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Opinion Roundup: Reading between the budget lines

Posted July 10

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, left, and House Speaker Tim Moore answer questions during a Jan. 14, 2015, news conference about the legislative agenda for the Republican majority in the General Assembly.

Monday, July 10, 2017 -- A roundup of opinion, commentary and analysis on the pork barrel projects in the 2017 N.C. budget, the issue putting former President Barack Obama back in the spotlight, a potential legislative reaction to the congressional baseball practice shooting and more.

TRAVIS FAIN: Pork, the other budget meat (WRAL-TV analysis) -- However you slice, chop or pull it, legislators tied up millions with highly specific purse strings. They'll bolster local projects, pay for a controversial new pollution treatment at Jordan Lake and fund a 3-D movie program for school children that, among other things, aims to prevent drug abuse. There's money for family counseling, pro-life pregnancy centers, girls and boys clubs and for a major game lands expansion in the home county of one of North Carolina's most powerful politicians. Some language is so specific it essentially amounts to a state contract.


JULIET EILPERIN: Obama returns to political fray for a Democratic Party cause (Washington Post analysis) -- Former president Barack Obama will formally reenter the political fray this week less than six months after leaving office, headlining a fundraiser for a group that could prove critical to the Democratic Party’s rebuilding efforts. Democrats now see cause for optimism, in part because of several recent legal victories. In May the Supreme Court struck down two North Carolina congressional districts as unconstitutional, finding that lawmakers used race as the dominant factor when crafting their lines.


EMILY COCHRANE: After Scalise Shooting, a Twist: Lawmakers Want to Loosen Gun Laws (New York Times analysis) -- After the nation’s worst mass shootings, in Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; Orlando, Fla.; and Columbine High School in Colorado, gun control advocates rose to demand more rigorous laws: stricter background checks, limits on magazine capacities, bans on assault weapons and tougher controls on gun shows and online firearms markets — almost always to no avail. Gun rights legislation after the baseball practice shooting received a lift: The Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would require each state to honor another state’s concealed carry permits, reached 200 co-sponsors. “I think what happened in Alexandria sharpened people’s resolve to make sure this right is protected,” said Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., who introduced the bill in January.


EMMARIE HUETTEMAN: N.C. shrugs as its senator scrutinizes Russia (New York Times analysis) -- It’s hard to find people in this southern area of North Carolina who are worked up by Russia’s meddling in the election or by the possibility that President Donald Trump’s associates may have somehow been involved. When pressed, they will say it could be the biggest political crisis in decades or a smear campaign against the president, but with other, more pressing local issues on their minds, many North Carolinians are reserving their judgment — and their attention.


Why our middle class is disappearing (Fayetteville Observer) -- Money is still in first place as the root of all evils. In North Carolina these days, it’s at the root of the disappearance of our middle class, and of the decline in social cooperation that has made us a more polarized population. N.C. State economist Mike Walden has documented the problem and finds that while there’s a middle class wage crunch across the country, it’s much worse in North Carolina.


LAURA LESLIE: Loophole lets lawmakers take campaign cash with legislation still pending (WRAL-TV analysis) -- Although state lawmakers are officially in recess until August, some are still negotiating bills to vote on when they come back, and the interim could prove to be a very profitable break for them.


Legislature plans unhappy returns (Greensboro News & Record) -- North Carolina didn’t have to shut down its government July 1 as some states did because our legislature enacted a budget on time, then adjourned.


What is ‘garbage juice,’ and why did Roy Cooper veto it? (Charlotte Observer) -- NC governor Roy Cooper vetoed bill that would allow use of toxic landfill spray near neighborhoods.


TAFT WIREBACK: Budget cuts affect low-income peoples' access to court (Greensboro News & Record analysis) -- Legislators cut Legal Aid's budget by eliminating a court fee that brought in $1.7 million to help the poor in civil cases, then repealed a law authorizing the program.


Give rural internet access a big boost (Fayetteville Observer) -- It’s a story told too often in politics today: A good, commonsense idea falling victim to rigid ideology. You can see it in Washington every day that Congress is in session. And you can see it in Raleigh when the General Assembly is meeting. You definitely saw it in the apparent demise of the BRIGHT Futures Act, legislation authored by Rep. John Szoka and Sen. Wesley Meredith, both Republicans from Fayetteville.


WILL MICHAELS: N.C. DOT To Drone Operators: Follow State Regulations (WUNC-FM analysis) -- The North Carolina Department of Transportation has issued a reminder to drone operators to fly them safely and follow state regulations as more of them take flight.


Mission, insurers forced to find Band-aids for broken system (Asheville Citizen-Times) -- We have faith that Mission Health and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina can work out their differences before a divorce that would disrupt health care for thousands in Western North Carolina. We also have faith that the problem will recur, however, as long as this nation has millions of people without health insurance.


Jail health care (Winston-Salem Journal) -- Forsyth County, in considering a new contract with the health-care provider for its jail, a $13.2-million, three-year contract, is between the proverbial rock and a hard place.


HAWES SPENCER & MATT STEVENS: 23 Arrested and Tear Gas Deployed After a K.K.K. Rally in Virginia (New York Times analysis) — Members of the Ku Klux Klan from North Carolina rallied in Charlottesville, Va. in a protest meant to assail the city’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee, the Confederate general.


STEPHANIE CARSON: Groups in NC Fight Islamaphobia with Education (Public News Service analysis) -- With incidences of violence against Muslims occurring in some parts of the country, some North Carolina groups have decided to fight the trend with knowledge. One such group is United Electrical Workers Local 150. The union is starting in the workplace, educating employers and co-workers about the Islamic community and offering tips for showing respect to members of the Muslim faith.


GENE SMITH: Well, what do you know about this? (Fayetteville Observer) -- The people who oversee the antipoverty programs collectively and often derisively called “welfare” gather data on fraud. They do not make it their business to group the offenders by race. Can you give me one lucid, fact-based reason they should? While you’re thinking that over, I’ll give you a couple of reasons they shouldn’t. First, it can’t be done because race and color are elusive targets.


KAY McSPADDEN: We’re going to lose the good teachers (Charlotte Observer column) -- Teacher pay remains a significant barrier to attracting a keeping good teachers in the field.


LINDSAY WAGNER: Teacher pipeline plugged (Greenville Daily Reflector) -- The NC GOP says they care about improving the teacher pipeline — even as they eliminate retiree health benefits for future teachers. But as state Senate Education Committee Chariman Chad Barefoot paid considerable lip service to the need for boosting the teacher pipeline — this comes after years of stagnant wages and other attacks on the teaching profession — he omitted a proposal he apparently was in the process of co-signing: the elimination of retiree health benefits for future teachers and state employees.


ALEX GRANADOS: Superintendent shares plans for NC's new Achievement School District (EdNC analysis) -- Eric Hall, superintendent of North Carolina's Achievement School District, gave the State Board of Education a glimpse of the future of his district at Thursday's board meeting.


Stop suspending young students (Charlotte Observer) -- Our youngest children should not be kicked out of or suspended from school. That must be the ultimate, unbending goal for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system. The long-term consequences for that short-term response to unruly behavior are too great. The adults in charge must find a better way.


NICK OCHSNER: Last-minute bill leaves school board member unable to seek re-election (WBTV-TV Analysis) – Kathy Falls, a member of the Cleveland County Board of Education, may not be able to seek re-election this year after a bill was passed in the final hours of the North Carolina General Assembly’s long session that converted nine boards of education in counties across the state from non-partisan races to partisan contests. The bill required school board members to either be registered with a political party or collect signatures from a certain percentage of registered voters to be eligible to run as an unaffiliated candidate.


KAREN CHAVES: Research institute has front seat for total eclipse (AP analysis) -- Hikers trekking deep in the Pisgah National Forest are usually on the lookout for copperheads and black bears. But sometimes they are startled by a Big Bang of sorts, stumbling out of the woods and into a science fiction-like world of giant telescopes. The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute is a nonprofit science education and research center hidden in the lush and leafy forest of Transylvania County, about 30 miles southwest of Asheville.


Speak out against offshore drilling (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot) – The Obama Administration, only a few years ago, floated the idea of opening the Atlantic coastal shelf to oil and gas exploration


HANNAH MILLER: Battery Island Home to Growing Ibis Colony (Coastal Review analysis) -- The sky over Brunswick County abounds with white ibises this time of year, many of which nest and raise their young at Battery Island near Southport, considered a colony of global importance.


Shifting sand could determine final ownership of new island (AP analysis) -- There's no question in the mind of the superintendent of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore as to who owns the new island off North Carolina's coast -- for now.


Veto bill that threatens wind energy projects (Elizabeth City Daily Advance) -- The issue: Quietly passed anti-business and job development moratorium threatens to curtail planned wind-energy projects in eastern North Carolina and elsewhere. Our position: Gov. Cooper should veto HB 589 and have the Legislature strip the wind energy moratorium from an otherwise good bill.


SUSAN LADD: Wind-farm moratorium renders energy bill unacceptable (Greensboro News & Record column) -- A few gains for one renewable industry are not worth giving the bum's rush to another.


JOHN DOWNEY: Duke Energy's Mocksville Solar price tag, once secret, now public (Charlotte Business Journal analysis) - -Duke Energy Carolinas says it paid $33.4 million to build the 15-megawatt Mocksville Solar project that went online in December. That information was contained in a filing Duke made this week to the N.C. Utilities Commission. But you could not find it in there. At least not in the public version.


JEFF HAMPTON: Lone Star tick blamed for growing number of red meat allergies in northeast N.C. (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot analysis) -- They call it “southern tick associated rash illness” or STARI. Carol Naughton knows of at least 15 neighbors in Albemarle Plantation near Hertford who also have it. One of her friends gets a swollen throat instead of a rash. Both women carry devices for injecting emergency epinephrine to combat the allergic reactions. Dr. Margaret Donohoe, an Elizabeth City allergist, sees a new patient with the allergy at least once a month, and sometimes once a week. The frequency has increased in the last couple of years, she said. She first began seeing the symptoms about a decade ago, and now has more than 100 patients.


Lack of transparency tarnishes appointment (Greenville Daily Reflector) -- Kandie Smith easily was the best person for the Greenville City Council to choose as interim mayor on Thursday when it voted unanimously for her to fill the seat vacated June 22 by three-term Mayor Allen Thomas — but council members should have conducted deliberations leading up to the decision in full view of the people who elected them.


Come when called (Greensboro News & Record) -- The ancient practice of trial by jury is so important that it’s written into the Bill of Rights.


CELIA RIVENBARK: ‘Because I won’ a reprehensible answer (Wilmington Star-News column) -- It was hard not to notice the coincidental comments last week when two powerful politicians said essentially the same thing. Trump, feeding some tasty raw meat to a loving crowd, reminded them -- when it comes to his critics -- “I’m president and they’re not.” A couple of days later, Gov. Chris Christie lashed out at New Jersey residents


TIM WHITE: The tweetstorm that proved we’ve gone over the edge (Fayetteville Observer column) -- I saw a great Facebook post the other day: “If the world were really flat, cats would have knocked everything over the edge by now.” So true.


Re-imagining a foundation (Winston-Salem Journal) -- For more than 80 years, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, based in Winston-Salem, has been a major force in moving North Carolina forward, putting its considerable money behind programs for public education, a clean environment, enhanced democracy, criminal justice reform and equal rights for minorities. Now, as many state leaders and national leaders take a different course, the foundation is forming its own new roadmap for the years ahead in a surprisingly courageous way.


WILLIAM WEST: Court orders Currituck to allow completion of mega-house on OBX (Elizabeth City Daily Advance analysis) -- A New England woman has won a ruling in Currituck County Superior Court allowing her, for the time being, to complete work on her massive ocean-side rental home in the off-road area of the Currituck Outer Banks.

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