CHARLOTTE — Winston-Salem uses an unusual approach for improving the safety of its streets that seems to be paying off. The city’s traffic engineers continue to collect data on accident-prone intersections for several years after a fix is made. In most states and localities, traffic engineers merely assume that a change eliminates any problems and do not monitor accident rates to see whether, in fact, changes did help, and if so, by how much. Forsyth County is the fourth-most-populous county and ranks fourth in registered vehicles and annual miles driven. It places only 12th, though, in the number of accidents, 25th in the number of accidents with injury, and 88th in fatal accidents.
RALEIGH — Should a department head review an administrative appeal in a personnel matter in which he or she is personally accused of discrimination? The answer, says the N.C. Court of Appeals may be “yes.” Valerie Enoch, a black female, applied in 2001 for a promotion in the Alamance County Department of Social Services but a white male received the position. Enoch argued that she was the victim of racial and gender discrimination. An administrative law judge sided with the agency. The case then went to the Alamance DSS for a final determination, with the supervisor ruling on her own decision. Enoch contended that the procedure violated her due process rights.
RALEIGH — A bill that would expand funding and the number of projects that can be subsidized for economic development was tabled in a Senate Finance Committee meeting Tuesday. Both Democrat and Republican senators doubted the worth of the Job Development Investment Grant program in a lively debate. Some thought the legislation might have failed in a vote before its sponsor, GOP Sen. Fletcher Hartsell of Concord, asked that the bill be set aside. Current law allows the state to provide tax-rebate incentives for 15 businesses per year, with up to $10 million per year for the entire program. The new legislation would increase the potential number of projects to 25, at a cost of up to $18 million annually.
RALEIGH — A growing number of journalists are out of touch with their readers, a national survey released Monday by the respected Pew Research Center shows. The survey also confirms what some critics of the media have charged for years: An increasing proportion of those who shape news coverage are political liberals. The survey of 547 national and local reporters, producers, editors, and executives addresses current issues facing journalism and updates trends from earlier surveys conducted in 1995 and 1999. The greatest differences between journalists and the public follow philosophical beliefs. Many more journalists identify themselves as liberals than as conservatives, while for the population as a whole the reverse is true.
RALEIGH — The National Center For Education Statistics predicts that by 2013 North Carolina will have 11,000 to 12,000 fewer K-12 students in its schools, compared to its 2001 enrollment. In all, 30 states will pick up K-12 enrollment, NCES says in its Projections of Education Statistics to 2013. One-third of those should increase enrollments by more than 10 percent. Average national enrollment is expected to increase by 4 percent, with the biggest bump occurring in Western states. North Carolina’s expected drop is mild compared to predictions for some states. But the implications for state school districts, some of which have been bursting at the seams, could be significant.
RALEIGH—They were rebuffed for the second straight year for inclusion in Women’s Week at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill by the Carolina Women’s Center. Nevertheless, the pro-life student group Carolina Students for Life prevailed in ending the center’s ideological exclusion of them from its web site and programming. While those developments left abortion-rights activists on campus hopping mad — some arguing that being against abortion was essentially the same as being against women — the university leadership says the changes are consistent with UNC-CH’s commitment to openness and valuing all perspectives.
RALEIGH — The North Carolina House Thursday tentatively approved another $20 million for the One North Carolina Fund, used to help seal economic development deals with businesses moving or expanding in the state. “We have to replenish this,” said Rep. Bill Owens, who sponsored the “emergency” legislation and warned that the state’s neighbors “would love to see us not pass this right now.” He claimed that without it, “we’re out of business.” The House supported the bill on a 99 to 14 vote, which came on the heels of a Carolina Journal report that large companies are now banding together to learn how to extract as much incentives money as possible from elected officials.
RALEIGH — A workshop conducted in late March, led by experts in getting economic development incentives from state and local governments, shows that large companies are now banding together to learn how to extract as much public money as possible from elected officials. The seminar taught dozens of corporate government-relations executives how to “Turn Your State Government Relations Department from a Money Pit into a Cash Cow.” It urged companies in part to “involve elected officials in press announcements;” to “thank everybody a zillion times;” and to “be mindful of the election and legislative cycle.” Two NC lawmakers criticized the presentation and what it signified.
RALEIGH — A national taxpayer advocacy organization based in Washington opened its third state chapter Tuesday in North Carolina. The Americans for Prosperity Foundation, which will develop grassroots activism promoting limited government and individual freedom, established other chapters in Texas and Kansas. “Americans for Prosperity will fight to end the out-of-control growth of big government programs,” former state Rep. Carolyn Russell, NC co-chairman of AFPF, said at a press conference. “When I was a legislator, I introduced the taxpayer protection bill of 1997 that limits the state spending to the growth in the economy. That safety net would have prevented North Carolina from the deficit it now faces.”
RALEIGH — Ernst & Young has become a player on both sides of incentives policy in North Carolina. The company established a cozy relationship with state officials through an incentives bill it helped create in 2001, the N.C. Economic Stimulus and Job Creation Act. The Department of Commerce hired Ernst & Young to study incentives in Southeastern states, and its findings were a significant contribution to the new bill. It was enacted into law in 2002. As the law was developed, Ernst & Young also advised Time Warner Inc. on how to extract incentives from the department, essentially working both ends of the issue.
RALEIGH — The president of the N.C. Center for Applied Textile Technology created the appearance of a conflict of interest by accepting outside teaching jobs, State Auditor Ralph Campbell’s Office said in an investigative audit released in mid-April. The auditor’s office was asked to review the secondary employment of the center’s president, James Lemons, by the president of the State Community College System. While that review was in progress, additional allegations were reported through the state auditor’s hotline, but those allegations were not substantiated. The chairman and a majority of trustees of the center told auditors they were aware of the secondary employment, but some of them were not aware the classes met during regular working hours.
KERNERSVILLE — After a vote by the local school board, Southern Guilford High School will have to give up its name, the Indians, while High Point Andrews High School will be allowed to retain the name Red Raiders but must retire an American Indian mascot. Although the new regulation passed in March is worded to prohibit the use of any existing ethnic group as a mascot, a few critics asked, not entirely in jest, whether one high school might have to give up its Viking mascot, lest any residents of Scandinavian extraction take offense. State officials have made it clear they want Indian mascots gone as soon as possible. About 60 public schools statewide have American Indian mascots.
RALEIGH — Contrary to exaggerated claims by environmental extremists that air pollution is worsening, air-quality expert Joel Schwartz told three separate audiences in NC last week that conditions have improved nationwide and in their state. Using data culled from studies published by the Environmental Protection Agency, Schwartz demonstrated that pollution trends for all major cities in the United States are on a downward trajectory. He said the truth contradicts what the majority of Americans have shown they believe in various polls. “Americans think the air has gotten worse,” Schwartz said in Raleigh. “Of course, just the opposite is the case.”
RALEIGH -- In recent years budget watchers annually have warned of coming fiscal train wrecks because state leaders have spent one-time revenues to finance annually recurring expenditures. And every year lawmakers have put off a structural solution by extending or raising taxes. The most commonly recognized one-time revenue source was the "temporary" one-half cent sales tax increase that lawmakers implemented in 2001. Last year, lawmakers extended his "one-time" revenue by two years. Now legislators must decide whether what was really "second-time" revenue should be continued as permanent or "third-time" revenue -- or if some other solution should be implemented.
CHAPEL HILL—This fall UNC-Chapel Hill will offer a new academic minor: “sexuality studies.” Students who complete 12 hours’ worth of the interdisciplinary courses can receive a minor in sexuality studies. Some of the courses include a history course on “the history of sexuality in America” and a political science course on “the politics of sexuality.” UNC-CH is not alone among universities with a program in sexuality studies. A steadily growing number across the nation offers some form of sexuality or gender-study programs. Included in that list is Duke University, which has offered a program on sexuality studies since 1994.
RALEIGH — Gov. Mike Easley released his mid-biennium budget term adjustments yesterday, which he said maintained his priorities for spending discipline, creating jobs, and improving public education. Forecasters anticipate economic growth by a rate of 5.5 percent for 2004-05, which raised revenue expectations by $200 million. Easley’s revised budget comes in at almost $15.9 billion. Increased spending over last year includes $119 million for education enrollment, $231 million for state employee retirees and health coverage, $220 million for pay increases, and $80 million for servicing debt and capital expenditures. Also, last year’s temporary Medicaid relief from the federal government was removed, so state spending on it will increase by $182 million.
RALEIGH — When Gov. Mike Easley introduced his proposed biennial budget last year, he asked the legislature to implement spending limits tied to the average growth in personal income. “The current budget model needs to be reformed,” Easley said in February 2003. “Last year, we have reduced the state operating budget for the first time in over 30 years and brought spending under control, but now it is time to take the next step. We must stop the practices of letting spending run away when the economy is strong.” But some fiscal conservatives fault Easley’s proposed cap and look to Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights as a model.
RALEIGH — North Carolina has made progress in its war against methamphetamine, but the drug still threatens to overwhelm the state’s law enforcement, social services, public health facilities, and courtrooms unless laws are toughened, says Attorney General Roy Cooper. In 1999, the first year that meth laboratories were reported in NC, SBI agents raided nine labs. Agents shut down 177 labs in 2003, and 108 so far in 2004. Meth is a synthetic drug cooked in labs often located in homes, apartments, motel rooms, and vehicles. The drug is addictive and can cause paranoia and violence. The labs are highly toxic and can explode or catch fire.
RALEIGH — Recent events have put the $75 million Milwaukee school voucher program back in the news, and may have tarnished the program’s image among some supporters and foes alike. The voucher program provides public funding to help send low-income children to private schools. Until recently, private schools kept their own practices and accountability standards under this arrangement. But scandals in a few schools in Milwaukee have brought legal changes to accountability under the voucher program. North Carolina school-choice advocates warn that if heavy-handed regulations will follow public dollars, they will oppose voucher proposals here.
RALEIGH — The biggest backup most are likely to encounter in a bathroom is easily remedied with a 99-cent plunger or a bottle of drain cleaner. But imagine being a builder whose new subdivision, school, or store can’t open on time because paperwork is clogged up in the state’s wastewater permit approval process in Raleigh. Critics say the Department of Environment, Health, and Natural Resources has a “culture problem” and is not “service-oriented.” After initially agreeing to address the permit delay complaints and confirm for Carolina Journal the number of engineers who provide service to counties, a spokeswoman for the agency did not provide the information and failed to respond to a second request.
RALEIGH — In an April 20 decision, a divided panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals affirmed a lower-court ruling that state employment law does not recognize domestic-abuse victims as a protected class. Soon after James Imes‘ wife shot him in a domestic dispute, he was fired from his job as a bus driver. He alleges that a supervisor informed him that the termination was because he was a victim of domestic violence. Under the state’s “at will” doctrine, an employer can legally fire a worker for virtually any reason — except on grounds that would violate an established public policy. The court rejectted Imes’ claim to qualify for the exception.
RALEIGH — As public schools are looking for new sources of money, one potential source of savings hasn’t been much discussed: Why not ask Washington to stop requiring that illegal alien children get a “free” education? Some analysts say the federal government imposes this mandate of a free education for illegals and stands to reap most of the financial benefits of immigration. In the long term, a 1996 study estimated, an average immigrant will have a positive fiscal impact of $110,000 on the federal government but imposes a net negative fiscal impact of $22,000 at the state and local level, much of it related to public schooling.