Wednesday, December 3, 2008

NCGOP E-Letter - December 3, 2008

U.S. withholds N.C. transit funds
The Federal Transit Administration doesn't like the way the state oversees local transit

By Bruce Siceloff
The News & Observer
November 28, 2008

The Federal Transit Administration has frozen $25 million in grants for mostly rural public transportation services across North Carolina, citing deficiencies in how the state Department of Transportation oversees local transit programs.

The federal agency says DOT's lapses have cost local transit programs in unspecified lost or delayed funds from Washington. ...

Yvette G. Taylor, the FTA's southeast regional administrator, said in a Nov. 4 letter to Canales that an audit found DOT deficient in 12 out of 21 areas of state responsibility. Her criticism centered on DOT's failure to submit an overall management plan describing how North Carolina allocates federal funds to local agencies and makes sure the money is spent properly.

"NCDOT will not be permitted to draw down FTA funds from any of the [fiscal year] 2008 grants until" Taylor's office approves the management plan, the FTA audit report said.

Taylor told Canales to fix shortcomings in how DOT manages grant money, helps local agencies with their planning and meets the state's needs for inter-city and charter bus service.

She said DOT has not done enough to make sure local agencies meet guidelines for vehicle maintenance, drug and alcohol testing for drivers and services for disabled residents, as well as equal-opportunity rules for hiring and purchasing.

Local agencies rely on DOT to distribute federal funds for a variety of transportation programs that help elderly, disabled, low-income and other mostly rural residents. ...

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Democrats Fight Amongst Themselves But Who Looks Out For North Carolinians?

Cooper criticizes outside-lawyer use

The Associated Press
Winston Salem-Journal
November 29, 2008

The office of N.C. Attorney General Roy Cooper said yesterday that the state treasurer's office violated North Carolina law by hiring outside attorneys to advocate as part of a class-action lawsuit against mortgage-finance giant Freddie Mac.

A spokeswoman for N.C. Treasurer Richard Moore said that his office disputes Cooper's legal interpretation and that Moore was only fulfilling his duty to work in the interest of pensioners.

Cooper and Moore have been posturing for position over the case -- a high-profile lawsuit that will likely put investor anger at the subprime-mortgage crisis into the courtroom.

Moore, who oversees the state's multibillion-dollar pension fund, hired two outside law firms to try to persuade a federal judge that N.C. Retirement Systems be the lead plaintiff in the suit. Cooper's office said that Moore failed to pursue a competitive-bidding process to hire attorneys and violated state law by not getting approval for such hiring from the attorney general and the governor.

"The treasurer's office violated the law, and the attorney general has a duty to make sure the law is followed," a spokeswoman for Cooper, Noelle Talley, said. …

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Easley Fails Econ 101
By Brian Balfour
Red Clay Citizen
December 1, 2008

Like most elitist politicians, outgoing Governor Mike Easley feels it is his duty to try and "stimulate" the economy. The arrogance of politicians who believe the economy is something they can control and manipulate better than the millions of producers and consumers freely engaging in mutually beneficial exchanges never ceases to amaze - and depress - me.

Now we have Easley jumping on the "stimulus" bandwagon by rushing into more than $700 million in debt financed public works projects. The selling point, as always, is that government spending will "create" new jobs.

Government spending can not create any new jobs. Politicians and the public need to understand this. The money for these jobs must come from somewhere. In this case, the public works will be debt-financed. As the state issues debt to finance government projects, less investment financing is available to the private sector. Thus, the government projects crowd out private sector jobs.

In the future, these government projects will have to be repaid plus interest. The added burden of growing debt will therefore most likely be financed by increasing taxes - sapping money from the private sector and costing jobs.

In either scenario, no net new jobs are created, and we are left figuring out how to pay for an increasing debt.

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This 'culture' must change

Wilmington Star-News
November 29, 2008

Just how long does it take for a so-called health care institution to develop what one official described as a "culture" of neglect and abuse? Years? Decades?

Whatever the answer, Cherry Hospital apparently lost its mission statement long ago. North Carolinians already knew about the shameful events that led to the death of a 50-year-old psychiatric patient who was left sitting in a chair, without food or water, for almost a full day.

The Raleigh News & Observer recently posted videos showing several staff members at the Goldsboro mental hospital chatting, playing cards and actively ignoring Steven Sabock and one other patient as they sat in chairs a few feet away.

Many of these same staffers later managed to find time to falsify paperwork that indicated they were dutifully attentive to Sabock, who choked on medication, hit his head and suffered a fatal heart attack while the workers whiled away the hours.

Three workers were fired and a few others got a black mark in their personnel files after Sabock's April 29 death. That might have been appropriate if this were an isolated case. It wasn't. On Tuesday, two former employees were sentenced to jail time for kicking and beating a Cherry Hospital patient. Other employees have been fired over the past year for abusing patients.

An official with the state Department of Health and Human Services who oversees state facilities said the problem is deep-seated. Rather than treating and caring for these vulnerable patients, workers routinely ignored or punished them - while fellow employees looked the other way, according to the DHHS official, James Osberg. …

The federal government found the situation at Cherry so deplorable that in September it halted payments to Cherry Hospital; state taxpayers are now picking up the tab for this expensive but subpar care. …

But if there is, as Osberg indicated, a "cultural environment" of tolerating mistreatment of patients, that's not sufficient. Osberg says across-the-board firing isn't permitted. Too bad. So start at the top, and keep going until the "culture" changes.

Cherry and the other mental hospitals are only a part of the mangled mess that is North Carolina's mental health system. Governor-elect Bev Perdue, who has some experience in health care administration, has pledged to make fixing this broken system a priority.

It will be difficult, as she heads into office facing a possible $3 billion budget shortfall.

But this isn't optional. North Carolina's mental health system is broken in many places. The people who need its services can't wait until the state can "afford" to treat them right.

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Parents Need More Choices in Education

By Terry Stoops
Greensboro News & Record
November 30, 2008

Recently, the N.C. Department of Public Instruction released test results for the state's school districts and schools. State education leaders claim that North Carolina's testing program, the ABCs of Public Education, is "a major step forward in improving schools." However, during the last 15 years, the state's testing program has done little more than frustrate educators, confuse parents, and inflate assessments of student performance. Rather than tinker with a broken accountability program, we need to find new and better ways to gauge the performance of our public schools.

To gain a better understanding of school districts' performance and learning environments, the John Locke Foundation recently graded the "parent-friendliness" of North Carolina's 115 school districts. This study used state data on teacher turnover, school crime, graduation rates, and eight other measures to compute average "grades" for the four areas that parents care about the most: administration, teachers, safety, and student performance. These grades were averaged, and school districts were ranked based upon their final grade.

Overall, the study concluded that North Carolina's school districts are generally not parent-friendly organizations. Most school districts received C's. No school districts received an overall grade of A, and only 19 districts received B's. There were 27 D's and five F's. …

So what common features can be found among the state's parent-friendly school districts? We need further research before we can pinpoint the combination of factors that contribute to success. However, school districts that fared well in this ranking were generally small districts with stable, high-performing teaching staffs. Most top-performing school districts, like Polk, Cherokee and Clay, enrolled fewer than 5,000 students. Of the top 10 parent-friendly school districts, only Lincoln and Carteret enrolled more than 5,000 students.

The lesson is clear. When it comes to meeting the needs of children and parents, smaller is usually better. On the other hand, socioeconomic status or income level did not appear to be correlated strongly to parent-friendliness. Five of the top 10 most parent-friendly school districts in the study had approximately half of their students eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch. Other top performing school districts -- like Alleghany, Richmond, and Martin -- had nearly two-thirds of their students eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch.

With no threat of losing clientele to competitors, many public school districts behave like the monopolies they are -- focused on strengthening the organization's position and goals first, and meeting the needs of children and parents second.

If we truly want to make parents full partners in their children's education, then we need to expand school choice in North Carolina.

Terry Stoops, a former public school teacher, is education policy analyst for the John Locke Foundation, a conservative think tank in Raleigh.

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Bush Honors N.C. Youth Program
December 2, 2008

Greensboro, N.C. — President George W. Bush is thanking North Carolina volunteers who have served as mentors to children of prisoners.

Bush met with a few children and their mentors in Greensboro on Tuesday. After meeting with them privately, Bush said the children have ambitions and goals.

“By helping a child you can help the country,” Bush said.

Bush visited the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Greensboro. It has worked with Youth Focus Inc., a nonprofit agency, to match 220 children of prisoners with adult mentors.

The program is part of a national initiative, championed by Bush, that has provided mentors to more than 110,000 children.

Executive director of Youth Focus Chuck Hodierne said Bush made the analogy that everyone has to play the hand they’re dealt with, but “it’s what you do with that hand that really matters.”

The White House used the stop to emphasize Bush's efforts to support community groups as partners in solving problems. Bush encouraged anyone hearing about the mentoring program to consider taking part in it.

Bush made a second stop to present the President's Volunteer Service Award to Donna Hudson Turner. Turner is a 25-year volunteer at Hospice of the Piedmont. …

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