- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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March 2

The Fayetteville Observer on coal ash liquid disposal:

File this one under Unsettling Surprises: Liquid from a coal-ash storage site in Chatham County is being trucked to Sanford, run through the wastewater treatment plant there, and discharged into a tributary of the Cape Fear River.

Is the sewer plant removing all of the contaminants from the wastewater that’s draining to the bottom of the abandoned clay mines that are receiving ash from Duke Energy plant sites?

Maybe. But we can’t be sure, because sewage treatment plants are designed primarily to remove or disinfect organic materials and harmful pathogens. We don’t know if the plant can also remove all the heavy metals, like arsenic, lead and mercury, that are in the coal ash.

Marsha Ligon, a spokeswoman for the nonprofit group EnvironmentaLee, says, “Some heavy metals cannot be totally removed, not the way they treat it.”

The sewer plant superintendent, Scott Siletsky, says the plant is complying with its state permits, which include some inorganic materials, but not all of them. Siletsky says he’s determined to see that the plant stays in compliance with the law and its permits. That’s good to hear, and we’re also pleased that he’s willing to talk openly about it.

But are all the coal-ash contaminants removed from the discharge? We still don’t know. And that’s of more than passing interest around here. The Sanford plant discharges its treated water into the Deep River, not far from where it merges with the Haw to create the Cape Fear. Just south of the rivers’ junction is the Sanford water plant. A few more miles downstream is the Harnett intake. And a few miles after that, Fayetteville’s.

That’s hundreds of thousands of municipal water customers looking upstream and wondering if contamination from the coal ash liquids might be flowing out of their kitchen or bathroom faucets.

This is not a suggestion that there’s reason to panic. Rather it’s reason to review standards for sewage-treatment plants to make sure those receiving leachates from sites where Duke Energy is burying ash are able to remove all the contaminants.

The lawmakers who devised the ash disposal regulations should revisit the rules for some fine-tuning. Disposal of the leachate liquids should get some attention. The Sanford treatment plant alone is allowed to handle an average of 144,000 gallons a day of ash wastewater. As more of the ash is buried in sites elsewhere, the reason for concern will grow.

Getting rid of the old, leaky ash ponds is the right thing to do, but lawmakers and regulators need to keep a constant watch for unintended consequences.

Online:

https://www.fayobserver.com

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Feb. 27

The Times-News of Hendersonville on Connect North Carolina bond referendum:

The March 15 primary ballot offers North Carolinians a chance to make a smart investment in education, jobs and quality of life in the form of the Connect NC bond referendum.

If voters approve it, the $2 billion bond will provide funds for colleges and universities, agriculture, parks, water and sewer projects and public safety. Supporters say it will not require any new taxes, as bond debt from the 1990s is retired and allocations now covering those bonds will be shifted to cover new ones.

The University of North Carolina system is set to get 49 percent of the funds, $980 million, with community colleges getting the next largest share, 17 percent, $350 million. Water and sewer projects and local parks would get 16 percent, a $312.5 million boost; agriculture projects 9 percent, $179 million. State parks and zoos, including projects at Chimney Rock and Gorges state parks, would get 5 percent, $100 million. The National Guard and public safety projects would receive 4 percent, $78.5 million.

Locally, Blue Ridge Community College would get a little more than $2.9 million for four projects: a new chemistry lab, an expanded advanced manufacturing facility, a public safety building and a student center. The lab would help BRCC fulfill requirements for science, technology, engineering and mathematics education and college transfer programs, said Chad Merrill, BRCC vice president for general administration. It would enhance programs such as nursing, environmental science, mechatronics, engineering and brewing, helping the college train workers for current and future jobs.

Expanding the advanced manufacturing facility will help BRCC prepare students looking to transfer to other institutions and those looking to head directly to the workforce, and tie into BRCC’s high school programs such as the Innovative High School now under construction. The public safety building would house training for area law enforcement agencies and students.

The bonds would also provide funding for projects at Western Carolina University and the University of North Carolina at Asheville. At UNCA, $21.1 million would go toward renovations and repairs at Owen Hall, which has been in continuous use for 36 years, and Carmichael Hall, which has been in use for 49 years, Chancellor Mary Grant says.

WCU would get $110 million to build a new natural science building to replace a 1970s-era building that has numerous problems, and provide space for a growing student population, Chancellor David O. Belcher said. Without the bond funds, WCU will have to cap nursing and engineering programs because there’s no room for additional students, he said.

“We will be building a modern building that will allow us to teach with 21st century techniques, building 21st century skills in a facility that is big enough to accommodate the numbers of graduates that this area really needs,” Belcher said.

North Carolina has added 2 million people in the 15 years since the last statewide bond. With low interest rates, the bond will allow the state to fund 50-year assets with 20-year financing. Online:

https://www.blueridgenow.com

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March 1

The New & Record of Greensboro on state’s new taxes:

North Carolina’s revenues are strong - and they’ll increase beginning today, thanks to a slew of new taxes.

Average folks might start wondering when they’re going to see the tax cuts they’ve heard so much about from the governor and state legislators.

Lower individual and corporate income-tax rates are real and have provided significant savings for businesses and people with high incomes.

State tax collections continue to grow because of the slow-but-steady economic recovery, which could be somewhat aided by those tax cuts. A lower cost of doing business promotes greater business activity, which in turn generates more tax revenue. How much impact tax policy has on economic growth, however, is hard to determine.

What’s much easier to see is that not everyone has gotten a tax windfall. Middle-income taxpayers, whose rates dropped less, have seen little gain. The working poor, who lost the earned income tax credit, haven’t fared well at all. In fact, they may be paying more in taxes, thanks to new taxes on sales and services.

The new taxes hitting today will add to the everyday cost of living. Car repairs and maintenance are now subject to state and local sales-tax levies. That includes everything from an oil change to a tune-up to a roadside service stop and tow. Previously, a new tire was taxed; now even the cost of mounting, balancing and aligning the tire is taxed.

Everyone needs car repairs occasionally. People of modest means are more likely to drive older cars that require more frequent repairs. They’ll feel the additional tax.

The N.C. Department of Revenue has published an extensive list of other items and services that are subject to new sales taxes - car washing, carpet installation, plumbing, heating and air conditioning work, shoe repair and more.

This was touted as tax reform - aligning the tax code with a service economy - but it’s also created confusion, especially in cases where service providers also sell goods.

“Thus far, it’s been a bit difficult to truly understand it,” Jim Pendergrass, executive director of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association of North Carolina, told The News & Observer of Raleigh. “There seems to be a lot of exemptions and a lack of clarifications.”

It may be a matter of which special-interest groups prevailed during legislative debate.

But it’s not hard to understand the overall intent. The tax burden is shifting from income to consumption. Those who spend a greater share of their incomes on necessities end up paying more. The tax code is becoming more regressive.

Fees are following the same course. The price of car registrations and driver’s licenses has gone up. The state budget also demands more revenue from the legal system in the form of fines and court costs. The poor pay a large share of that revenue, too.

The state budget lays out leaders’ priorities. Overall revenue was expected to increase by 4.6 percent; corporate income tax collections actually were budgeted to decline a bit. But sales and use taxes were slated to rise by a whopping 8 percent. Some of that would be generated by growth in economic activity, but the state also is reaching a little deeper into consumers’ pockets in ways that will leave them with less money for their families.

Legislators plan to drive further down the road of tax reform. Some want to eliminate the corporate income tax and cut individual income-tax rates again. Measures that benefit the poor and the middle class are welcome, but that’s not the direction the state is taking.

Meanwhile, education, infrastructure and health care needs mount. Shifting the costs by taxing more goods and services puts a heavier burden on those who are least able to pay. Tax reform without tax fairness is misguided.

Online:

https://www.greensboro.com

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