Commentary

Two fine essays sum up the dreadful state of affairs at the General Assembly

In case you missed them, a pair of fine essays — one a weekend Charlotte Observer/News & Observer editorial and the other an op-ed by UNC law professor Gene Nichol that was featured in this morning’s N&O — do a great job of capturing the toxic essence of the 2019 General Assembly.

After pointing out the destructive folly of Trump’s giveaway to corporate America at the national level, the two McClatchy editorial boards put it this way in “The verdict is in on NC tax cuts. They’re not working.”:

This umpteenth example of the false promise of trickle-down economics raises anew questions about North Carolina’s aggressive cutting of corporate taxes. The Republican-led General Assembly started phasing in tax cuts in 2013 that now cost about $3.6 billion a year in lost revenue. The estate tax was eliminated and the progressive income tax was reduced to a flat tax, but the most dramatic cut was a reduction in the corporate tax rate. Since 2013 it has been reduced from a high of 6.9 percent — then the highest in the Southeast — to 2.5 percent today. Among 44 states that have a corporate tax, North Carolina’s is the lowest.

What has been the effect? State employees, teachers and state services have certainly felt the reduction in state revenue. But the boom that was supposed to come with making the state more “business friendly” hasn’t happened. The economy has grown as the state’s population has increased and the national economic recovery has lifted all states, but North Carolina’s mix of tax cuts and spending austerity has produced more pain than gain.

Michael Mazerov, senior fellow with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute based in Washington, D.C., analyzed data for North Carolina’s job growth and overall economic growth since passage of the tax cuts. His conclusion: “Looking back to when (the cuts) started at the end of 2013, the state has underperformed most of its neighbors in terms of overall economic growth as measured by GDP.”

“…The bottom line is that North Carolina, like Kansas before it, has shown that cutting taxes does not have much, if any, positive impact on job creation,” Mazerov said.

Gene Nichol

Jeff Jackson

Nichol’s essay (“The arrogance of abusive power in NC”) is an indictment of the abusive behavior that Republican leaders have made their trademark in running state government in recent years. In it, he lauds the recent speech of Democratic state senator Jeff Jackson, who challenged Republicans to have an “up or down” vote on a budget veto override and who was then responded to with churlish — even juvenile — behavior from his GOP colleagues in the Senate. Here’s the conclusion:

“Republican Sen. Jerry Tillman of Randolph County then rose, with a sneer on his face, asking “for a moment of personal privilege.” Facing Jackson, Tillman said:

“I might expect some criticism about calling the vote from many people. But you’d be the last one to advise me on that. I don’t believe we need your advice on when to call the vote. We’ll call the vote at the right time. I hope you’ll miss it. But nevertheless we’ll call it.”

When Tillman said “I hope you’ll miss it” the Republican senators erupted in derisive laughter. Jackson stood tall. The Republicans oozed slime. Sen. Berger deemed Jackson’s opposition to vote manipulation “infantile.” Watch the tape. Decide which camp disgusts.

It might be helpful to recall that this Republican General Assembly has repeatedly been found by every kind of court in the land – federal, state, trial, appellate, Republican, Democrat and bi-partisan – to have boldly and deliberately abused its power and prerogative. Judges have consistently determined that Republican leaders have lied about proffered justifications for their constitutionally violative schemes. On the House side, they misled and cheated their Democratic colleagues to get an override vote. And both chambers have forced Tar Heel taxpayers to pay millions of dollars to defend their illicit ventures in federal and state tribunals. Yet they remain, apparently, unchastened.

Tillman’s profane arrogance is, of course, his own. His leader, and his Republican colleagues, no doubt, enjoyed sharing the fun. But this dishonorable train wreck demeans us all, not just the Republican senators who demonstrated how despicable they can be.

We can’t allow the nation to believe, one minute longer, that this represents North Carolina.”

Environment

Because of PFAS contamination, Gray’s Creek Elementary to remain on bottled water

Inside the Sweeney water treatment plant at the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority. Although levels of GenX have decreased over the past two years since Chemours stopped discharging the compound into the Cape Fear River, water entering the plant is still contaminated with 1,4-Dioxane and PFAS from upstream industrial discharge. (File photo: Lisa Sorg)

Students at Gray’s Creek Elementary School will remain on bottled water for at least another six months after recent tests showed drinking water wells contained perfluorinated compounds — PFAS — and GenX.

Chemours tested the drinking water well in late October at the request of the Cumberland County School system. Samples results show GenX levels of 6 parts per trillion and two individual PFAS levels of  34 ppt and 13 ppt.

DEQ has advised people not to drink water with PFAS levels of above 10 ppt for a single compound or a combined total of 70 ppt. The NC Department of Health and Human Services has set a health advisory goal of 140 ppt for GenX.

Exposure to PFAS and GenX have been linked to kidney and testicular cancer, high cholesterol, high blood pressure during pregnancy, thyroid disorders, low birth weight and other health problems.

Gray’s Creek enrolls more than 400 students in Pre-K through fifth grade; it lies five miles north of Chemours, in Hope Mills.

The school has been on bottled water since 2017, when GenX at levels of 5 ppt were initially detected in the drinking water wells.

A Chemours spokeswoman said the company is working with Cumberland County Schools and DEQ to quickly determine the most effective and feasible replacement drinking water system for Gray’s Creek Elementary School.

As part of a consent order with DEQ and Cape Fear River Watch, Chemours must provide and maintain permanent water systems to any public building, including schools, whose water is contaminated with GenX or PFAS. The most recent sampling results now require Chemours to provide a permanent alternate water system within six months. Until that time, the school will remain on bottled water, DEQ said.

Alderman Road Elementary School, which is located nearby was resampled in June 2019; results provided in September showed non-detection for GenX and other PFAS compounds, according to DEQ.

Downstream, some schools in New Hanover and Brunswick County are on public systems whose water is also contaminated. However, the consent order is limited to businesses, schools and homes that are on private drinking water wells; it does not apply to those on public systems.

Cape Fear Public Utility Authority tests from October showed total PFAS levels, including GenX, in treated water from the Sweeny plant at 330 ppt. Concentrations of 1,4-Dioxane, a likely human carcinogen, have decreased over the past three months, from 1.3 parts per billion in September, to 0.82 ppb last month. That is still above the EPA’s health goal of 0.35 ppb for drinking water.

At the Brunswick County Northwest Plant, sampling conducted in October showed GenX at levels of 14 ppt and 13.2 ppt. Testing detected 18 PFAS compounds at a total concentration of 390 ppt.

CFPUA and Brunswick County are suing Chemours in separate lawsuits.

This story has been corrected to say Chemours, not DEQ, tested the drinking water supply at Gray’s Creek Elementary.

Commentary

Weekend humor from Celia Rivenbark: Trump hates dogs

And then there were… I dunno, 15, 18?

Lapsed lanky frat boy Beto O’ Rourke, he of the earnest f-bombs and ubiquitous rolled-up shirt sleeves (ready to work for you!) has dropped out of the prez race.

As Trump gleefully described it, “he dropped out like a dog.”

Yes, because that’s what dogs do in Trumpland. You fetch, roll over for a vigorous tummy rub, do something unspeakable to a table leg and finally decide you don’t have enough money to run for president.

This was just the most recent in a barrage of anti-dog rhetoric employed by the president. Like “nasty” as his go-to playground insult for women he finds threatening, “like a dog” is frequently hauled out for the gents.

And so, naturally, when mega-terrorist and bonsai aficionado Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed last week, he “died like a dog,” according to Trump.

What does he mean by that? Did Baghdadi eat a bad sock? The obsession with condemning behavior as “like a dog,” goes back to the days when Trump was just a wee huckster on a reality TV show, according to “Slate.”

When a candidate for the coveted role of “The Apprentice” failed to make the grade, he or she was “fired like a dog.” Which, as “Vanity Fair” recently speculated begs the question if Trump understands what dogs actually do.

In other words, most don’t technically work, so it’s not like they can ever be “fired.” Sure, you can—and should– say “bad dog!’ or similar when bowser eats his own poo or similar but you’re not going to say, “You’re fired! Good luck living off your 401k Mr. Skittles!”

Only a few truly working dogs—vested as it were—actually go about the laudable business of leading their sight-impaired owners through city streets or their brain-impaired owners through the aisles of Home Depot, a store so relentlessly dog friendly I wouldn’t be surprised to see them set up dog-rental kiosks at the entrance right beside the shopping carts. How is the average American consumer expected to shop for solar lights and elongated toilet seats without a dog? Seriously, I want to know.

The truth is, Trump has always used dogs to illustrate the lowest of the low in behavior and performance. It’s his ultimate mic drop slam. Repeatedly, he has trotted out descriptions of so-and-so begging for money “like a dog.”

Yeah, right. I was just talking to my neighbor who has three dogs the other day and he said, “They line up every morning, paws outstretched, beggin’ for some Benjamins. What do they do with all that money? No clue.”

But the question remains, why bash dogs’ character? What did a dog ever do to Trump? Is it because they embody all the qualities he lacks? Loyalty, obedience, a glossy coat?

We’ll probably never know. I blame that old bug-a-boo “limited vocabulary and 3rd grade reading level.” To be fair, Beto’s frequent cussing inspired the same criticism.

Potty language all the time, like a dog.

Celia Rivenbark is a New York Times bestselling author and columnist. Visit www.celiarivenbark.com.

Courts & the Law, News

NC Supreme Court says no to legislative map review; lawmakers enact new Congressional map

Lawmakers enacted a new Congressional map Friday for the 2020 elections. It will likely be subject to court review as part of ongoing litigation.

The North Carolina Supreme Court declined to take up an appeal of several districts in a state legislative map that was redrawn after a court found it had been initially gerrymandered for partisan gain.

The plaintiffs in Common Cause v. Lewis asked the state’s high court to review their appeal ahead of the Court of Appeals in an effort to expedite matters ahead of the Dec. 2 candidate filing deadline. They objected specifically to five county groupings in the House map after the lower court approved it.

The order from the Supreme Court did not explain why the justices declined to take up the appeal, and it denied another motion from the legislative defendants to recuse Justice Anita Earls as moot.

The plaintiffs can still appeal the maps to the state Court of Appeals.

In the meantime, legislators have enacted a different set of maps stemming from a separate partisan gerrymandering case, Harper v. Lewis, which challenges the 2016 Congressional districts.

The House passed the map drawn mostly by Sen. Paul Newton (R-Cabarrus) Thursday and the Senate passed it Friday. Democrats’ claim the map is still gerrymandered, and the public raised concerns about the redistricting process.

The map will likely be subject to court review as part of the ongoing Harper litigation.


Environment

Demonstrators to protest liquefied natural gas plant near Lumbee tribal lands

Site of the liquified natural gas facility in Robeson County (Map: Piedmont Natural Gas)

Hundreds of people on Saturday are expected to protest a Liquefied Natural Gas storage and processing facility in Robeson County, where several major natural gas projects are either under way or proposed.

The billion cubic foot LNG facility, a $250 million project of Piedmont Natural Gas, is between Red Springs — Lumbee tribal land — and Maxton, a predominantly Black community.

In addition to the LNG plant, other natural gas infrastructure in Robeson County proposed Atlantic Coast Pipeline and Metering and Regulating Station near Prospect, a potential pipeline from Prospect to South Carolina, and a possible second compressor station to pressurize the gas southward.

At least one farm and other properties could be taken under eminent domain to construct a 4-mile pipeline from an existing Duke Energy/Piedmont Gas pipeline to the LNG site on Rev. Bill Road.

Statewide Action to Stop the LNG Plant
Saturday, Nov. 16 10am-4pm
Oxendine Elementary School 5599 Oxendine School Road, Maxton  

As part of the March for Justice, protesters can walk along the 4.5- mile route to the LNG plant; transportation will be provided to pick up marchers during the walk. The Celebration of Our Sacred Lands and Waters will be held at Oxendine Elementary School, organizers announced, “to commemorate the gifts of healthy land, water, and air that are gifts of the Creator that we are called to honor and protect, not aimlessly harm and pollute.”

A bus will take demonstrators from Durham on Saturday morning. Sign up online.