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Wake County School Superintendent Bill McNeal told the News and Observer, (5/16/06) he could never recommend a measly $625 million School Bond. McNeal said he couldn’t put kids in schools with adequate heating, air-conditioning and a roof that doesn’t leak for $625 million.


The superintendent is saying if he doesn’t get a billion dollar School Bond children are going to be sitting in classrooms freezing in the winter, burning up in the summer and with buckets on the floor to catch the rain from the leaky roof when there is a storm.

If that’s true – if Bill McNeal is telling the cold hard truth and not practicing a little political hyperbole – I don’t think the people of Wake County would deny him his billion dollars.

But is it true that $625 million means kids will be sitting in classrooms where the roof leaks? Either the School Board or the County Commissioners should ask McNeal to prove it. If he does voters will probably be inclined to pass his bonds.

But he does not – well, what do you do with a School Superintendent who engages in political hyperbole to frighten people to raise taxes?

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Posted in: General, Raleigh
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Under Muammar Qaddafi, Libya bombed a West German discotheque and blew up a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland and killed 270 people. In March, the United States included Libya on the list of nations that are state sponsors of terrorism.

Now, suddenly, all that has changed.

The Bush Administration has taken Libya off the list of terrorist nations and we’re re-establishing full diplomatic ties with Tripoli. The State Department says Libya has “destroyed its chemical weapons stockpiles and dismantled a secret nuclear weapons program.” (International Herald Tribune, 5/16/06). Which sounds impressive.

But consider this.

Mustapha Zaidi, one of Colonel Qaddafi’s spokesmen, greeted the State Department’s announcement by saying, “We encourage America on the path of cooperation and we hope we will cooperate together through cultural debate to spread democracy around the world together.”

Now, does anyone really think Colonel Qaddafi is serious when he says he wants to spread democracy?

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Posted in: General
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This is from Charles Sanders, chairman of the North Carolina Lottery Commission – and one of the most honest and capable people in North Carolina.

He was talking about indicted former commissioner Kevin Geddings, but could have been talking about a lot of people in politics today:

“I don’t understand how people like that get up in the morning and look themselves in the mirror, quite honestly.”

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The News and Observer and WRAL-TV polled to find out if the taxpayers would support a $625 million school bond (with no tax increase), a $998 million bond (with a tax increase) or a $1.15 billion bond (with an even bigger tax increase).

1. Voters opposed the $1.15 billion bond (with the biggest tax increase) 57% to 33%. Republicans and Independents opposed it overwhelmingly. Democrats were split. Parents with children in public schools opposed it 55% to 30%.

2. Voters also opposed the $998 million bond with a smaller tax increase: 59% to 27%. Democrats opposed it, Republicans opposed it, Independents opposed it.

3. Voters – overwhelmingly – supported a $625 million bond with no tax increase: 64% to 28%. Democrats, Republicans and Independents all favored it overwhelmingly, as did parents with children in public schools.

4. Voters also opposed increasing taxes on new homes (58% to 29%), a real estate transfer tax (56% to 37%) and a sales tax increase (46% to 42%).

There is not one instance in the poll where a majority of voters supported a tax increase to pay for school bonds. But the School Board passed a $1.06 billion bond/tax anyway.

Supporters of the taxes say, well, once we educate the voters that will change. But, in fact, the opposite seems to be happening. There have been three polls in recent months on the school bonds and it seems the more voters learn about the bonds – the more opposition to higher taxes increases.

It would appear voters feel they are educated now and that they have made up their minds.

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Posted in: General, Raleigh
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Members of the North Carolina House of Representatives – both Democrats and Republicans – showed this week that they just don’t get it.

They have no idea how little confidence the public has in them now.

The representatives passed a new ethics law, but did everything they could to protect themselves against any real change in how they do business.

According to Dan Kane of The News & Observer:

“House members voted for the revised law 114-3. But that was only after spending most of a three-hour debate watering down the bill and trying to make sure they would not be falsely accused of ethics violations.”

(They should worry instead about being accurately accused of watering down ethics regulations.)

Worse, Kane reported:

“The House bill would allow legislators to continue policing their own ethics.”

(That will give people confidence!)

The members also prescribed less stringent rules for themselves than for executive branch employees.

“In the executive branch bill, gifts worth more than $200 from non-family members, or more than $100 from anyone who does business with the state, would have to be reported. The amended bill for lawmakers would raise that to gifts of more than $1,000 and more than $500, respectively.”

(It must cost more to buy friends in the legislative branch.)

Fortunately for the Democrats, Republicans also voted for the weaker restrictions. Otherwise, we could count on losing our majority this fall.

But any incumbent who has real opposition in November may have dug themselves a deep hole. If I were their opponent, this would be my issue.

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I’ve not often had a kind word to say about Senate Democratic Majority Leader Tony Rand. I do today.

It seems hard to believe but House Speaker Jim Black has made Rand, the man who removed the crosses and Bibles from the Senate Chapel, look like a paragon of public virtue when it comes to ethics reform.

The fight on Ethics Reform in the State House boils down to this: Who is going to be the policeman? Who will enforce the rules, decide when they are broken and mete-out the punishment?

The House says the policeman should be, well, the House. Which, in effect, means Jim Black because Black, as Speaker, has iron-fist control of the House.

Of course, that makes a mockery of ethics reform because Black, the policeman, is one whose ethics – in the ‘pay to play’ scandals – are the issue.

Senator Rand, to his credit, is preparing Senate legislation that would set up an independent ethics committee to be the policeman over the House and Senate. We don’t know the details of Rand’s plan but that certainly beats putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

So, here’s a good word for Tony Rand.

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Here’s the State House version of Ethics Reform: Members can take secretly ‘gifts’ of up to $500 from people seeking favorable legislation. They can take bigger gifts if they report them.

Hard to believe?

Democrat Representative Verla Insko, who voted against the secret gifts said “she didn’t like the thought of being able to keep secrets gifts worth $499 from people seeking favorable legislation.” (News and Observer, 5/18/06)

Representative Drew Saunders, another Democrat who voted for them disagreed. Saunders said: “Even the baby Jesus accepted gifts, and I don’t think it corrupted him.” Now, if Representative Saunders were the baby Jesus we wouldn’t be worried about him being corrupted. But the problem is he’s not.

Here’s one more amazing fact. The corruption – under Democratic leadership – in the State House is a major issue Republicans should be speaking out on. What did they do? They lined up in a phalanx and voted for Jim Black’s version of ethics reform. Which, as Gary says in his blog, is certainly good news for the Democrats.

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I asked a retired friend, who occasionally serves as a substitute teacher, why the School Board was determined to push for a tax increase when three independent polls show it losing overwhelmingly.

He told me an interesting story about the dress code in the Wake County Schools. He said students ignore the dress code and administrators do nothing about it.

I said: Why?

He said: Because if they send the kids home for being dressed improperly the parents get mad and complain to the School Board.

He added: The School Board is afraid of the parents, the Administrators are afraid of the Board and the kids aren’t afraid of anyone.

Two hundred and fifty parents who oppose year-round schools – so students don’t lose their summer vacations – showed up at the School Board meeting Tuesday, demanded higher school taxes so there will be fewer new year-round schools. The Board promptly voted to spend another $58 million to satisfy them. That’s an average of $230,000 per parent present. Which has to make that one of the more successful demonstrations in history.

Two hundred and fifty parents may have looked like a ground swell of support to the School Board. But the parents and the School Board needed to understand that all of the polls about school bonds say one thing.

Every bond tested that includes a tax increase loses.

Most taxpayers in Wake County – roughly two-thirds of the people – don’t have children in public schools.

They are perfectly willing to support the schools with their tax money. But they also think it is reasonable to save $400 million by Wake County going to more year-round schools. In other words, it doesn’t make sense to spend $400 million so schools can sit vacant three months out of the year.

Doubtless, some parents view having to plan vacations during the three week breaks students get each quarter in year-round schools – rather than over the summer – as an inconvenience. No doubt it is.

But weigh that against the inconvenience of Wake County citizens paying $400 million in higher property taxes.

Politically, the School Board and the County Commissioners are between a rock and a hard place. Whatever they do they are going to make someone mad.

What those polls are saying loud and clear is they are going to make a lot more people mad – 64% of the people – by raising taxes to protect summer vacations.

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Posted in: General, Raleigh
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Wake County Manager David Cooke wants to increase property taxes three cents. The way the politicians describe this type of tax increase, they say it’s “only” a $45 increase on a $150,000 home. Let’s look a little closer.

On top of Mr. Cooke’s three-cent tax hike, the Wake County Board of Education wants a 3.9 cent increase to pay for new school bonds.

That’s a total increase of 6.9 cents in property taxes. The current Wake County property tax rate is 60.4 cents. If these new taxes pass the rate will go to 67.3 cents – that’s an 11% tax increase in one year.

If you live in the city of Raleigh, the news is worse. City Manager Russell Allen wants to increase city property taxes four cents – so he can increase city spending 11%. He also wants to raise water and sewer rates 9%. And the City Council has already raised taxes on new homes 78%. And you’re still going to get hit with the school bond tax.

The City’s current property tax rate is 43.5 cents. A four cent increase, plus a 3.9 cents school tax, will raise it to 51.4 cents – a whopping 18% increase.

From 1992 to 2001, under Republican mayors, Raleigh never raised property taxes. Now, under Mayor Meeker we are staring at the second tax increase in three years. What’s driving all these tax increases?

Well, in Raleigh, city government has gone on an unbridled spending spree. Under Mayor Meeker the City Council is spending money like there is no tomorrow.

And the Mayor has the votes on the Council to go right on spending. He has two almost certain allies in Russell Stephenson and Thomas Crowder. And he has three less certain but friendly allies in Democrats James West, Joyce Kekas and Jessie Taliaferro.

The city has built, is building, or is funding a $215 million Convention Center, a $40 million underground parking deck, a $20 million Marriott Hotel, a million dollar downtown restaurant and upscale supermarket. The list goes on and on.

Even the Republicans have voted for parts of this spending.

In a way, you can’t really fault Charles Meeker. He seems to want to spend every penny he can lay his hands on, but he never said he’d do anything else.

The problem is the muted response of the Republicans. What happened to the days when there were Republican leaders like Tom Fetzer who spoke out against unbridled spending? Fetzer stopped a $90 million Convention Center dead in its tracks by rallying voters. Many of the new crop of Republican leaders actually voted for a Convention Center that cost twice that much.

It’s time Republicans stopped being rubber stamps to Charles Meeker and started saying no.

They may – and almost certainly will – lose a lot of votes in the City Council. They will make other Council members mad. But they may also make a lot of people – like the 64% of the voters who oppose raising taxes for school bonds – happy. And they may give them something they don’t have now – a good reason to vote for Republicans next year in the elections.

There are already encouraging signs. Republican Councilman Phil Isley recently proposed to cut funding for one of Mayor Meeker’s pet projects – the Triangle Transit Authority’s lite-rail boondoggle – rather than raise taxes.

It’s up to the Republicans to make Mayor Meeker’s spending spree – and his tax increases – an issue in the next election. No one else will do it.

They should start now.

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Posted in: General, Raleigh
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President Bush’s immigration speech showed just how far he has fallen.

And it happened when – in my opinion – he actually is trying to do the right thing. (There, that’s my nod to bipartisanship this week.)

On gay rights, Bush is the monkey to the right-wing organ grinders. Even though Laura disagrees – publicly!

On immigration, Bush actually has the instinct to stand up to the talk radio blowhards.

But he doesn’t have the political heft to do it.

Instead, he spends most of his speech begging the right-wingers to please believe that he’s not for “amnesty.”

Amnesty, by the way, has been a political poison pill since Nixon’s CREEP fed it to McGovern in 1972: “Acid, Amnesty and Abortion.”

Bush had to grovel even more. He had to promise to call out the National Guard, which is already so overstretched in Iraq it couldn’t help Katrina victims.

The most bitter pill of all: About the only kind words for Bush – “courageous” – came from Ted Kennedy.

Bush’s ratings are falling faster than the stock market is rising.

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Carter & Gary
Carter Wrenn
Gary Pearce
The Charlotte Observer says: “Carter Wrenn and Gary Pearce don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. But they both love North Carolina and know its politics inside and out.”
Carter is a Republican. 
Gary is a Democrat.
They met in 1984, during the epic U.S. Senate battle between Jesse Helms and Jim Hunt. Carter worked for Helms and Gary, for Hunt.
Years later, they became friends. They even worked together on some nonpolitical clients.
They enjoy talking about politics. So they started this blog in 2005. 
They’re still talking. And they invite you to join the conversation.
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