But in real dollars, education spending has increased every year since Tillis became speaker in 2011. In the last two years, spending at all levels of education is up by about $700 million. It's just less than what was projected would be needed.
Much of that spending increase is due to increased costs of educating growing numbers of students in classrooms. North Carolina now has the 10th largest population of any state.
Tillis' campaign criticized Democrats for "ads that contain outright lies already debunked."
"Thom has a proven record of balancing budgets, giving teachers historic pay raises and creating opportunities for North Carolina families," Tillis spokesman Daniel Keylin said.
In recent days, Hagan has focused her campaign on Tillis' positions on education, hoping to tilt female voters into her camp. If Hagan is to win a second term, she will need the overwhelming support of women to prevail in one of the closest and most expensive races in the country.
Hagan also points to Tillis' proposed elimination of the federal Department of Education, a favorite target for conservative candidates. Tillis tells audiences that North Carolina parents should determine what North Carolina students learn, and that Hagan favors a federal approach to schools.
Hagan calls that irresponsible and inaccurate. North Carolina is expected to receive $910 million from the U.S. Department of Education next year. Much of that money is for poor and rural schools. Hagan has criticized Tillis as someone who, if elected to the Senate, would be working to take dollars away from North Carolina students and teachers.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ad also criticizes what it calls Tillis-backed "tax breaks to yacht and jet owners," trying to pit the Republican against North Carolina families struggling with 6.4 percent unemployment.
North Carolina's tax system caps the sales tax on yachts and jets at $1,500, while making county club memberships tax exempt.
North Carolina's Senate race is among the handful of contests that will decide which party controls the Senate after the election. Republicans need to pick up six Senate seats to claim a majority, and their outside allies are already on television with strong criticism of Hagan.
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