Friday, November 21, 2008
Road chief's hometown gets millions
By Mark Johnson
The News & Observer
November 21, 2008
RALEIGH - The N.C. Board of Transportation is pumping $270 million in road money into Fayetteville, the hometown of Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett and of a key legislative ally, weeks before Tippett leaves office.
At meetings in October and November, the board approved the money for work on a highway loop around Fayetteville, as road money has been drying up and cash for loops around the state's other cities has been delayed.
The funding comes in the waning weeks of the terms of Gov. Mike Easley, a Democrat, and Tippett, his appointee. Tippett is also a close friend of Senate Majority Leader Tony Rand, a Fayetteville Democrat who pushed for the loop money.
The move has officials in other cities up in arms.
"I don't know what their personal roles are," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said, "but I know what the end result is."
Meeker, also a Democrat, said highway money has flowed to Fayetteville in recent years as most large cities in the state have received little.
Rep. Becky Carney, a Charlotte Democrat and a co-chairwoman of a legislative committee that oversees transportation, said approval of the Fayetteville project leapfrogs the state's larger cities and drains a large portion of the money available for the entire state.
"That would be a travesty," Carney said, "if the bulk of our loop money went for one project." …
Nancy Dunn, a transportation board member from Winston-Salem, said clear decision-making steps should be established. "There should be some known process on how the money is allocated on loops," she said.
Construction was supposed to start this year on a 12-mile section of Raleigh's Outer Loop, I-540, in western Wake County. In 2005, the transportation department postponed construction by at least four years and said it might take until 2030 to finish the entire loop.
Last year, Charlotte's unfinished I-485 loop was pushed back by two years and now isn't expected to be completed for a decade.
But Fayetteville's loop was kept on schedule. The first leg opened three years ago and is handling about 9,000 cars a day. The southern leg of Charlotte's loop handles 120,000 cars a day. …
Thursday, November 20, 2008
A New Idea for State Government: Don't Raise Taxes
Budget should be balanced by making cuts, not raising taxes
November 14, 2008
With the state's budget deficit growing because the economic downturn has produced fewer revenues, some lawmakers are suggesting that the state begin assessing sales taxes to some services.
That would be a slap in the face to North Carolina residents, many of whom are also dealing with tough economic times.
In recent years, legislators and policy groups have been studying the possibility of changing the tax system. Under some proposals, services that are not currently assessed a sales tax would be taxed. …
Under some of the proposals, the overall sales tax rate would be lowered in order to make the new form of taxation revenue neutral.
But the trial balloon floating in Raleigh isn't aimed at a revenue-neutral system. It's aimed at collecting a windfall for state government at the expense of North Carolina taxpayers.
With state officials saying that the state's budget deficit could reach between $1 billion and $1.6 billion, some folks in Raleigh are getting a little antsy, as well they should be. A billion bucks is nothing to sneeze at. …
Raising taxes during tough economic times is a bad idea. That trial balloon needs to be popped.
State government should balance its budget by making budget cuts, not by putting more taxes on North Carolina residents.
It’s Not Just About The Taxes
By John Hood
Carolina Journal Online
November 19, 2008
RALEIGH – If taxes don’t affect a state’s economic competitiveness, what does?
The question is apt because so many North Carolina politicians and political activists deny that billions of dollars in tax increases enacted earlier this decade, by the General Assembly and a number of local governments, do not explain the state’s relatively weak economic performance afterward. …
Take energy prices. The cost of electricity, natural gas, or other energy sources is always a concern in any business operation, but for some industries – such as manufacturing – it can make the difference between an economic and uneconomical operation.
Over the past several years, the North Carolina General Assembly has had several occasions to make its views known about energy prices. A clear majority expressed its view that energy prices are too low. The Clean Smokestacks Bill and last year’s Senate Bill 3 both raised the price of electricity, purportedly to achieve environmental benefits. The benefits, if any, will be minuscule. As the Wilmington Star-News reported yesterday, Progress Energy has just filed a request for a 10 percent rate hike next year, much of it tied to complying with environmental laws it supported. The company received assurances that it could pass the higher costs through to consumers.
Okay, well, maybe neither taxes nor energy prices affect competitiveness. Let’s try something else. Most academic studies of state economic performance attribute the Southeast’s strong growth during the last quarter of the 20th century to lower labor costs. …
North Carolina has one of the lowest rates of unionization in the United States. . . Many have also endorsed weakening or eliminating the right-to-work statute itself, and the passage of a federal bill – flippantly referred to as “card check,” but more accurately described as Big Labor’s “bully bill” – that would eliminate the secret ballot in union elections and replace it with a public card letting organizers know who has and has not voted to unionize.
We’ve seen the future of unionized firms pricing themselves out of the worldwide labor market. It’s call Detroit.
Wait, some defenders of the status quo might insist, it’s the quality of labor that really matters, not its price. North Carolina can afford to impose higher prices for energy, labor, and earning income in the state as long as we produce highly skilled workers who can fill the jobs of the future.
The problem is that few of the policies they advance to improve worker quality, such as across-the-board pay increases for teachers or massive subsidies for public universities, are aimed at the right targets. North Carolina’s average teacher pay is already generous by national standards (when accurately measured). Most future workers in North Carolina will not and need not be graduates of four-year colleges. The real solution is an education system that rewards individual achievement, for both students and teachers, while allowing a choice of multiple learning environments designed to meet their diverse needs, including job skills high-school graduates need to compete. As JLF’s Terry Stoops explained in a new Spotlight paper, North Carolina devotes relatively little to effective vocational and technical training.
“Given the demand for these workers, North Carolina’s public schools will need to offer more intensive and extensive programs in allied health, management, business, accounting, sales, food service, and various trades in order to meet the demands of the job market,” Stoops said. “Institutions of higher education will play a role, but elementary and secondary public schools will have, by far, the heaviest burden in preparing North Carolina's future workforce.”
The state’s politicians keep saying they want to make North Carolina more competitive. They have a funny way of showing it.
John Hood is president of the John Locke Foundation.
THE RETURN OF POSITIVE BEV
Perdue Launches Incumbent Protection Scheme
By Carter Wrenn
Talking About Politics
November 18, 2008
Bev Perdue’s gone back to being Miss Positive, setting up the Endowment for Positive Gubernatorial Campaigns – a $50 million trust fund – to pay for her next campaign for governor.
But there’s one catch: To get his share of her fund Perdue’s Republican opponent must pledge not to criticize her: No negative ads. Now that won’t mean much if it’s the same oath Perdue took last April before the Democratic Primary, which allowed her to keep running negative ads right up to Election Day. …
After all, it’s hard to imagine a better way for her to get reelected in four years than tempting her opponent (with foundation money) not to say one critical word about her record. For instance, ask yourself: If Liddy Dole had offered to fund Kay Hagan’s campaign out of an endowment in exchange for Hagan pledging not to run negative ads – would Hagan be heading for the Senate today? Would Barack Obama have won North Carolina?
This is pure political posturing: With Democrats controlling the governorship, lieutenant governorship, eight of thirteen congressional seats, eight of ten council of state seats, and both Houses in the Legislature, they want Republicans to pledge not to criticize them next election – which is the biggest incumbent protection scheme in North Carolina history.
GOP Needs a Compelling Vision
November 13, 2008
In the aftermath of the 2008 election, the Republican Party has begun going through the litany of reasons that they lost. While the GOP must do many things better, the one thing that it must do if it wants to win back power is to put forward powerful ideas that persuade today's voters. …
Recriminations are naturally flying around the GOP. …
But the truth is the only way the Republican Party can regain power is through having better ideas. State constitutional amendments protecting traditional marriage passed in several states, including liberal California. Other conservative measures passed in various states. These show America is still a center-right nation. Voters have not rejected conservative principles, and in fact still favor them.
In one sense, elections are simply mathematics. If the GOP wants to regain power, it must communicate an agenda in such a way that it gets more than half of the voters to vote for it.
The electorate, however, is changing. Hispanics voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Obama over Mr. McCain. The Obama campaign also made gains among Catholics, immigrants, churchgoers, women and young voters. If Republicans want to retake the White House and Congress, they must find ways to appeal to those voters.
Republicans do not need to abandon their principles. Americans prefer lower taxes to higher taxes. They prefer strong national defenses to weakened defenses. They practice their faith and respect other faiths; they support marriage and the Second Amendment; they want strong families and strong homes. Americans also want personal liberty and economic opportunity. The Republican vision of Ronald Reagan can still win elections in this country.
But it can only if those principles express themselves in bold and innovative ideas, ideas that are reflected in a coherent series of specific policy proposals that are persuasively communicated to the voters. The Republicans did not do that in 2008, and lost.
Republicans lost more than the White House. For a second cycle in a row, the GOP suffered massive losses in the House and Senate, and in state races as well. The GOP appears to too many voters to be self-serving and ineffective. This appearance comes from the negligent and even criminal actions of some, actions that betray the principles Republicans are supposed to uphold. . . Republicans will not regain power by becoming Democrat-like. They must instead come up with new ideas and proposals that will appeal to Hispanics, working-income families, women, young people and older people. They must communicate an agenda that effectively addresses education, retirement, jobs, the environment and the economy. …
That is the challenge facing the Republican Party. It's time to quit whining, acknowledge the problem, and then find a way to solve it. Republicans must offer a compelling vision of the future. If they do, the voters will trust them again and put them back into power.
Ken Blackwell is former Ohio Secretary of State. Blakcwell, a contributing editor of Townhall.com, is a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, the American Civil Rights Union and the Buckeye Institute in Ohio.
HOUSE GOP'S NEW LEADERSHIP
November 19, 2008
House Republicans elected their leaders for the 111th Congress, including Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and NRCC Chair Pete Sessions (R-Tex.) who commented on a new course for the party.
SENATE REPUBLICAN LEADERSHIP TEAM
November 18, 2008