Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Community Recovery

Sometimes you can see a storm coming long before the raindrops start hitting your face. For example, when President Trump released his guidelines to end the coronavirus shutdown Governor Cooper didn’t knock anybody down racing to re-open our economy.

Why is the Governor hesitating? Maps may provide an answer. Like most Democrats, Governor Cooper’s political world rests on foundation blocks in cities and suburbs – in ‘blue counties’ where the virus is not looking like it’s under control. By contrast, ‘red counties,’ outside the major counties and suburbs, are faring better. So who – the red counties or the blue counties – decides when we end the shutdown?

We could have that fight – on top of fighting coronavirus – but it really doesn’t make any sense. Besides, we have a better choice than ‘open everyone or open no one.’ The counties and cities across the state long ago formed 16 regional alliances – called North Carolina Regional Councils – to address each region’s shared interests when it comes to economic development and transportation.

Those  NC Regional Councils are staffed by professionals who work on data acquisition and analysis. The councils also have a long history of collaboration with the local governments in their regions. And they exist in their current configurations because that’s what the local residents, not politicians in Raleigh, wanted.

Let’s use them. They can get the data and merge it with all their counties data before releasing it, which will eliminate hospitals worrying about disclosing proprietary data about patients and violating HIPAA laws. To obtain the data we need to find a route out of a medical and economic crisis, there’s no better choice with an equivalent skill set.

We can then use nationally established criteria, one of the few offerings by President Trump that has not been widely attacked, to implement a policy that rightfully sets stages for economic recovery based on data about coronavirus in each county. The regions that show the most progress or have been hit less by coronavirus may go ahead and re-open, and stay open, while those regions hit hardest, which need more time to curtail coronavirus, can take steps to do what’s best for them.

North Carolina is one state made up of many communities – doesn’t it make common sense to allow the different communities to decide when to end their shutdown and begin the recovery from coronavirus?

Another Mess: Virus, Mail-In Voting and Fraud

Last year, we were in another, but smaller, crisis. The Democrats were mad-as-hell about McCrae Dowless ‘harvesting’ ballots for Mark Harris in the 9th Congressional District. Once the smoke cleared and the facts were on the table almost everyone agreed, a new election was called, and laws were passed to make sure that type of fraud didn’t happen again.

Now due to coronavirus, the Governor’s appointees on the Board of Elections want to dramatically expand ‘Mail-in’ voting – the same type of voting McCrae Dowless abused. Now there’s no doubt coronavirus has, and will, cause some hard changes in behavior but let’s step back a moment and think about this one.

First, why the urgency?  Hopefully, soon, we won’t be sheltered in place and the virus will be waning. Wouldn’t waiting, say, to summer lead to a wiser decision?

Second, aren’t there questions the Election Board needs to answer about its plan?

Last year, only a fraction of the voters used mail-in (absentee) ballots in Bladen County during the 9thCongressional District Race. What’s the potential for fraud if a million people vote by mail in November?

Is the Cooper administration ready to implement such a major change in November? Dragging out unemployment checks has been bad enough, bungling an election would be another major train wreck.

When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight, was never the slogan of the Post Office. Can it handle the increased workload?

Third, if it turns out we do have to make changes in how we vote in November, is there a more practical and less susceptible to fraud solution than telling millions of people, ‘Hey. Go online and order your ballot.’

I’m afraid the Democratic Board of Elections may have handed us a political fix for something that ain’t broke. And we’ve all seen how political solutions tend to backfire in unexpected ways.

We have enough messes on our hands right now. Let’s take a deep breath – and wait until summer – to be sure we get this one right.

 

We Still Have Time

In 1940 Hitler, having rolled over Europe, set his sights on invading Great Britain. He was stopped by one decision: Newly elected Prime Minister Winston Churchill decided to direct Britain’s national energy – and strength – to denying Hitler’s Luftwaffe air superiority. To do that Churchill appointed a determined Lord Max Beaverbrook to produce Spitfire fighters. He told Beaverbrook to get the job done using any means necessary and, he added, if any bureaucrat tried to get in his way Churchill himself would handle the obstructer.

Churchill recognized the biggest threat to his country. He decided on the course of action, ruthlessly followed it and saved his country.

Like other bureaucracies, the bomber plane hierarchy resented Max Beaverbrook. He was an easy man to dislike. But he was the right man for the job. He produced the Spitfires needed and Germany never gained air superiority.

Now, we face an enemy of our own. A scary enemy. Like the Luftwaffe’s nighttime bombers, the average person knows the coronavirus is there but can’t see it. But we do have a cure for our blindness – random testing will show us the spread of coronavirus and tell us the hot spots we need to focus on to defeat the disease. Once we know where the outbreaks are, we can isolate and direct resources, taking the fight to the virus. Random testing is like a radar that can spot a Nazi bomber at night.

Unfortunately, we’ve lost a precious month when it comes to spotting our enemy. While the coronavirus attacked the world, Washington politicians were attacking each other. Impeachment, not testing, was the priority. With politicians distracted, bureaucrats – and bureaucratic turf wars – were the order of the day. Control of the testing process was, to them, more important than getting tests done and the results out. We now know that the CDC, the FDA and HHS, did not – and will not – lead us out of this valley. Now it’s time to focus all available national resources on finding, and killing, the enemy.

We may get a break; warmer weather could stop the spread as it does the flu. But we learned in 1918 that autumn might bring it back again, even worse. We’ve lost a month. And we’re paying the price. But we still have time. Let’s use it.

One Judge Stops Voter ID

It’s a hard but true fact: Unelected officials from federal judges to state bureaucrats overreach, grasping for power. But more often than not it just slides by – even when folks see it most don’t think it’s worth having a fight over. What happens next is no surprise: One overstep leads to another. After all, if you grabbed for power once and got away with it why not do it again?

We see it daily: An unelected official redefines a law or regulation to fit his personal idea of right or wrong and, without knowing it, starts down a road that leads to trouble. Surrounded by like-minded minions, all inside a cocoon, they never see they’re marching toward a tipping point, a moment when those who stood silent say ‘Enough’ because they’re left with no choice but to fight back.

On Election Day in November in 2018 over two million people across North Carolina voted to add a Voter ID law not to our state statues or regulations but to the bedrock of all our state laws – the North Carolina Constitution. Last week in Winston-Salem President Obama’s federal judge, Loretta Biggs, with a stroke of her pen stopped the new law.

Judge Biggs’ reasons? None were offered – just, stop it because I said so.

Two million people voted to pass the Voter ID law. And one federal judge stopped it.

I have to say, Enough!

Advice from a Sinking Ship

You have to admire their brass. The Charlotte Observer, which like many newspapers has been struggling to make ends meet, took a break from terminating paper deliveries and selling off prime real estate to offer business advice to the State of North Carolina.

First, the Observer’s editors tore into President Trump’s Tax Cut, specifically cutting taxes on businesses. Then the Observer tore into Republicans for doing the same thing in North Carolina. We’d all be better off, the Observer argued, if taxes were higher because more money would be flowing into state government.

But they left out a key fact. After Republicans in the General Assembly cut taxes the economy boomed and, as a result, state government had a boost in tax revenues. This spring, a $900 million budget surplus fell in state government’s lap. The State Senate then voted to return a part of the surplus to taxpayers to help working families. But Governor Cooper turned thumbs down on that idea and vetoed the bill.

The State Senate also, since North Carolina is in the worst half of all states in terms of its property tax burden, voted to cut the double property tax on business. But, again, Governor Cooper vetoed the bill.

Six years ago, Senate Republicans cut taxes to turn a terrible economy into a booming economy. It worked. And businesses started moving to North Carolina.

Then we hit two bumps in the road. First, when other states saw how successful we were, they cut their own taxes. And, second, after Roy Cooper was elected Governor, trying to keep our taxes low in order to be competitive with other states went out the window.

Six years ago, North Carolina’s ‘Tax Competition Ranking’ was 44th out of the 50 states. In other words, our state taxes were higher than 43 other states. After the Republican tax cuts, we leaped to 11th – suddenly, our taxes were lower than 39 other states. Over the past two years, under Governor Cooper, North Carolina has fallen from 11th to 15.

It’s a good idea to drain the swamp before we drown in it.

Infant Mortality

The report was good news: Infant mortality rates had dropped to an all-time low, to the lowest point since ratings started 31 years ago.

Hispanic families had the lowest rates. African American families had rates higher than Whites or Hispanics, but African American rates had also dropped the most.

Governor Cooper studied the report, plucked out a fact (African Americans having the highest rates), and said that proved we had to pass his plan to expand Medicaid.

But the Governor also left out a fact: Medicaid already covers low income pregnant mothers.

To put it bluntly, the Governor dabbled in racial politics – he drew a line between black vs. white – to pass his Medicaid plan.

That’s the Raleigh Swamp and it’s time to drain it, too.

An Unanswered Question

State Treasurer Dale Folwell laid it out plain and simple: The state Department of Transportation took in $5 billion and spent $7 billion, he said.

Folwell went on to explain what happened next: To plug the $2 billion hole it had dug, DOT reached into the Highway Trust Fund and took out $1.1 billion. And then it borrowed $900 million using bonds.

That led to two more problems: By law, DOT can’t take money out of the Highway Trust Fund unless Folwell agrees. But he didn’t agree. Because he didn’t know. DOT never told him.

That wasn’t all. When DOT borrowed $900 million, in the bond offering it reported that the Map Act settlements were not ‘material’ to its ability to repay the bonds. (DOT lost the Map Act lawsuit in 2016 and has to pay people for taking their property without compensation.)

However, a month later, Folwell reports, DOT’s Chief Operating Officer told the Board of Transportation the lawsuit settlements may exceed $1 billion.

That sounds ‘material.’

Treasurer Dale Folwell painted a pretty dire picture, but he also offered a solution: He recommended Governor Cooper remove his DOT Secretary Jim Trogdon and replace him. That didn’t suit the Governor at all.

Now, if Secretary Trogdon did single-handedly give the green light to raiding the Highway Trust Fund he has some explaining to do.

But that still leaves an unanswered question.

Did Secretary Trogdon, a retired Major General, raid the Highway Trust Fund on his own? Or was he following orders – to facilitate DOT’s $2 billion spending binge – by the Governor’s office?

Who had the final say: Was it Secretary Trogdon or the Governor’s office?

That’s a question we need an answer to.

In Pursuit of Tweets

A hot-headed young Democratic Senator baited the trap and an old Republican bear fell for it.

A little less posturing by the Democrat might have been kinder but kindness doesn’t count for much on social media; he was out for clicks and meaner works better.

So, he posted a video on Twitter showing his screamed tirade on the Senate floor, followed by the old Republican’s muddled answer, followed by nervous laughter from State Senators who’d just witnessed the latest political spectacle in Raleigh.

And that wasn’t the whole story.

The young Democrat had edited what happened next out of his tweet: The immediate, and thoughtfully gentle, reminder from the Senate President, Phil Berger, to both combatants that they had just violated the Rules of the North Carolina Senate.

In the final days of the Senate Session tirades and tweets ruled. And civility flew right out the window.

The Raleigh Swamp!

The bill was simple: It cut government regulations on small businesses (which Republicans liked); it fixed regulatory problems to help cities (which Democrats liked); and it helped small towns struggling to repair aging pipes and broken pumps that provide drinking water to families (which everyone liked).

After the bill sailed through both the State House and State Senate – with, for once, both Republicans and Democrats saying, Amen – it seemed certain to be signed into law.

But, then, the unexpected happened: Governor Cooper vetoed the bill.

Next politics broke out.

Questions like whether it was a good bill or bad bill fell by the wayside.

Not one Democratic Senator was willing to say to the Governor, Look, this is a good bill. I voted for it. No veto this time.

Politics won. And the bill bit the dust.

There’s not just a ‘Swamp’ in Washington.

There’s one in Raleigh.

And it’s time to drain it, too!

Bureaucratic Bungling or Something Worse?

After years of prudent spending and tax cuts that spurred the economy, when Governor Cooper took office, the Department of Transportation was rolling in cash to build highways.

Governor Cooper’s appointees decided to spend it all – which is the single activity Democrats excel at.

After a few months, with the coffers emptying, DOT decided it would borrow another $300 million using the Build NC Bonds.

Now, to issue a bond you must tell people about any pending financial liabilities you have that may get in the way of your repaying the bonds. And for DOT that’s where things got sticky. Because back in 2016 the State Supreme Court had issued a unanimous decision against DOT in the ‘Map Act’ lawsuit, saying DOT had taken private property without compensating people and it had to pay everyone back for their losses.

When DOT issued those bonds, it admitted it had already paid $220 million to settle those claims – which was true – but then added any future claims were not ‘material’. In other words, they told the bond buyers that future Map Act settlements would be too minor to impact DOT’s ability to repay the $300 million.

DOT borrowed and spent the $300 million then got a shock: It suddenly found it was strapped for cash with red ink piling up.

Seeking a bailout, DOT bureaucrats rushed over to the legislature but this time they told a different story: They said they needed $360 million dollars because they’d been ambushed by ‘unexpected’ Map Act payments.

Imagine if you went down to your bank and borrowed $100 thousand to buy a house but hid the fact that you owed another $100 thousand to settle a lawsuit. You’d have some explaining to do.

So how does DOT get away with saying in June that Map Act payments were not material to repaying a $300 million-dollar bond, but then, four months later, telling the legislature it urgently needs $360 million due to Map Act payments?

At this rate, The Swamp may drain itself.