Editorial: Tax and service cuts aren’t the answer to North Carolina’s economic challenges

The Fayetteville Observer makes some excellent points in this morning’s editorial — “N.C. economy strong, but only in a few key places.” The central message: The conservative strategy of simply slashing taxes and services and then claiming that improving conditions in big metro areas driven by national trends amount to a “Carolina Comeback” is off-base. Here’s the Observer:

“The governor and many of his cabinet members are trumpeting this state’s economic resurgence as they head down the trail into what will be a hard-fought 2016 election.

And there’s no doubt that some of our numbers are good: Unemployment is falling steadily, even as jobs are created by new and expanding businesses and industries.

But what they’re not saying is important too: Most of that economic growth is limited to the Triangle and Charlotte, and growth outside those thriving centers is more anemic.”

After citing conservative economist Mike Walden’s decidedly-less-than rosy report from the other day for the proposition that more assertive action is required from state leaders, the editorial concludes this way:

“Job expansion is occurring in the low-paying service industries and in the lucrative ‘analytical and problem-solving occupations.’ That latter kind of job isn’t growing much in North Carolina, save around the Triangle and Charlotte. In cities like Fayetteville, though – and especially across most of our rural areas – the only job growth is among the low-wage occupations.

Unfortunately, we’re the poster child for a troublesome national trend. As Walden put it, ‘North Carolina can be viewed as “ground zero” for the seismic shifts that are happening in the economy.’

How does this state combat those shifts? It can start by making sure advanced technology – like ‘gigabit’ internet service – is available across the state, especially in small towns. It can help cities and towns develop in ways that attract the ‘creative class’ and the ‘knowledge industry.’ And it can offer better support to the arts, culture and especially to education at every level, because that’s how we attract the high-paying industries we want, and how we produce the workers those industries need.

We used to do that in North Carolina. Time to get back to it.”

In other words, market fundamentalist tax cuts and widespread disinvestment in public structures and services ain’t gonna get the job done. North Carolina needs a systematic, intentional plan in which public investments, structures and services boost economic growth — especially in the parts of the state being left behind.


How you can tell McCrory has already lost on HB2

silver_mccroryGov. Pat McCrory’s attempt to go all macho and Trump-like the other day by dismissing the NBA’s decision to move the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte as “PC BS” was clearly designed appeal to a certain demographic. The Guv has quite obviously decided that his best hope to re-energize support for his governorship is to appeal to his conservative base — especially white men who use terms like “PC BS.”

Unfortunately for the Guv, there are a number of powerful new signals from an important part of that base that it ain’t gonna work.

I speak in this case of the world of sports, where happily, it turns out things are not frozen in 1976 as McCrory was hoping. How do we know? Well, read and listen. See what sportswriters and coaches and players are saying.

When you take such a look, you find comments like those of normally conservative coaches Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski (who called the law “embarrassing”) and N.C. State’s Mark Gottfried (“I don’t understand how someone can support this”). And you find sports journalists like the News & Observer’s Luke DeCock who called on the ACC to follow the NBA’s lead this weekend, ESPN’s Gene Wojciechowski who loudly derided McCrory Sunday morning on ESPN’s The Sport Reporters and Wojciechowski’s fellow ESPN’er Pablo Torre who issued his own takedown of HB2 last week.

All these guys may be high profile, but they sure aren’t card carrying lefty do-gooders. They’re just sports guys who realize that they reside in the 21st Century.

In other words, much as McCrory might want it to be true, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s decision wasn’t some weird outlier move by a detached figure from the “sports and entertainment elite” as the Guv so lamely alleged. It was the action of a leader who has his finger right on the pulse of his constituents and who was doing exactly what the majority of the informed people in the sports world wanted and demanded.

Amazing as it may seem, hate and exclusion toward LGBT people has rapidly gone out of fashion in the United States — even in the ultra-macho world of sports. Unfortunately, for Pat McCrory, he appears to have missed the memo.


Charlotte Observer sportswriter swings and misses with comments about failed HB2 “compromise”

Scott Fowler is a fine sportswriter for the Charlotte Observer and he’s right on the money this morning when he opines that:

“I won’t retrace all the steps this depressing saga has taken, but I would agree with Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s recent comment that House Bill 2 is an ’embarrassing’ bill. The way HB2 limits protection for LGBT individuals is a stain on our state. It makes us seem intolerant and foolish.”

Unfortunately, Fowler then goes on in the same column (which is featured on the “front page” of the Observer website) to betray an obvious lack of understanding of the law and the political situation in North Carolina. According to Fowler, both sides in the dispute over HB2 should be ashamed for failing to “compromise.”

“Both sides simply entrenched themselves deep inside their own foxholes. You would think they were trying to negotiate the end of a world war with how impossible so many people made it seem to forge a reasonable compromise. Of course a compromise could have happened.

You can have a backbone and still be able to bend.”

This is nonsense for several reasons.

First off is the matter of the political situation in North Carolina. HB2 was passed by an overwhelmingly Republican legislature and signed by a Republican governor into law in 12 hours. Not only was there no compromise when it was passed; there wasn’t even any discussion with opponents. Raleigh is a long way from Charlotte so Fowler may have missed the fact that essentially all of the power to decide what would happen to HB2 resided with three men — Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, House Speaker Tim Moore and Governor Pat McCrory. The law was their creation and they always held (and still hold) all the cards to decide whether it would be repealed or amended.  To claim that opponents of the law were ever at all responsible for some “failure to compromise” is preposterous.

Second, is the notion that “compromise” was or is even possible. What exactly would that “compromise” look like Scott? About the only thing getting any discussion at all in the waning days of the 2016 legislative session was the milquetoast idea that the matter would be “studied” in the months ahead and that the law would remain on the books, essentially unchanged. What the hell kind of a compromise is that? Apparently, Fowler believes that the opponents of HB2 should, after having been run over multiple times by the authors of the law, have acquiesced to and endorsed a plan that offered little more than a promise to discuss the matter until after the All-Star game (i.e. a point in time at which much of the political pressure for change would have evaporated). If Fowler thinks there should have been some “compromise,” he needs to speak up and say exactly what it would/should have entailed.

That Fowler then goes on to quote, unquestioningly, Hornets owner Michael Jordan’s inaccurate assertion that “There was an exhaustive effort from all parties to keep the event in Charlotte” give further evidence that Fowler’s not paying attention. Jordan may want to be nice to everyone involved, but the fact of the matter is that there was no “exhaustive effort” by the authors of HB2 to reach a compromise. Their plan was and remains to keep the law on the books for as long as the possibly can.

The bottom line: Fowler is playing a game here that too many sportswriters are allowed to get away with (though not often on the front page of the news section). He’s purporting to criticize actors in a political/policy debate for not “working things out” (and thereby ruining his fun) without really understanding the details of the issue or the actors involved.

While Fowler’s pain and frustration are certainly understandable (heck, lots of North Carolinians feel that way about the loss of the game), that is, ultimately, the reason for the NBA’s action: to inflict punishment on our state for its outrageous and discriminatory actions via one of the few tools at its disposal. No doubt, many South Africans felt frustrated back in the day when international sports competitions boycotted their country because of apartheid and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. Fortunately, those bodies and others kept up the pressure until change was achieved. It will happen here too — hopefully in time for the 2019 All-Star Game.


BREAKING: All-Star Game pulled from Charlotte

In case you’re not watching the Twitter hubbub this afternoon, the NBA has apparently decided to make good on its threat and move the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte in response to HB2. This is from Yahoo Sports:

“Without any movement by state legislators in North Carolina to change newly enacted laws targeted at the LGBT community, the NBA is pulling the 2017 All-Star Game out of Charlotte, league sources told The Vertical.

The NBA is focused on the New Orleans’ Smoothie King Center as the host for All-Star Weekend and the All-Star Game on Feb. 19, league sources told The Vertical.

For now, there are still other cities trying to lure the All-Star Game, sources said.

A formal announcement on the NBA’s withdrawal out of Charlotte is expected as soon as this week, league sources said Thursday.”

Click here to read the entire story.

Commentary, News

Report: North Carolina #5 nationwide for solar per capita, but it’s under increasing attack

Solar powerThe good people at Environment North Carolina are out with a new report on the ongoing growth of solar energy in our state that is, at once, hopeful and somewhat worrisome. While solar is growing fast and is overwhelmingly popular with average citizens and small businesses, state lawmakers and powerful utility interests are advancing policies that could stymie its growth.

This is from the media release that accompanied the report today:

With roughly 4 solar panels for every 5 people, as of the end of last year North Carolina has more solar power capacity per capita than all but 4 others nationwide. But the Tar Heel State’s solar stature is under increasing attack by Duke Energy and their allies.

In fact, the state’s experience, detailed in Environment North Carolina Research & Policy Center’s latest ranking of state solar capacity, is part of a growing trend: the places where solar is booming the most are those where utility interests are attacking it the hardest.

“The more solar grows here in North Carolina and around the country, the more big utilities, like Duke Energy, and their allies in the General Assembly try to stop it,” said Liz Kazal, Environment North Carolina Field Director. “Even in the face of strong public support for pollution-free energy, lawmakers and others are working to undermine the policies that have helped us become solar leaders.”

The study’s top states for solar capacity per capita — Nevada, Hawaii, California, Arizona, North Carolina, New Jersey, Vermont, New Mexico, Massachusetts and Colorado – have long held in common pro-clean energy policies, such as strong net metering programs and interconnection standards.

But the inducements for growing numbers of homes, businesses and schools to go solar are increasingly under attack by utilities, who view distributed clean energy generation as a direct threat to their business model. Read more