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Well, that didn’t take long. Yesterday in this space, I wrote the following about the conclusion of the Dix land sale to the city of Raleigh:

“Though they were dragged kicking and screaming to the deal, the folks on the right wing remain unrepentant. Even as Raleigh moves toward the creation of a major public ‘destination park, the privatizers and conservative ideologues continue to push to dismantle all thing public — including institutions like parks, zoos and aquariums that ought to be forever public. Don’t think for a second that yesterday’s  success will stop that effort — either in North Carolina or around the country.”

Today, the folks at a local conservative think tank were only too happy to confirm the warning by distributing an essay in which they called for making North Carolina parks “pay their own way” via the initiation of an admission fee system. After that, of course, will come proposals to sell “naming rights” to state parks (get ready for “Duke Energy Park at Umstead” or “the Smithfield Foods Park on the Eno River”)  and then, of course, the big kahuna: full privatization.

A few years back in a column entitled “Vending machine government,” I laid out what this is really all about:

“These ideologues simply hate the idea of a strong, well-funded government in which the people come together democratically and intentionally to a tackle society’s problems. Instead, they favor a weak, decentralized, privatized government modeled after our modern, consumerist private economy.

Rather than a system in which citizens hire and empower a corps of skilled and well-funded professionals to help them build a better society for all, the market fundamentalists want a government in which ‘consumers’ ‘shop’ for services and public institutions ‘compete’ for ‘customers.’

Hence, the moves to privatize pre-K and K-12 education, jack up college and university tuition, add new toll roads, eliminate public financing of campaigns, defund public health care, and enact a new package of fee increases that will extract nearly $100 million annually from persons who ‘consume’ things like services of the court system and driver’s education.”

Sadly, as this latest proposal makes clear, nothing has changed. The Right still hates the idea of strong public institutions that are free to all and remains bent on their elimination — even if they have to nickel and dime them to death.

Commentary

Dix campusYesterday’s once-and-for-all, final approval of the Dorothea Dix campus land sale to the city of Raleigh ought to remind progressives of a couple of important facts about the state of modern politics.

First is that there’s still lots of room for intentional public action in shaping the society we want to inhabit. Sure, the Dix property could have been sold off for condos as so many folks on Right Wing Avenue would have liked. The “market” could have had its way with the property and life in the capital city would have gone on, albeit in a diminished state. But, now, thanks to the vision of some inspired people and the loud and repeated demands of thousands of average citizens, the entire community will benefit for decades (maybe even centuries) to come as a result of a modest and collective upfront sacrifice.

If ever there was a classic example of how “the people” banning together can lift up the common good and public solutions and thereby triumph over the forces of greed and privatization, this is one. The Dix deal isn’t perfect (the state continues to do far too little for people with mental illness and disabilities) but it is clearly far superior to what we would have gotten had the decision been left to the market fundamentalists.

That said, the second lesson is this: Though they were dragged kicking and screaming to the deal, the folks on the right wing remain unrepentant. Even as Raleigh moves toward the creation of a major public “destination park,” the privatizers and conservative ideologues continue to push to dismantle all thing public — including institutions like parks, zoos and aquariums that ought to be forever public. Don’t think for a second that yesterday’s  success will stop that effort — either in North Carolina or around the country.

The bottom line: Let’s hope the Dix victory reminds progressives of two things: 1) the power they have when people band together for the common good and 2) the need to redouble their efforts going forward in the battle with those who would sell off our government.

News

One day after Governor Pat McCrory announced the state would sell the Dorothea Dix campus to Raleigh, at least two state Senators voiced reservations about the deal.

Mitchell County Senator Ralph Hise told WRAL-TV the $52 million transaction was “on the lower end” of what would be acceptable.

Senator Louis Pate told the Raleigh News & Observer he has his own concerns:

“I don’t know that the state is in a better position or not, the way this agreement reads,” said Pate, who represents parts of Lenoir, Pitt and Wayne counties. “I think we need to sit back and take a long look at it before we put our stamp on it.”

Legislators won’t need to put their stamp on the deal, that will be up to the NC Council of State. However Senators could intervene, as they did when then-Governor Beverly Perdue first sold the Dix property to Raleigh.

As the N&O reports:

…legislators could file a bill seeking to amend or revoke the deal, much as they did in 2013. Pate said he “can’t say” what legislative leaders might do, and it’s too soon to speculate on any action. Senate leader Phil Berger’s spokeswoman said he was still reviewing the deal Tuesday and had no comment.

Pate said his biggest concern is the price. While Gov. Pat McCrory said the $52 million will go toward mental health services, Pate says that amount “can be spent in a heartbeat around here .”

Sen. Hise says a decision to get involved in the deal really comes down to the Governor’s plans for relocating the state Health and Human Service workers, who are currently working on the Dix property.

For her part, Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane is optimistic this is a done deal, and the city can begin the planning process for the 308-acre “destination” park.

McFarlane is our guest this weekend on NC Policy Watch’s News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon. For a preview of that radio interview, click below:

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Uncategorized

Dix campusNow that the legislature’s “crossover” deadline has passed, committees are beginning to schedule bills that have already passed one house. A case in point: the hyper-controversial bill to reverse the Dix Park land deal between the state and the city of Raleigh.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing in the House Judiciary committee 15 minutes after the House adjourns this Wednesday. Looks like the House isn’t expecting that vague bit of public notice to keep interested people away. The notice says that “This meeting may last up to 2 hours.”

Uncategorized

One of the most frustrating parts of the General Assembly’s ongoing move to renege on the Dix Park deal has been the out-of-the-blue concern that has materialized from conservatives for persons with mental illness. After working for years to underfund and privatize essential services (often, admittedly, in tandem with shortsighted Democrats), all of a sudden, these folks are desperate to sell off Dix for condos to get money to fund services for persons in need.

Conservative State Rep. Jim Fulghum of Raleigh wrote a letter to Raleigh’s News & Observer over the weekend, however, protesting that he was no Johnny-come-lately to the cause of helping people with mental illness and that he both supported the Dix park and somehow restructuring the lease to help persons with mental illness. Let’s hope he’s sincere.

The problem, of course, is that even sincerity of this kind isn’t gonna’ solve the state’s mental health challenge. As veteran lobbyist Paula Wolf noted in a “letter” to Fulghum on her “Paulatics” blog yesterday, Read More