- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

March 25

Fayetteville (North Carolina) Observer, on property tax credit and restoring historic properties:

A state tax credit that for years helped raise historic properties from the dead may itself be coming back to life. If the revival makes it to the governor’s desk, we’ll all benefit.

The General Assembly was at its short-sighted best last year when it ended the credit that helped revitalize historic commercial buildings across the state.

The credit was a driving force in the resurrection of countless historic downtowns, including Fayetteville’s. Its demise halted many important projects, including an attempt to revive the crumbling Hotel Prince Charles across Hay Street from Fayetteville City Hall.

Gov. Pat McCrory, a longtime mayor of Charlotte, has relentlessly campaigned for the tax credit’s revival.

On Tuesday, the House Finance Committee approved a measure that will restore the tax credit. The new version would offer commercial redevelopers up to 17.5 percent of their costs, with a ceiling of $4.5 million.

This is no giveaway. The restored buildings immediately produce increased property-tax revenue and add new business for the city or town.

We hope this is a sign that lawmakers recognize the tax credit’s value and will promptly put it back on the books.




March 25

Herald-Sun, Durham, North Carolina, on shifting sales tax revenue from urban areas to smaller communities:

Forgive us if there seems to be a through-the-looking-glass, world-turned-upside down tinge to our General Assembly these days.

Take this charge hurled by one legislator at a proposal from the opposing party:

“It’s socialism. It’s a redistribution of wealth.”

A Republican denouncing those liberal Democrats?

Nope, it’s Sen. Joel Ford of Charlotte, a Democrat, criticizing a plan put forth by the Republican leadership.

That leadership, you will recall, normally champions the merits of the free market and eschews government engineering.

That, too, would seem to work against the proposal Ford and other urban Democrats are upset about. A bill pushed by the leadership - introduced in the Senate Monday and soon to be submitted in the Senate - would shift substantial sales tax revenue away from many counties, including Durham, and redistribute it to more rural and sparsely populated counties.

Under existing state law, three-fourths of the 2 percent local portion of the sales tax remains in the county where it’s collected. That does clearly work to the advantage of urban areas with regional shopping malls, big-box stores and other commercial magnets for outlying population.

That system, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown said Monday in explaining the bill, “is outdated and really has divided the state into two North Carolinas.”

The widening gap between prosperity and growth in a handful of mostly urban counties (and some on the coast and in the mountains) and the economic stagnation of most of the rest of the state is indeed cause for concern.

But the gap is a reflection of the appeal of the state’s urban areas, aggressive and foresightful leadership that has positioned regions such as the Triangle for success in a post-industrial economy and the desire of legions of newcomers to live amid the amenities and opportunities of those areas.

That market-driven growth is why commercial activity is centered there - and reaping the benefits of that commerce is an offshoot of the growth, not the driver of it. And the sales tax revenue helps finance the infrastructure that both facilitates that growth and is used by those visiting shoppers choosing to spend their money at the regional mall rather than their own downtowns.

The legislature, which seems to be waging war on the state’s major cities, runs the risk of choking off the forces that have driven the state’s growth even as manufacturing and farming have become less significant to the state’s economy. Our smaller towns and rural areas deserve assistance with that transition, to be sure, but punishing the successful cities is hardly the answer.




March 25

News & Record, Greensboro, North Carolina, on the deferred action immigration program:

The DACA program is a good step toward immigration reform, but it may have stumbled with fatal consequences in a North Carolina case.

Two U.S. senators say a Charlotte teenager charged in four murders last month was approved for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program even though he was “a known gang member.” They’ve asked the secretary of the Department of Homeland Security for an explanation.

Emmanuel Jesus Rangel-Hernandez, 19, was charged with killing model Mirjana Puhar and two others in a Charlotte home last month and in another murder three days earlier. Police suspect the homicides were drug-related.

The events quickly drew attention in Washington. Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, wrote to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, asking about Rangel-Hernandez’s status and history with the department.

He followed up last week, joined by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-North Carolina). Citing information from confidential sources, the senators said proceedings to deport Rangel-Hernandez began after he was arrested for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in March 2012 but ended in December 2013 after he was approved for DACA. By then, the marijuana charge had been dropped but, according to the senators, federal officials “had full knowledge that he was a known gang member.”

If that’s true, it marks a serious error. A known gang member should not have been granted DACA status; he should have been deported. If that had happened, four lives might have been spared.

Grassley and Tillis are right to pursue this and to ask for information about other DACA participants who might have similar gang or criminal associations.

DACA was launched by President Barack Obama in 2012 as a temporary amnesty for young people who were brought to the country illegally at the age of 15 or younger before June 15, 2007. The program makes good sense. It focuses on a relatively small subset of illegal immigrants who aren’t living in the country through any fault of their own but have largely become Americanized. They go to school, learn English, join the military and, in most cases, hope to become productive citizens. When it comes to deportations, given the federal government’s limited resources, these young people should not be on anyone’s priority list.

The case of Rangel-Hernandez shows, however, that mistakes are possible - terrible mistakes. That’s hardly surprising, given the numbers. Nearly 600,000 people have been enrolled in DACA. There are bound to be some who should have been rejected.

One advantage is that DACA provides documentation of individuals who previously were undocumented. It’s easier to track down mistakes and correct them.

This time, it’s too late to prevent these terrible crimes. If pressure from Grassley and Tillis helps make sure Homeland Security scrutinizes immigrant cases a lot more carefully in the future, they are fully justified. But by itself, this case is not an argument against the DACA program.



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