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The News & Observer headline Thursday (January 19) said “Wake school officials fear sticker shock.” I believe Raleigh Democrats are in for voter shock if they don’t wise up.

This month, Democrats on the City Council refused to even talk about using city revenues to meet school construction needs.

Fortunately, two Council Democrats – Jessie Taliaferro and Joyce Kekas – supported the idea. As did two Council Republicans.

The idea, predictably, has been ridiculed by “progressive” Democrats.

“Progressives” is what we liberals are supposed to call ourselves these days. I’m still a liberal. Which my dictionary defines as “generous…broad-minded.” That’s why I want the City Council – and especially the Democrats – to broaden their thinking.

Here is how this school-bond movie will go, in case you haven’t seen it before:

The County Commissioners, inevitably, will propose a big bond issue – accompanied by a big tax increase.

Opponents – led by opportunistic, irresponsible and public school-averse Republicans – will claim it’s all not necessary. They’ll say there’s too much waste in the schools. They’ll point to the transportation fraud criminals. They’ll find plenty of examples.

“Progressive” Democrats – who love taxes, unlike us Jeffersonian liberals – will be on the defensive. Unless they’re lucky, they’ll get crushed at the polls.

And it will be more than a bond referendum. An anti-tax and anti-spending tide will wash over into the City Council and Mayor’s races.

Just as Tom Fetzer did a decade ago, a smart Republican candidate (probably one listening to my sparring partner, Carter Wrenn) will hammer on the city spending money on hotels and convention centers downtown – instead of roads and schools. And get elected.

This train is coming. It’s time for smart Democrats to get in front of it. And not by tying themselves to the tracks.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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One of the School Board Financial Advisory Board members has come out for something called an Adequate Public Facilities ordinance (ADF) – which sounds like a good-old-fashioned impact fee.

Now that’s wrong with that?

First, it’s a hidden tax. The county slaps a big fee on developers – but whoever buys what the developer sells – like a house – ultimately pays the tax. But they never see that they pay it – because the government technically charges the fee to the developer.

In other words APF’s are a sneaky way to tax a lot of people – without them ever seeing the tax come out of their paycheck. Taxes ought to be billed to the people who really pay them so they know what government is costing them. That’s the best way to hold taxes down.

Second, APF’s can be implemented and raised by local governments at will. They don’t need the legislature’s approval like many other local tax increases. They don’t need voter approval like a bond.

Can you imagine Mayor Meeker with that kind of taxing power in his hands? Lord knows what he’d try to build downtown to go with the Convention Center, hotel, supermarket and restaurant he’s already building with tax funds.

It may sound good – and in the short term some politicians will make hay – by saying let’s sock it to the developers. But if the politicians really want to raise taxes what they ought to do is say, ‘Let’s raise taxes,’ and tell us how much rather than sneaking in the back door with hidden fees.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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It seems like there’s a new scandal erupting in Washington about every day.

The News and Observer reports (January 12, 2006) court documents filed last Wednesday show Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson demanded bribes “in exchange for his help in promoting a pair of business deals in Africa.” Jefferson’s former legislative director already pleaded guilty.

All this on top of the Abramoff scandal.

I read the other day where the former head of one of the government ethic departments in Washington said the system we have today amounts to ‘legalized bribery.’

And we’ve got our problems right here in North Carolina, too.

Representative Deborah Ross has introduced a bill to prohibit politicians from putting campaign funds in their pockets. That’s fine. But it’s not enough.

There’s a great story about Sir Lancelot. Sir Lancelot was captured by these four beautiful sorceresses. They told him he had to marry one of them. Then each of them set out to entice him into picking her.

One offered him wealth.

Another sex.

Another love.

The fourth offered him power and said if he had power he could get the other three for himself.

I don’t think a whole lot of politicians are actually taking outright bribes. They like a few perks – like trips to five star resorts and dinners at five star restaurants. But what they really want is power and what usually happens is they trade something they can do for someone for the cash to get reelected and keep that power.

It may be perfectly legal but it reeks to high heaven because what it amounts to is the same as bribery – government is for sale.

What the legislators need to do to pass real ethics reform is simple. No corporation, no lobbyist, no one wanting a government contract, no one wanting a government subsidy or special tax break to enrich themselves should be able to contribute to a politician who has the power to help them.

That will be a big step toward ending legal bribery.

Posted in: General
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That doesn’t sound too bad. People have a right to sincerely change opinions. But in this case I feel there’s another tried and true political tradition at work here. Mr. Gurley has not become a moderate so much as he’s become an insider.

Like a lot of people who get elected he’s heard the siren-call of sweet government and switched sides. For instance, Mr. Gurley says “he has come to understand that it is more effective to work behind the scenes.” That’s political double speak. It translates like this: Let’s make deals behind the scenes and the less the public knows the better.

That doesn’t sound particularly moderate.

Mr. Gurley also switched sides of funding the downtown Convention Center (he was against it before the election, he’s come to see it’s a wonderful thing now) and that’s one of the problems with ‘insiders’ – what they usually do best is give other people’s money away.

Mayor Meeker is a big insider. He’s using tax money to fund or pay for a hotel, a supermarket and a restaurant.

Let’s hope Mr. Gurley doesn’t get that carried away.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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Chris Matthews seems to have uncovered a golden nugget about lobbying laws in Washington.

He says current law restricts how much a lobbyist can spend on dinner with a member of Congress or a Senator. But there is no limit on how much the same lobbyist can spend buying the honorables liquor.

Just another sign that Washington has its priorities clear.

Posted in: General
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Raleigh and Washington aren’t the only capitals where politicians are scrambling to get in front of the ethics reform train.

Tennessee’s legislature is meeting this week in a special session. It was called after four state legislators were caught up in an FBI bribery sting operation – called Tennessee Waltz.

As a long-ago politician was once quoted as saying in a similar situation, “boys, we’ve got to look like we’re doing something about this.”

In Tennessee, a bipartisan committee drew up a package of reforms. It includes new conflict-of-interest rules, an independent ethics commission and new reporting requirements for campaign donations and lobbyists’ spending.

Posted in: General
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Here’s the outrage of the week. Two of them.

Mayor Meeker has given us a downtown Convention Center, a downtown hotel and a new up-scale downtown supermarket – all funded, subsidized or paid for by taxpayers.

Now he’s giving us a ritzy, white-tablecloth fine cuisine downtown restaurant – at a cost to taxpayers of $1,000,000. This time he’s even made other restaurant owners downtown angry, who say taxpayers – thanks to Mayor Meeker – are subsidizing their competitors. (By the way, Mayor Meeker also voted against even considering using a dollar of Raleigh taxpayers’ money to help build schools.)

The School Board

The School Board just announced it’s going to need $5 billion for education.

Ashley Hawkins is a senior at Southeast Raleigh High School. She has a 3.67 grade point average, she’s on the track team, the Student Council, her teachers say she’s an outstanding young woman and she is just two courses from graduation.

So, what did the school Board do to prove its dedication to education (while it’s asking for that $5 billion)?

It booted Ms. Hawkins out of school. It seems her mother moved to Pennsylvania and Ashley stayed here with an uncle so she could graduate in May.

When the News and Observer asked the School Board about this, its spokesman replied with true bureaucrateze “…policy requires us to act.”

How about that.

Ms. Hawkins would still be out of school and wondering if she was going to graduate except for one thing.

The News and Observer printed her story on the front page of the newspaper.

Then the School Board managed to find an exemption to its policy in three days.

Posted in: General, Raleigh
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Republicans want to make an issue out of the recent state gas tax increase. They’re shocked – shocked, mind you – at a 2.8 cent tax hike. But they’re unbothered that the oil companies raised the price 15 cents.

They’re missing the real problem here.

I agree with an opinion piece that ran in the Charlotte Observer:

Is it outrageous to have the sixth highest gas tax if you have to maintain the second largest network of roads in the country? North Carolina maintains more than 78,000 miles of roadway, second to Texas.

Here’s something drivers really should be annoyed about. Not all of the gas taxes you’re paying go to roads. The state regularly takes millions in gas taxes for the general fund, diverting them from highway needs to help balance the budget….

Meanwhile, Raleigh is begging the state to build the rest of its I-540 loop as a toll road. Otherwise it won’t be finished until after 2030.

I also like what Joseph Freddoso, chairman of the Regional Transportation Alliance, wrote in The N&O:

There’s no doubt North Carolinians have endured their share of pain at the pump. However, we must face the reality that saving three cents on a gallon of gas now isn’t worth adding to a $3 billion underinvestment in mobility. If there is a call for a special session of the legislature, let it be on an issue that can make a true difference in both the short- and long-term: preserving transportation taxes solely for transportation and mobility improvements. Don’t suspend the gas tax increase — end the diversions of the public’s transportation tax and fee investments.

Posted in: General, Issues, Raleigh
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Here’s all you need to know about George Bush’s depth.

Last week he invited to the White House an all-star crew of old Washington foreign-policy and defense gurus – all the way back to Robert McNamara and Mel Laird, for Pete’s sake.

Ostensible purpose: a useful exchange of views on Iraq.

The discussion with Bush lasted about 10 minutes, according to The New York Times.

Then W. had everybody line up for a group photo. And then he was out of there – on his way to do some mountain biking, no doubt. Leaving the Big Guys (and one Gal, Madeline Albright) to talk with his staff.

Of course, given all the mess that crowd has kept us in the last 40 years, maybe I shouldn’t complain.

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Bill Graham, the NC GOP’s new poster boy (and, apparently, John Edwards wannabe) has jumped on the 2.8 cent increase in the state gas tax. He wants to ride it to statewide office.

Democrats in the legislature are so nervous they created a special committee to look into “the state’s largest gas tax increase in 16 years.” Thereby giving Mr. Graham exactly the publicity he sought.

One problem, according to The News & Observer’s account of the hearing:

“Several oil industry representatives were asked whether consumers would benefit if the recent tax increase were repealed.

“Gary Harris, executive vice president of the N.C. Petroleum Marketers Association, said there is no guarantee prices at the pump would decrease 2.8 cents if the tax hike is repealed.”

Let’s get this straight. The gas tax went up 2.8 cents a gallon. The price of gas went up 15 cents. The oil companies say the price may stay up – even if the tax goes down.

And Mr. Graham is attacking the tax? What about the oil companies?

Well, that apparently would violate his Republican principles.

As the Bible says, “And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”

Posted in: General
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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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