RALEIGH — Since 1980, more than 50 N.C. cities and towns have embraced the Main Street project, created in response to what many viewed as failed federal urban renewal programs of the 1960s and ‘70s. It was also supposed to resist the growing suburban lifestyle considered devastating downtowns across the country. Like many government programs, Main Street comes at a price, this time in the form of a potential new tax on businesses in participating cities. About two thirds of the cities have opted for a special Municipal Service District that levies property taxes within the designated downtown area, and then funds renovation and promotional activities.
RALEIGH — In a ruling that makes it significantly harder for citizens to challenge the legality of fees they pay to local governments, the North Carolina Court of Appeals on March 2 ruled that there is no right to pay a fee under protest and then challenge its legality — though that right has been recognized with regard to taxes subsequently struck down as illegal. After a couple who believed their landfill fees were unconstitutional decided to pay them, the county dismissed its lawsuit with prejudice. Subsequent attempts to recover the fees and have them struck down violated the legal doctrine of res judicata, the court ruled.
RALEIGH —The John Locke Foundation celebrated its 14th anniversary March 10 with a dinner featuring Colorado Gov. Bill Owens as keynote speaker. Owens, recognized by National Review magazine as“ the best governor in America,” praised the work of the “new wave” of conservative think tanks such as the Locke Foundation and the Golden, Co.-based Independence Institute. He said those groups help political leaders make better, more- informed decisions. “When policy makers have data (and) the arguments,” Owens said, “it allows us to win some of these policy debates.”
RALEIGH — Five murder cases, cited by “CBS Evening News” Oct. 13 and Oct. 14 to prove that homeschooling parents use the educational alternative to hide child abuse, showed instead that other factors were responsible for the family tragedies. In most cases, child-welfare officials or local law enforcement were already aware of problems before the situations turned deadly. But the network reported that there was a “dark side of homeschooling,” in which parents exploited allegedly lax homeschooling laws to hide the abuse, and even murder, of their children.
RALEIGH —The State Ports Authority incorrectly paid the expenses for Chief Executive Officer Erik Stromberg to travel to the 2003 Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., over the New Year’s holiday, State Auditor Ralph Campbell said in an audit released Wednesday. Auditors also questioned Stromberg’s use of a state car while he was being paid $500 per month as a car allowance to use his private vehicle, and personal purchases made by Ports Authority employees using Authority credit cards. The investigative audit was triggered by calls to the State Auditor’s Hotline.
RALEIGH — Core Knowledge has become a nationally recognized K-8 curriculum, built on an inventory of essential cultural, social and academic knowledge. Core Knowledge founder E.D. Hirsch, a former English professor at the University of Virginia, said the program “is based on principles held by the best scientists” and contains the information that is “taken for granted” in spoken and written language in our society. “It doesn’t embrace a partisan ideology, except the classical idea of a democratic education, one that seeks to give the child only the best we can give them.”
RALEIGH — Carolina Journal’s attempt to gain access to records on the Boeing-GTP incentives began Dec. 19 with a phone call to the Commerce Department. One reason why the records weren’t released for nearly two months was that officials asserted some of the records constituted trade secrets that were exempt from the public records law. “The secret treatment given to economic development meetings and records in North Carolina is as restrictive as anywhere in the country,” said one attorney, noting that the increasing use of economic incentives will exacerbate the debate over openness in government.
RALEIGH — No matter how NC slices them, “targeted economic incentives” — such as the $534 million package offered to Boeing to start a new plant at the Global TransPark — discriminate against firms already in the state, both supporters and opponents of the inducements say. But they disagree on what can be done to solve the problem. “You’ve got to be competitive,” said a supportive lawmaker. “If we don’t provide jobs for our people, we’re lost.” But opponents say other policies, especially across-the-board relief for small businesses, would create more jobs.
CHARLOTTE — Camden County has adopted a hotel-motel tax. The new levy will generate revenue as soon as the General Assembly approves — and someone opens a hotel in the county. “There’s no particular reason for doing it,” said a commissioner, “all the other counties have one.” In other local news, Raleigh creates a new burglar-alarm fee to discourage false alarms, Charlotte considers high-occupancy-toll lanes along its major interstates, and Asheville finds that a ban on panhandling has had little effect on its downtown streets.
RALEIGH — Attorney General Roy Cooper wrote to officials in six other states last week saying that their states must cut down on pollution that is dirtying North Carolina's air. "Numerous studies show that North Carolina received transported pollution from several other states, including your state," Cooper wrote to attorneys general in Alabama, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The new letters closely resemble letters Cooper wrote to seven other states in December: Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.
RALEIGH — Contrary to “widespread and persistent stereotypes,” most American adolescents are not alienated from or hostile toward organized religion, and as much as two-thirds of those youth closely agree with the religious beliefs of their parents, a UNC-Chapel Hill study says. It reported that “only about 10 to 20 percent of adolescents manifest severe emotional disturbance,” which they said mirrors the adult population, while “only between 5 and 10 percent of families see a dramatic decline in the quality of parent-child relationships during the teen-age years.”
RALEIGH — North Carolina is the unhappy home to the nation’s first-ever outbreak of HIV among college students, according to research presented at a Feb. 10 in San Francisco. The research team was led by infectious disease specialist Lisa B. Hightow of UNC. From Jan. 1, 2000, through Dec. 31, 2003, her team discovered 84 HIV cases in male college students. The students attended 37 colleges, all but four in NC. While researchers track down and try to stem the outbreak, NC campuses are trying various ways to encourage students to engage in sexual liaisons more responsibly.
RALEIGH — North Carolina and New York are the only states that pass a significant portion of Medicaid costs on to counties. The portion of total costs counties pay is 5.4 percent, or 15 percent of the state’s share. NC’s 22 poorest counties carry up to one-third of their populations on the Medicaid rolls, and allocate as much as 14 percent of their entire budgets for the program. “If the state is serious about having ‘one North Carolina,’” said Bertie County Manager Zee Lamb, “then that [Medicaid] policy is bad. It’s disproportionately adverse to the poorest counties.”
RALEIGH — A company that put bogus charges on customers’ phone bills must stop the fees and pay refunds, the Attorney General’s Office says. “This company tried to stick people with calls they didn’t make and charges they hadn’t agreed to,” Attorney Gen. Roy Cooper said. “We've put an end to these extra charges and consumers who paid them will get their money back.” Consumers were charged $1.99 per phony directory-assistance inquiry and $5 to $6 for each bogus collect call. The practice of placing small, unauthorized charges on phone bills is known as “cramming.”
RALEIGH — Do schools in the suburbs promote safer behavior than schools in cities? According to data collected from a new longitudinal study, the incidence of sexual activity, drug-alcohol use and abuse, delinquent behavior, and violence, are just as common in suburban high schools as in urban ones. In fact, teens in suburban schools sometimes engage in more of these activities than do teens in city schools. “There may have been a time when suburban schools really were a safe haven from the rise of these so-called ‘urban’ problems,” one analyst said. “But if there ever was such a time, it’s gone.”
RALEIGH — After the comparatively good times, both economically and security-wise, of the 1990s, the new millenium brought North Carolina to crisis points in several areas, especially with the state budget, employment, education, and medical malpractice. But few public-policy challenges seem as daunting as the crisis facing Medicaid. Costs have spun out of control and promises only to escalate in the future. Moreover, legislative decisions — not federal mandates or overall inflation in health care — have been the main cause of the cost explosion.
RALEIGH — Readers of Duke University’s student newspaper saw an ad Feb. 9 from the Duke Conservative Union. It was an open letter to Duke President Nan Keohane, questioning the university’s commitment to intellectual diversity. It noted that among select departments and Duke deans, registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans by 142 to 8. Many departments did not have even a single Republican on the faculty. Keohane responded that the DCU’s question “deserves a thoughtful answer” and that party affiliation didn’t capture the issue of diversity.
RALEIGH — By 2013-14, the “No Child Left Behind” Act directs that all students, special education included, achieve proficiency. As data from state-level tests show, special education students are much farther behind in achievement than are their nondisabled counterparts. NC is no exception, although some districts are making progress. In Durham, a concerted effort to identify and correct reading difficulties in the early grades has reversed the trend in special ed. Instead of enrolling more kids every year, Durham’s literacy program has reduced special education enrollment by 100 students annually.
RALEIGH — Is remaining stopped eight to 10 seconds at a traffic light after it turns green but otherwise not doing anything wrong enough justification for a cop to pull a motorist over? The answer, according to a March 2 decision by the N.C. Court of Appeals, is that it is not. The critical issue, the Court of Appeals noted, is whether a driver’s actions give rise to a “reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity may be afoot.” While the standard for what constitutes such a suspicion is low, the N.C. Supreme Court has ruled that it must have some objective element and be more than an “unparticularized suspicion or hunch.”
RALEIGH — A student in Professor Elyse Crystall’s “Literature and Cultural Diversity” class at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was accused of making “violent, heterosexist comments,” uttering “hate speech” and creating a “hostile environment” in class, according to an e-mail sent to all members of the class by the professor. What the student, identified as Tim, had done was answer the question posed by the day’s lecture, from his perspective as, in the professor’s description, a “white, heterosexual, christian male (sic).”
RALEIGH — Ninth grade is a make-it-or-break-it year for high school students, according to the National Association of Secondary School Principals. Kids who skip classes, flunk courses, break school rules, or get suspended often don’t recover from the “ninth grade slump.” Instead, they contribute to the troubling number of high school students who simply “can’t hack high school” for four long years. In North Carolina, school officials have become increasingly worried about the number of ninth-graders who don’t graduate on time.
RALEIGH — A proposed turnpike connecting Gaston and Mecklenburg counties over the Catawba River will likely be the first toll road project to be planned, built, and operated by the North Carolina Turnpike Authority, according to two sources familiar with plans for the so-called Garden Parkway. Despite the fact that the Garden Parkway is common knowledge and is referred to as “a candidate toll project” in the minutes of the Dec. 5, 2003 NCTA board meeting in Gastonia, officials in the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Public Information Office would not acknowledge the project’s likelihood or provide details about it or any other toll projects being considered.
CHARLOTTE — “If you build it they will come,” said the spirits in Field of Dreams. Numerous localities have used the maxim to justify the building of sports and entertainment arenas. Recent developments in Raleigh, Cumberland County, and Greensboro suggest that the proverbial “they” are not coming in great enough quantities to fully support all these buildings. The most expensive project, Raleigh’s ESA, consumed more than $100 million in tax money but its pro hockey and N.C. State basketball tenants consistently fail to fill the seats.