The Equity of Roadbuilding

I don’t guess anyone driving down the road is happy with the litter, and overgrown weeds, along our highways. COVID certainly reduced congestion – but traffic jams will return, and potholes are there waiting.

Poor judgements by the Department of Transportation led to reckless spending which landed the department, and our highways, in a ditch. Workers were laid off, litter pickup services stopped, roads we needed to build were put on hold. Staring at the mess DOT had created the General Assembly stepped in, adding legislative appointees, like me, to the Transportation Board to try to improve oversight. But now, an even bigger crisis is looming.

Two-thirds of the money the state spends to build and maintain highways comes from one source – the gas tax. It works like this: Every time you fill up your car at the service station you pay a gas tax – which means what you pay is based on the amount of miles you drive. In effect, what you pay depends on how much you use and wear down roads. It’s a user fee.

But the days when almost everyone drove a gas-powered car are past. Today many people drive electric cars and while they use and wear down roads – just like people who drive gas cars – they pay no tax to build or repair highways.

Our biggest automakers are working to accelerate the shift to electric cars, and liberals, from President Biden on down, agree – which is fine. But, at the same time, how will we pay to build and maintain our highways? After all, whether you drive an electric car, or a gas-powered car potholes and traffic jams are a problem. It’s also a looming economic threat, and our biggest cities – the pillars of our economy – will be hit the hardest.

There’s a way to fix the problem but, as often happens, politics is standing in the way. To keep highway funding adequate every driver, whether he drives a gas car or electric car, needs to pay a fair share to help build and maintain roads. Governor Cooper and the Transportation Department know that.  But to suggest electric car drivers pay a ‘user fee’ – the same way gas car drivers do – draws the wrath of the left. So many politicians remain silent. But how long can we go on without building roads and fixing potholes?

Too Much Debt

Hopefully, it hasn’t happened to you. But you probably know someone who has been crushed by too much debt. Student debt weighs down an entire generation.  The housing boom leading up to 2008 created a bubble that trapped many families in a hopeless situation.

Sometimes debt is so big it’s incomprehensible; if you look at the debt per taxpayer at USDebtClock.org you see that every U.S. taxpayer owes nearly $225,000 each ($450,000 for a couple). That’s your share, and mine, of the federal government’s debt.

How did we land in the ditch? Washington politicians found a clever way to spend all they want without raising taxes: By borrowing. Politicians spend billions, buying votes from special interests or passing bills for lobbyists who make big contributions. If they had to raise taxes every time they jacked up spending the public uproar would stop them dead in their tracks. Instead, they borrow and hope nobody notices. And, so far, they’ve been right.

The Cato Institute provides detailed information  about the federal debt (including the chart below).

Even when our country was deeply divided, during our bloodiest war 150 years ago, federal debt was a fraction of what it is now. Today, we’re eyeball to eyeball with a debt level that exceeds even the World War II era, when we were fighting for our survival on two fronts in a brutal war that ended with Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Here’s an unfortunate fact: Today, in Washington, neither party says ‘no more debt.’ The debt has continued to rise for years no matter whether Democrats or Republicans held the White House or majorities in Congress.

We’ve seen this tragedy play out before in history and it never ends well. But there is one glimmer of light, one way to stop Washington politicians piling up debt: State legislators can step up and send forward a Constitutional Amendment to require Congress to balance the federal budget. The same type amendment many states – including North Carolina – already have.

Washington politicians won’t solve this problem. They’ll continue to borrow more every day. It’s time the people told them, Stop!

 

 

 

A Way Around Washington Politicians

Two things Washington politicians love: Getting reelected. And spending money. And since they have more political power than anyone else it’s hard to see a way to stop them in Washington – but there is a glimmer of hope outside Washington.

We just witnessed an example in the State House.

U.S. Term Limits is asking state legislators to call a limited constitutional convention that would do one and only one thing: Pass a Term Limits Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

And the Compact for a Balanced Budget is asking state legislators to call another constitutional convention to do just one thing: Pass a Balanced Budget Amendment.

Two conventions. Each limited to just one vote. On one issue. And that’s it.

A few days ago North Carolina House Speaker Tim Moore sponsored legislation to call a constitutional convention to pass Term Limits. His bill passed.  It’s no surprise every Democrat on the House floor that day voted against Term Limits. It is a bit of a surprise six Republicans did.

One Republican explained most people “have somebody who they’d keep voting for until Jesus comes” – and he didn’t want to stop them. That’s straightforward. But does voting for a Congressman until Jesus comes matter more than curbing Washington politicians’ spending?

Another Republican said he was worried a limited convention could stray onto other issues – but under Speaker Moore’s bill North Carolina’s delegates would be bound by state law to only vote on one thing: Term Limits.

In addition, at a constitutional convention, each state has one vote. Wyoming has one vote, New York has one vote, North Carolina has one vote. Republicans now control state legislatures in 31 states, Democrats 19.

Last year a poll showed 73% of North Carolina’s voters support Term Limits: 79% of the Republicans, 71% of the Independents, 68% of the Democrats. And every Democrat on the State House floor – the day Speaker Moore introduced his bill – is now on record voting against Term Limits.

Class War

Crises like coronavirus and unprecedented numbers of private sector workers out of work fuel fears and fears fuel anger so it’s natural we’re seeing protests that mirror those emotions.

Now, in any crowd of emotional protestors it’s simple to video clips of bad behavior – then, if you flash a few trigger words,  like ‘Nazis,’ with those videos of angry protestors, you have the Washington Democrats’ recipe for firing up ‘their base,’ getting hits on donate buttons, and reelecting Governor Cooper.

The Democratic Governors Association did just that in its new ad telling viewers that unemployed workers protesting against Governor Cooper’s shutdown orders are dangerous for North Carolina.

Let’s put politics aside for a moment and look at a couple hard facts: over a million North Carolina workers have lost their jobs. And, a month later, many of them never received their first unemployment check. Why? Mismanagement of Governor Cooper’s Division of Employment Security. And if an unemployed worker tries to call the Cooper Administration to find out what he must do to get his check, he may spend ten hours in phone-hold purgatory.

People don’t always express their fear, hurt, and anger well. It’s natural. If Governor Cooper did an experiment and suddenly stopped checks to government employees, I suspect we would see outbursts of anger dwarfing these protests.

Here’s the bigger question: What should the Governor be doing? Should he be exploiting the unemployment crisis with cheap political videos? Or should he be straightening out the mess at DES – and getting those unemployment checks out the door to people who need them?

Governor Cooper’s allies in Washington have given us their answer. But it won’t help a single worker.

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.