- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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June 28

The News & Observer of Raleigh on proposed state budget:

You know it’s not a good budget year when the best thing one can say about the state budget agreed to by the Republican leaders of the state House and Senate is: “Well, it’s not as bad as it could have been, because the way things were going, it looked like a catastrophe.”

First up, a monumentally foolish tax cut - on top of other cuts that have hamstrung the ability to do much for average people - that would raise the standard deduction amount on personal income taxes from $15,500 to $17,500 over two years. Millions in revenue will be lost to give working families an extra couple of dollars per week. Republicans couldn’t care less. It’s the symbolism that counts. They can say they gave middle-income families a tax break.

And then consider the budget’s putting $475 million into the state’s rainy day fund. Republicans apparently are proud of bringing the fund to a near-record level. It is the reserve that helps the state deal with natural disaster and the like. That’s all well and good, but without the top heavy tax cuts, the legislature could have added to the reserve and met today’s needs. There would be money to give state employees a decent raise for a change, or to restore the Teaching Fellows program, or to bolster something like the state’s funding for film companies that do business in the state, funding that has been reduced.

Teachers will get an average 4.7 percent raise. Better, but not good enough if the state wants to avoid a teacher shortage. The slogan touting this increase apparently was something like, “We’re not going to be in the bottom 10 any longer!” Great. But why isn’t there a long-range plan to get North Carolina - the nation’s ninth largest state - into the top 10? And as a further insult to public school teachers, lawmakers are putting another $34 million in public money toward vouchers so people can send their kids to private school on the taxpayers’ dime.

State workers will get a 1.5 percent raise and a one-time bonus equal to 0.5 percent of their pay. There will be some merit raises of 1 percent. State retirees will get a one-time cost-of-living adjustment of 1.6 percent. The Senate wouldn’t go along with the House to make that hike permanent.

The tax cuts are the most serious flaw in an uninspiring, low-horizon budget that does virtually nothing to help working families in North Carolina - which should have been the top priority of lawmakers.

Online:

https://www.newsobserver.com

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June 27

The Charlotte Observer on abortion-related legislation:

The U.S. Supreme Court struck down House Bill 2 on Monday, and N.C. legislators should pay attention.

No, not North Carolina’s House Bill 2. This one belongs to Texas, but the court’s rejection of it nonetheless sends an important message to N.C. lawmakers who continually want to strip away women’s ability to end their pregnancies.

The 5-3 ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt threw out two key provisions of a Texas law, saying they put an undue burden on women seeking abortion. Texas had passed the law in 2013, requiring that doctors who perform the procedure have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and that clinics meet the more sophisticated standards of ambulatory surgical centers.

It is arguably the most important abortion-related ruling since the court’s Casey decision in 1992, because it gives that case’s “undue burden” standard some specificity, and some teeth. In doing so, it signals to legislators in North Carolina and around the country that they will have to prove abortion restrictions are vital to the health of the mother to justify them.

There are, no doubt, abortion-rights opponents who truly believe they are helping women with their approach. But for many state legislatures, including North Carolina’s, the “protecting women” argument is frequently a charade used to chip away at a constitutional right confirmed by the Supreme Court 43 years ago.

North Carolina has done its share of the chipping. The state’s 72-hour waiting period is tied for the longest in the nation. And the government collects ultrasound images of women who have an abortion after 16 weeks. Other N.C. impositions, like requiring a doctor to narrate a live ultrasound to the woman whether she wants it or not, have been thrown out.

Monday’s opinion, written by Justice Stephen Breyer, tells legislators that their opinions about abortion are insufficient. It puts the emphasis back on the facts about the relative safety of the procedure and the actual impact of new restrictions.

Breyer pointed out that abortion in Texas is “extremely safe” and so the law was not helping address a health-related problem.

The disputed law “provides few, if any, health benefits for women, poses a substantial obstacle to women seeking abortions and constitutes an ‘undue burden’ on their constitutional right to do so,” Breyer wrote.

Abortion is an intrinsically challenging issue for courts and regular people alike, because it requires balancing two legitimate interests - a woman’s freedom and dignity and a fetus’ life. Casey’s “undue burden” standard was about striking that balance. Monday’s ruling puts more concrete parameters around the phrase.

The opinion “ensures that both sides will have to collect better proof of whether abortion hurts or helps women,” Florida State University law professor Mary Ziegler wrote on Scotusblog on Monday. Both sides “will have to make their case to the courts and to the public. It will no longer be enough for legislatures to claim that they have women’s best interests in mind.”

That’s a good thing, because they often don’t.

Online:

https://www.charlotteobserver.com

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June 27

The Winston-Salem Journal on the expansion of community colleges:

Community colleges across North Carolina are preparing the workforce so crucial to our future. They do this in myriad ways for myriad ages. For example, they educate conventional-age students to go to work with an associate’s degree or to go on to a four-year institution. They retrain laid-off workers to enter new fields such as biotech. They give high-school students a boost for universities through their Early College programs.

Four-year colleges and universities and their students tend to get more attention. But community colleges are our bread-and-butter, and their students are every bit as important as those at the four-year schools. These students are working hard at their futures, taking advantage of the relatively low costs of community colleges, often working full-time jobs and raising children as they attend them. And the educators at these schools are just as committed to helping these students as their counterparts at four-year schools.

So we’re glad to see Davidson County Community College planning on expanding its Mocksville campus. As Terry Bralley, the president of the Davie County Economic Development Commission, has said, “In terms of community colleges, this is a hidden gem. It’s a pathway to the workforce.”

Every gem needs polishing. And if all goes well, this one will get that polishing and more.

The school has a satellite campus in Mocksville and the Davie Education Center in Advance, the Journal’s John Hinton reported. The Mocksville campus has about 1,200 students, including Early College ones.

College President Mary Rittling recently presented an overview of her school’s $16.5-million expansion plan for the Mocksville campus to the Davie County Board of Commissioners, the Journal reported.

The overview listed three phases. The first phase would include a new academic building, amphitheater and courtyard.

The second phase would include renovation of the community building, expansion of outdoor courtyards and the addition of indoor volleyball and basketball courts, as well as additional parking and a driveway, the Journal reported. The third phase would include construction of a new campus roadway connector, a new campus walking trail and a new maintenance building.

The money for the project will probably come from federal, state and Davie County money, as well as private sources.

A timeline of the expansion plan is still pending. So is a request of money from the commissioners to support the project, which should ultimately draw more students. We suspect the board will support a reasonable request.

The community college’s expansion plans for Davie County are a good barometer of the trust the school - and business - put in Davie’s continued economic resurgence.

“We have a vision and an idea,” Mary Rittling told the commissioners. “We are committed to that campus.”

Indeed. This is a bedrock of our future. Davie County and the college have long worked together on preparing the workforce. It’s comforting to know that this important work will continue.

Online:

https://www.journalnow.com

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