North Carolina editorial roundup


Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

March 26

The Daily Reflector, Greenville, N.C., on the governor's budget proposal:

While most observers greeted Gov. Pat McCory's budget proposal with cautious contentment, residents of the state's rural corners have cause for concern. The framework dramatically reduces investment in several organizations that serve communities battling poverty and ease the difficult transition from a century of tobacco cultivation.

The new governor has spoken often about the economic problems in North Carolina's rural corners and Raleigh's need to help alleviate them. It is therefore disappointing that, in his first budget document, he would deliberately short-change efforts to affect change in those same communities, places dependent on assistance that now could be abandoned.

In his first State of the State address, McCrory sounded a call welcome to eastern North Carolina when he discussed the immense challenge of assisting the transition from tobacco cultivation to a new, modern and technological economy. He acknowledged the pain that has resulted from those changes and the challenge before Raleigh of helping communities caught in the middle.

Such an approach would have been cheered by both the N.C. Rural Economic Development Center and the Golden LEAF Foundation. The former is charged with assisting economic development efforts in the state's 85 rural counties. The latter emerged from the 1998 federal tobacco settlement with a mission to use money paid by cigarette companies to assist tobacco-dependent communities. Ostensibly, these groups are best suited to meet the goals McCrory set forth in his speech.

In his budget, however, the governor slashed funding to both. The Rural Center would see its annual appropriation cut from $16 million to $6 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year. And things are far worse for Golden LEAF, which would see its budget drop from $65 million to zero.

These groups are critical to communities across eastern North Carolina. They provide grant funding to help job creation and extend loans to individuals that are transforming the state's rural corners. They are instrumental in developing the technological infrastructure necessary to the 21st century economy, the type of technology that in McCrory's inaugural address, he said, "provides a wide open opportunity that is restricted by our own creativity" and needed to be unleashed."

If the governor truly intends to make North Carolina a "place of unlimited opportunity" he cited after his swearing-in, that must include the state's rural corners. What a shame that noble goal was not reflected in his budget.



March 24

The Charlotte Observer on scrapping pink drivers licenses:

So, the North Carolina Department of Transportation raised the "pink" flag of surrender on colored driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants granted protection under a federal delayed deportation program. Good. Finally, common sense prevails. As we said previously, there's no apparent, specific law enforcement benefit to the pink-stripped licenses.

Instead, the licenses seemed a childish, vindictive slap at the immigrants who are being granted the right to be here. Further, it appeared to be a way to heap humiliation on the young adults participating in the two-year federal Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

State officials aren't saying they bowed to pressure in changing the design. A DOT spokesman would only say the change made it easier for the DMV to issue new licenses more efficiently. The design will be similar to those of other licenses issued for limited duration to groups such as visiting students and agriculture workers. That's what we and others urged before.

Unfortunately, the licenses will still bear in bold red letters the unnecessary words "No lawful status." ...

The debate over gun control sometimes has an Alice-in-Wonderland feel about it. To wit, North Carolina House Bill 310. It is called "The Handgun Permit Modernization Act." In this case, "modernization" means "make it easier for mentally ill people to obtain concealed carry permits."

The bill sits in the House Rules Committee, and that's where it should stay.

Under current law, sheriffs can consider mental health records of an applicant for a concealed carry permit. That may seem like utter common sense, but H310 would strip sheriffs of that discretion. ...

Sheriffs would not be allowed to request any information about a permit applicant's mental health background beyond what is in the national database.

This is a bill supported by the gun lobby and is one more effort to remove any obstacles to getting a permit and getting it fast. But taking away sheriffs' ability to fully review an applicant's mental health background is a dangerous move.



March 25

News & Observer of Raleigh on the University of North Carolina system downsizing:

It appears that Hodding Carter III is channeling the late William Friday. Friday, a mentor to Carter, was the founding president of what is now the University of North Carolina system and a strong, respected leader and defender of the university system.

Responding to reports that Republican legislators are thinking about "downsizing" the UNC system, perhaps closing one or two campuses, Carter, a former assistant secretary of state and now a UNC-Chapel Hill professor, decided not to hold back. "These guys are intent on going to war against the public university system in this state," he said. "Standing on the sidelines is not for anyone who cares about higher education."

Indeed, Republican Sen. Pete Brunstetter of Winston-Salem believes downsizing ought to be an option. He and other GOP allies note that former system President Erskine Bowles once talked about it. But that was during a time of multibillion-dollar deficits, which is not now the case.

And even if one concedes that the UNC system might need some fine-tuning in terms of duplicate programs, this is not an issue to be brought up suddenly and then resolved in one legislative session.

Instead of pushing a bill through that cuts programs and perhaps even campuses, Republicans should appoint a blue-ribbon, bipartisan commission to study first whether consolidation is even a good and practical idea (there are serious questions about that) and how savings might be obtained without the drastic step of closing campuses.

The group would need two years to interview current and former UNC campus administrators, students, university officials from other states; call in some outside experts; and discuss extensively possible changes and, more importantly, the impact any changes might have on students.

Democratic Sen. Martin Nesbitt fears that won't be the case. "The problem with (Republicans) and their approach," he said, "is it's never a dialogue. It's a threat."

There's been evidence of that in this legislative session with issues such as Medicaid, unemployment compensation and the proposed changes in state boards and commissions. The consequences of these actions remain to be seen, but certainly people are going to be hurt by them and by the reckless hurry in which changes were made.

But the UNC system is a different animal. Each of the 17 campuses has thousands of alumni who are strong supporters and would be protective of their campuses. ...

... Republicans must, for a change, approach this issue with caution lights on and in no hurry.


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