In case you missed it, be sure to check out reporter Bruce Siceloff’s story in this morning’s edition of Raleigh’s News & Observer in which he explores the behind-closed-doors decision of unnamed state lawmakers to deep six the Triangle’s developing plans for a traffic-busting light rail system.

Siceloff quotes one of the legislature’s longest-serving and most influential conservative lawmakers, Rep. Paul Stam on Wake County as professing not to know the origins of the provision.

To which all a body can say in response is “give us a break.” Stam is either remarkably inept at his job or being remarkably dishonest. That something so important to his home county could be inserted without his knowledge or participation simply defies logic.

Speaking of inept, Governor McCrory comes off once again as utterly incompetent in the story — blasting the provision that he himself signed into law.

The bottom line: As is noted in this morning’s Weekly Briefing, the light rail killer is just the latest in a long line of recent anti-environmental provisions rammed through the General Assembly by conservative legislators and their buddies in the polluter lobby. Perhaps even more importantly, however, it is also a classic example of corrupt, secretive and unaccountable government at its worst.

You’d think a group of ideologues so cocksure of their twisted ideology as the current legislative leadership is would at least have the courage to stand beside their actions.

Sadly and quite pathetically, this is not the case.


Senate leaders repeatedly dismissed legitimate complaints from Democrats about the secret and rushed budget process during the floor debate Monday afternoon. Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger said the hundreds of pages of special provisions were no big deal, that 99 percent of them had been discussed for three months or more.

That’s ridiculous of course. Many of the provisions were never discussed in open committees where the public and rank and file senators–who each represent just as many people as Berger—had an opportunity to weigh in.

This morning’s News & Observer reports on one secret provision stuffed into the massive budget bill that would deal what the story accurately described as a “crippling blow” to a planned light-rail line from Durham to Chapel Hill.

The prospect of a light-rail cap never came up when House and Senate leaders developed their separate budgets this year. The Republican-led legislature previously had clamped broader restrictions on funding for transit projects.

Even folks who misguidedly opposed mass transit can’t think we ought to make major transportation policy decision by secret budget provision.
It makes you wonder else has been secretly stuffed into the budget bill that legislative leaders are so determined to pass before everybody fully understands it.



ICYMI, the editorial page of the Greensboro News & Record pulled no punches this weekend in an editorial excoriating state senators for their last minute proposal to hamstring local governments when it comes to use of the sales tax for public services and structures at the local level. Here’s an excerpt from “Oddest idea yet”:

Republican state senators canceled a floor vote on a confusing sales-tax bill Thursday until they could get their stories straight. Which means it might not return.

Of all the heavy-handed directives the legislature has pushed down on local governments in the past couple of years — airport and water system takeovers, de-annexations, local redistrictings, elimination of privilege licenses — this one might be the most illogical.

The measure, which originated in the Senate Finance Committee without notice Wednesday, was presented as a means of giving counties additional tax flexibility. With voters’ approval, they could add to the local sales tax, designating revenue to schools or transportation projects.

But the strings attached tied everything in knots.

The legislation put restrictions on how new revenue could be spent — for education or for transportation, but not for both. It put a cap on the local sales-tax rate. And, perhaps most baffling, it required that if a county raised the sales-tax rate, it would have to raise it all the way to the cap….

The half-baked sales-tax bill, which also includes unrelated provisions boosting economic development efforts, was yanked from the calendar before the Senate adjourned for the weekend. Senators will return to Raleigh Monday, but the wacky sales-tax proposals ought to vanish as quickly as they appeared.

For more information on the proposal in question, click here for succinct summary.


Lunch links 2

It’s only Tuesday but another week of obstruction and political hostage-taking by American conservatives is well underway. As I noted in last Wednesday’s Weekly Briefing column on the far right’s nullification/secession movement, however, there’s a heck of a lot more than just the Affordable Care Act these folks want to repeal. Ari Berman at The Nation has more on this subject in a new article published online today.

And speaking of obstructionism, conservatives in the U.S. Senate continue to block numerous qualified individuals from even receiving up or down votes on their nominations by the President – whether it’s half-year long blockade on Congressman Mel Watt’s nomination to serve as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency , Richard Burr’s stonewalling of Jennifer May-Parker’s nomination to serve as a federal judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina or the ongoing filibuster to prevent three highly-qualified Obama nominees from serving on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Happily, Senate Majority Leader Reid has filed a cloture petition on the filibuster of D.C. Circuit nominee Patricia Millett. Let’s hope it works.  

And speaking of maddening delays of the kind that would make cable providers proud, Read More

Falling Behind in NC, NC Budget and Tax Center

North Carolina’s transportation system helps form vital social and economic structures by connecting people to services, jobs, and other opportunities across the state and beyond. Although North Carolina has been known as the Good Roads State, its transportation system is under considerable pressure due to aging infrastructure, increasing demand, and declining revenue sources that are failing to keep pace with rising costs to maintain and improve the system.

Just last August, the North Carolina Department of Transportation confirmed that there is a large and growing gap between transportation needs and funding. They released a report estimating that the state is facing a $60 billion shortfall for transportation improvements through 2040, and that the state needs to come up with $32 billion just to keep the status quo. Ultimately, legislators control the purse strings as well as revenue options so solving this budget shortfall is largely up to them. Read More