- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Aug. 2

News & Observer, Raleigh, on North Carolina’s sales tax plan:

Among the big policy changes stuffed into the state Senate’s budget is a proposal that could take significant revenue away from urban counties and distribute it to rural counties. The idea has a double drawback: It will hurt counties that are the engines of the state’s economy and won’t significantly help rural areas.

The proposal by Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, would allocate much of the local sales tax money based on population, instead of keeping the money where sales occur. The change would cost urban counties and tourism-heavy counties while boosting the budgets of rural counties.

Brown says the change will help bridge the urban-rural divide. Instead, it will aggravate it.

Cities would likely be forced to raise property taxes to make up the tax loss, because those taxes don’t just go into the pockets of urban areas. They go for infrastructure such as roads and utilities that support the retail and employment centers that bring in the tax.

And, in making the cities more able to support that infrastructure, the rural areas around them benefit with jobs for their residents. Adding sales tax dollars for rural counties won’t be enough to offset deeper economic problems caused by a loss of businesses and population and a lack of infrastructure.

Gov. Pat McCrory, a former mayor of Charlotte, is vehemently opposed to Brown’s idea and vows to veto it, along with the rest of the budget, if it is in the budget document that reaches his desk.

“This bill,” the governor said, “will result in a tax increase for millions of hard-working, middle-class families and small business owners throughout North Carolina. Redistribution and hidden tax increases are liberal tax-and-spend principles of the past.”

Those are fighting words for Republicans, who usually use them against Democrats.

Brown would better spend his energy working on programs to bring more jobs to rural areas. He could also help rural areas by supporting the expansion of Medicaid and seeking more money for public schools. Why must his plan to help smaller counties consist of taking from big counties, instead of coming up with investment and job initiatives to help the unemployed and underemployed in rural counties?

Instead, too many in the GOP continue to talk about cutting income taxes for the wealthy and corporations as the mainstay of economic stimulus. The problem is, if you don’t have a job or are underemployed, a tax cut doesn’t help you much.




Aug. 3

Winston-Salem Journal, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, on state’s sterilization compensation:

Victims of North Carolina’s forced sterilization program keep calling our editorial board, wondering what in the heck is going on with their last compensation payments. The state won’t even deign to give all the victims an accounting of where things stand in this long summer of budget discontent.

A state bureaucracy sterilized these victims decades ago, moving at surprising speed in those days of typewriters, conventional mail and rotary-dial phones. And now another bureaucracy, the one charged with compensating them, is taking its own sweet time in carrying out its crucial business - and it’s telling the victims little about its delay.

Since the state won’t tell the victims en masse, we tell the relative few fortunate enough to have our phone number the reasons for the delay. There’s the state budget process, which is taking the longest time in years for the legislature and the governor to work through. Usually, they’re done in July. Then we tell the victims the other downside. Even after the state leaders nail down their budget, there’s no guarantee that the next payment will flow right out.

That’s because the state Industrial Commission, the body charged with processing compensation claims, is still processing appeals from those who petitioned for compensation. The compensation legislation was clear in saying payments would go only to those sterilized by order of the state body, the Eugenics Board of North Carolina, but the commission is apparently including in its consideration of appeals ones from those sterilized by county programs. The appeals process could take months.

That being the case, we urge state leaders to ensure that one state budget provision survives their arduous process. Paul “Skip” Stam, the speaker pro tem of the state House, put in his chamber’s proposed budget a provision that a second payment of $15,000 for each victim be made this summer. The last payment would go out after the final appeals are exhausted and be calculated at that time.

Stam’s provision is just, especially since the money should already be there. Victims share equally in a $10 million pool that the state approved in 2013. The victims received their first payments in October, ones of $20,000 each.

When those payments went out, North Carolina rightly became the first state in the land to compensate survivors of forced sterilization. From 1929 through 1974, our state rendered barren more than 7,600 men, women and children, playing God in deeming them mentally or physically unfit to reproduce.

Virginia has already become the first state to follow us in compensating forced sterilization victims. Other states will probably follow.

But the Industrial Commission and the state Office of Justice for Sterilization Victims are stumbling in setting a compensation model by not keeping all victims apprised. This is unacceptable, considering that these victims are aging, and many of them are still hurting, mentally or physically, from the operations.

The state must update the victims on the process. And Stam’s compensation provision must survive.




Aug. 1

Charlotte Observer on North Carolina’s proposed budget:

Here’s what you get when you combine a legislative penchant for secrecy with a willingness to use the annual budget as a vehicle to make changes in N.C. law:

On Page 332 of the N.C. Senate’s proposed budget, a yet-unidentified lawmaker has inserted three new provisions in the state’s public records law. One would make unavailable to the public “any specific security information or detailed plans, patterns or practices to prevent or respond to criminal, gang or organized illegal activity.”

Practically speaking, that would mean most every police department record, including police reports on arrests, could be kept secret.

House and Senate budget conferees should make sure this language, along with a similarly broad provision on prison operations, is not in the final budget.

Such policy measures don’t belong in budgets in the first place. As we’ve said previously in this space, legislators in both parties have too often used this tactic to get policy and law changed in North Carolina. Often, they do so at the last minute, so that the items get little if any debate before being voted on.

Those measures belong in separate bills that can be debated publicly, so that North Carolinians have a voice and an understanding of what their legislators support. That’s especially true of fundamental changes in public records law, which these Senate budget provisions propose.

There’s long been a tension between public officials who resist transparency and those of us who believe it’s important to know how our government conducts its business. Without that knowledge, government officials - including police - would be able to operate without critical external accountability.

We believe police as a whole operate with integrity and honor in difficult circumstances. But as we’ve often learned, some act inappropriately. The public, which happens to pay the bills, shouldn’t be shielded from information about those mistakes.

The same is true for N.C.’s prison system, which operates a $1.1 billion annual budget. Should the public know how those tax dollars are spent, with limited exceptions for sensitive information? Of course. Perhaps not coincidentally, Charlotte Observer reporters have been asking recently for those kinds of records from state prison officials.

It’s telling that no senator has raised a hand to take credit for the new public records provisions. Senate leader Phil Berger’s office told the editorial board Friday that the Department of Public Safety requested the law be changed, but that it wasn’t Berger who was behind those changes finding their way into the budget.

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory is among the many who’ve criticized that practice, and we’ve urged him to veto any future budgets littered with misplaced policy and law. Lawmakers shouldn’t let this dangerous policy even reach the House or Senate floor.



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