- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


April 24

The News & Observer of Raleigh on the state budget:

As legislators return to town, hopes aren’t high for Gov. Pat McCrory’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins in July. It’s a modest spending plan that includes election-year pay hikes and bonuses, but it’s hardly the blueprint for a state on the rise. It’s about keeping North Carolina’s state funding where it has been - stuck in the austerity of the Great Recession.

Sure, the governor’s $22.8 billion budget is up 2.8 percent, and that’s more than the 2 percent aim expressed by Phil Berger, Senate president pro tem. And the governor says his budget, coming out Wednesday, won’t include income tax cuts. That’s something else Berger wanted by raising the standard deduction for married couples and single people.

This means the governor could be wasting his time presenting a budget. He’ll be received by the House and Senate, and his plan will promptly be consigned to the dust bin. Legislators care little for any of the governor’s ideas, and they’ll likely ignore this budget.

Frankly, it appears worth that kind of reception, but if anything is certain, it’s that a budget formulated by the leadership of the General Assembly will be even worse.

North Carolina is pulling out of a recession, and yet legislative leaders are wedded for life to recession-era budgets, all in the name of providing tax breaks for the wealthy and for large corporations. The result is inadequate money coming in and no room to really address the vital needs of this state and its citizens. Instead, General Assembly leaders are ready for the state to just hold the line. Given the state’s growth, the effects of inflation and increasing cost of neglected infrastructure needs, “holding the line” means slipping backward.

Teacher pay - the governor has backed a 5 percent average hike and one-time bonus of 3.5 percent - remains dismally low, at a time when public schools are under assault from GOP lawmakers who want to give public money to people for vouchers for private schools and keep per pupil spending flat.

Boosting teacher salaries, addressing infrastructure needs (roads and bridges and state building improvements) and certainly any initiatives to help older people, the mentally ill or the disabled, or restore cuts to public university funding are short-circuited by budgets that seek only to keep a lid on spending.

As North Carolina’s economy recovers, the state’s budget should be pushing the state forward, not locking it in place as the world goes by.




April 22

The Asheville Citizen-Times on giving care to caregivers:

The “short session” of North Carolina’s General Assembly has kicked off. It’s a time the legislature traditionally tends to use addressing unfinished business left over from the prior year’s long session and to apply any tweaks needed to the budget passed in the long session.

Of course, the short session can be quite long (it ran toward the end of August in 2014) and can be used to advance controversial measures.

We feel the legislature has had quite the bit of controversy, and it’s obvious that needs to be addressed.

But we also feel it’s important some of that unfinished business is addressed. With that we turn your attention to House Bill 817, HB 816 and Project CARE funding.

CARE is addressed in a guest commentary in this section, so we’ll focus on the aforementioned bills, both of which passed the N.C. House unanimously in 2015 and await action before the Senate Rules Committee.

HB817 addresses caregivers; say you live here in, say, Franklin and your parents live just across the state line in Georgia. As they’re in poor health, you become their legal guardian in Georgia - a process that often involves considerable time and expense. As they decline over time it makes sense to move them to Franklin to be able to provide better care.

In that case, you get to go through the whole guardian procedure again, as North Carolina doesn’t recognize Georgia’s guardianship order.

HB817 would set break down such hurdles, which are increasingly common with an aging population and as families are commonly spread across state lines. Passage would add North Carolina to the list of 43 states that already have such legislation in place.

HB816 would study the needs of working caregivers. The AARP report “Valuing the Invaluable: 2015 Update” notes “family caregivers in North Carolina provided 1.19 billion hours of care - worth an estimated $13.4 billion - to their parents, spouses, partners, and other adult loved ones in 2013.”

It’s common sense to realize that if those family caregivers hadn’t provided that care, someone else would have had to, with the tab going to taxpayers. Nationwide, the economic value of such uncompensated care for 2013 surpassed total Medicaid spending.

Given the state’s focus on Medicaid reform, finding ways to help these caregivers seems like a no-brainer. Doug Dickerson, AARP North Carolina state director, says the state could focus on “improved workplace flexibility, respite care and the support of the state’s home care block grant services. Also as the North Carolina legislature searches for ways to control Medicaid spending, helping people avoid costly nursing home care helps lower what the state spends to support that care.”

It’s the cost-efficient thing to do.

But moreover, these measures are the moral thing to do. We look forward to the legislature moving quickly on them.




April 21

The StarNews of Wilmington on wildfires in North Carolina:

Where there’s smoke, there’s usually fire. The smoke and ash that covered much of Wilmington on Tuesday was coming from a 1,500-acre forest fire burning in Brunswick County. Crews had it about half contained Wednesday afternoon, but with warm temperatures and dry, windy conditions, all bets are off when it comes to controlling any woods fires.

As firefighters battle these blazes, we all need to do our part to prevent another fire from starting.

(By the time we had finished this editorial Wednesday, another fire was reported, near Shallotte).

Spring is the riskiest time for wildfires in our state. Dead foliage from the winter, plus dry and windy weather create perfect conditions for wildfires, according to the N.C. Forest Service.

Also, folks are giving their yards a spring clean-up and burning debris. Even in areas where that is legal, when conditions are this risky, it’s best not to burn at all. Those leaves and fallen branches have been there all winter - they can wait a bit longer. A day or so after a rain and when leaves have turned green create a safer environment.

In Wilmington, it’s illegal to have an open fire outside. You will not get in trouble if you have a small blaze in a fire pit and are using it specifically for cooking.

City fire officials note, however, that the old trick of burning yard debris with a pack of hot dogs nearby won’t cut it.

In New Hanover County, residents are permitted to have campfires for cooking or heating purposes, as well as to burn “natural vegetative debris,” Deputy Fire Chief Matt Davis told the StarNews for a MyReporter question on open fires. Davis said people should get a permit from the N.C. Forestry service if they plan to burn debris (www.ncforestservice. gov).

“It’s allowed as long as . there’s somebody out there with it,” he said.

Davis goes on to make an important point: Should a fire jump off your property, you will be held responsible for any damage it causes.

Officials have yet to determine what sparked the Brunswick fires. But even in areas where outdoor burning is legal, we strongly urge folks to wait until conditions are not this risky. There’s just too much at stake - not only the cost and possible property damage from a woods fire, but also the lives of firefighters who have to battle the unpredictably dangerous blazes.

Some local folks will recall the 1986 fire in Pender and Onslow counties that burned 73,000 acres - including 80 percent of the Holly Shelter Game Lands. Ash and thick smoke covered Wilmington for several days.

Brunswick has seen its share of forest fires, too, several near the location of the current fire off N.C. 211.

Of course, both counties have added thousands of people and thousands of homes since 1986, compounding the risk of major property damage from a wildfire.

In Southeastern North Carolina, fire season is March through May. Let’s hope the Brunswick fires are extinguished soon and that we get through the rest of the fire season with no more significant blazes.

We can’t control Mother Nature, but we can control what we do.

Let’s play it extra safe.



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