- Associated Press - Thursday, July 16, 2015

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

July 15

The Herald-Sun, Durham, North Carolina, on bridging the digital divide:

Barely three decades have passed since Time magazine declared 1982 the “year of the computer” and the magazine’s Otto Friedrich wrote that that year “a cascade of computers beeped and blipped their way into the American office, the American school, the American home.”

It has been only eight years since Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone and our immersion in mobile devices began.

Today, most of us take for granted our desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones. They truly have fulfilled, as Time predicted in that 1982 article, “the promise of dramatic changes in the way people live and work, perhaps even in the way they think.”

But those dramatic changes, commonplace for so many, can be diluted if not elusive for those who live in or at the edge of poverty. The “digital divide” is widened by income inequality, and access to computers and fast Internet connections in turn helps drive a larger and larger wedge between the affluent and the impecunious.

Lots of pundits, politicians, academics and activists decry the digital divide and its effects. The town of Chapel Hill, with the help of Durham’s Kramden Institute, is tackling it in a concrete if longest-journey-single-step fashion.

During four weeks of classes sponsored by the town, nearly two dozen public housing residents learned “digital literacy.” And when they graduated last week, they took home - free of charge - laptops Kramden volunteers had refurbished.

In another assault on the digital divide, AT&T; is wiring eight of Chapel Hill’s 13 public housing neighborhoods for Internet access, and will offer a free connection for the next five years.

“This computer training is a pathway for children’s education,” class participant Nural Khan told The Herald-Sun’s Katie Jansen. “This knowledge is the prime conduit of walking ahead.”

To be sure, computer access and high-speed connections may not be a panacea on the education front. Duke professors Helen Ladd and Jacob Vigdor wrote in 2010 that research indicated “the introduction of home computer technology is associated with modest but statistically significant and persistent negative impacts on student math and reading test scores.” With the computer comes not just access to knowledge but boundless opportunities for distraction.

Regardless, as more and more schoolwork shifts to online - and computer access and savvy is virtually essential for adults applying for jobs, for example, or just fitting into mainstream American life - putting computers in the hands of those who have heretofore been left behind is a tangible move toward smoothing just a bit a grossly uneven socio-economic playing field.




July 15

News and Record, Greensboro, North Carolina, on the film industry in the state:

A Grimsley High School graduate is crowdfunding a space opera set in the “Mad Men” era on Kickstarter.

Lauren Oliver, 32, plans to film “T-minus,” the story of a fictional 1960s Mercury space flight, in the Triad. He’s using a furniture warehouse in High Point as his soundstage and plans location shoots in the Piedmont and Wilmington.

It’s good to see a homegrown talent reaching for the stars. But he may find a friendlier launching pad in South Carolina. Or Georgia.

With governors and legislatures every bit as conservative and Republican as in North Carolina, our two neighbors to the south are luring away movies and television shows that used to spend their money here because those states are willing to pay more in incentives.

As Richard Barron reported Sunday, North Carolina’s once-robust film industry may be going the way of the drive-in. Among the latest to leave was the production company of the series “Sleepy Hollow,” which had become a fixture in Wilmington. Now the cops-and-ghosts fantasy has moved to Georgia.

Another popular series, “Under the Dome,” still films in Wilmington. For now. But a state legislature bent on curbing incentives has so severely cut North Carolina’s tax credits and rebates program for movies and TV that the state is bleeding movie jobs. From January through June of 2014, 40 film productions in the state totaled $268 million in economic impact; over the same period in 2015, only 13 productions generated $70 million.

Before lawmakers allowed it to expire in 2014, the old incentives program rebated 25 percent of the money film productions spent in the state on designated expenses, or up to $20 million per film. Even so, the state cleared $58.3 million in tax revenue from 2007 to 2012. Local businesses also benefited. Since 2004, seven feature films have spent $26.5 million in Guilford County.

The new incentives program, a grant fund, pays from a total pot of only $10 million and will pay no one film more than $5 million.

Why even bother? It’s not that the process didn’t need tweaking. But not hacking it to the point where it’s irrelevant.

Meanwhile, the Republican governor in Georgia, which offers a 30 percent film tax credit, is smiling all the way to the bank. Gov. Nathan Deal announced last week that 248 movie and TV productions in Georgia over the last fiscal year spent more than $1.7 billion and generated more than $6 billion in economic impact. To meet worker demand, the University of Georgia system and the state’s technical colleges have partnered to create the Georgia Film Academy. Tyler Perry, “The Walking Dead,” ”X-Men: First Class,” bickering “Housewives.” The state has become so prolific that it’s branding itself with a peach logo at the end of each production’s credits. The movie “Ant-Man,” which opens Friday, by itself employed 3,579, filled 22,413 hotel rooms and spent more than $106 million in Georgia.

Back in North Carolina, we’re still swatting ideological flies. And making peanuts.




July 12

The Charlotte Observer on fixing the state’s budget process

There’s one person who can take one bold step to fix one big problem with the N.C. legislature’s budget process.

It would be a politically risky move, but it also would be one that’s politically smart.

Are you ready, Gov. McCrory?

The governor knows - as do many others - the problem that needs addressing: Each year, House and Senate lawmakers use the annual budget as a vehicle to make changes to state policy and law. Often, those changes are slipped into the huge budget bills at the last minute. That means the items get little if any debate before being voted on. It also means rank-and-file lawmakers end up pressured by House and Senate leaders to ignore individual provisions they might reject in order to pass the budget as a whole.

It’s happened frequently this year, in big ways and small. The small provisions include a change in law tucked into the Senate budget that would block access to public records such as the governor’s travel schedule. The big provisions include reform to the state’s Medicaid plan, as well as significant new jobs, incentives and sales tax distribution plans.

The same thing happened, of course, when Democrats ruled the General Assembly. We criticized it then, and so did Republicans, but now they use the Democrats-did-it-too justification for giving into the same bad behavior.

That’s no excuse. North Carolinians know it. The governor knows it.

“I think we’re putting … too much policy in the budget and not separating that from the budget,” McCrory told the (Raleigh) News & Observer last week. “Those are the things a lot of legislators, and myself, said that we wouldn’t do because we criticized the Democrats for doing that for the last 25 years.”

The governor can do something about it. He can tell lawmakers that he won’t sign a budget unless it includes a provision banning, beginning next session, any budget item that changes law or written state policy.

Lawmakers would surely howl. They’d argue that such a measure would hamstring the legislative process. What it would actually do, however, is force efficiency on them.

Instead of majority lawmakers proposing competing and contradictory policy measures in budgets - or stuffing little-noticed provisions on page 382 of 500 - lawmakers would be required to put their proposals up for public and legislative debate. There’s nothing better at winnowing out bad bills than the prospect of a full and transparent hearing - which, by the way, is what all new policy measures should get.

Let’s not be naive. Demanding a new budget rule would be risky for the governor. Republicans won’t like the idea, and if they were to override a budget veto, McCrory will look weak.

But the governor surely understands that he already does. From the start of his tenure, he’s been the boy on the runaway horse, unable to rein in a conservative and dismissive Republican legislature. Even if the governor were to face yet another veto override, the stand he takes will earn him critical points with the moderates he needs to win re-election in 2016.

Besides, he just might win. McCrory can show the voting public his political chops by gathering bipartisan legislative support for his demand. Making the budget process efficient and transparent isn’t a partisan issue, after all. It’s a good government issue.

The governor can help us get closer to that. He should at least try.





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