Carolina Journal Weekly Report

January 07, 2002

In this issue

Feature 1 - Community Colleges Getting Less Than Half of Request

Ahead of the Curve

Feature 2 - Military Bases to Close

Capital Quotes

Feature 3 - Campbell Mourns News Coverage

Coming Up

Community Colleges Getting Less Than Half of Request

Bond money approved by taxpayers is now flowing to schools in the North Carolina Community College System, but judging by claims made by the oversight organization, it may not be long before it clamors for more. The $600 million supported by voters in the November 2000 election, part of a $3.1 billion package for higher-education capital improvements, will be issued to the 59 colleges in the system over the next six years. Issuance of the money is backloaded, with about $48 million distributed this year, and increasing annually until $135.5 million is distributed in the fifth year and $125.8 million in the final year.

When requested by the General Assembly to study building and renovation needs for the entire system, the State Board of Community Colleges returned with an estimated cost for needs of almost $1.18 billion. The legislature permitted a bond referendum funding half that amount to move forward. Leading up to a vote on the proposal, the community college system tried to demonstrate its need for the bonds to fund more than 400 projects by emphasizing the following points:

Enrollment. The system estimated that student population statewide would grow by 50,000 in the next 10 years. Emphasizing the expected enrollment growth rate, the system claimed it would "be unable to admit many qualified students unless we quickly address [these] capital needs." Enrollment grew by about 10 percent this year, far surpassing the community college system's expected growth rate of 3 percent to 4 percent. The accelerated pressures of larger-than-expected enrollment may render the currently funded projects obsolete sooner than expected.

Age. The community colleges claimed that the entire system is almost 40 years old, with many of the campus buildings individually several years older. The system said that "many community college buildings have undergone little or no renovation since their initial construction, due to limited local resources." Given that little or no funding has been provided for capital improvements in the past, and many counties will likely have little or no resources to maintain facilities in the future, taxpayers may be approached again soon for permission to borrow more money for further construction needs.

Cost. When asked whether the amount of debt is too large for the state to carry, the community college system answered an unequivocal "no." Raising taxes, tuition, and student fees were also denied as possibilities. In late September 2001 the legislature passed significant tax increases and passed a tuition increase. The hikes may not be directly related to the capital improvements, but clearly the state1s debt burden is greater than it was.

Ahead of the Curve

Last month Garland B. Garrett, Jr., former Gov. Jim Hunt1s secretary of transportation, was charged in a 246-count federal indictment related to illegal prize payouts from video poker machines. Garrett's business, Cape Fear Music Co. Inc., allegedly leased poker machines to businesses that paid cash prizes, a violation of state law.

Some who are watching the story may remember that Garrett supported gambling interests as a representative of Hunt1s administration. When Harrah's Cherokee Casino had its grand opening in November 1997, Hunt and most other state officials begged off from the ceremonies. However, the then-transportation secretary made a brief speech on behalf of the administration at the festivities, announcing that the state would perform millions in road improvements for the area.

Ironically, a News & Observer of Raleigh article at the time quoted a woman from Waynesville on her thoughts about restrictions on alcohol and live table games. She thought the restrictions would help the casino attract "a better class of gamblers."

Preliminary research by Carolina Journal found that motor vehicle registration departments in 10 states are using an instant verification service provided by the Social Security Administration to verify Social Security numbers before licensing. DMV officials in North Carolina, in contrast, are unable to determine how many licenses were issued to individuals with illegitimate SSNs.

Military Bases to Close

Impact of 2005 review on North Carolina unclear

As the United States' war on terrorism speeds toward apparent success in Afghanistan and the Bush administration announces its intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, one can be sure that defense policy will be a critical question for the next few years. In a little-noticed development, Congress will allow the Pentagon an opportunity in 2005 to do something that it thinks is extremely important: close unneeded bases. The Pentagon estimates that by doing so, it can save billions of dollars over time that can be used for other, more productive activities, including buying more of the latest generation of weapons.

The concept of closing bases in the middle of a self-declared "War on Terrorism" may seem on its face strange, but upon closer examination is logical. The U.S. military, despite four rounds of base closings in the late 1998s and 1990s, still is burdened with more infrastructure and infrastructure of the wrong kinds.

The Pentagon's basing needs are determined by force structure. The closure of many bomber bases in the 1990s, for example, was a natural result of the retirement of some 150 B-52G bombers; without the heavy bombers, there was simply no need for the bases. Post Cold War force reductions made Charleston Navy Base and Charleston Naval Shipyard redundant. And certainly the force structure of 2005 need not resemble that of 1995, when the last round of closings were approved.

The base closing process begins with the secretary of defense submitting a list of proposed closures. A specially appointed nine-member Base Closure and Realignment Commission then reviews the list. In the first phase of its work, it will add bases to be examined for possible closing. Because commissioners want to make sure the correct facility of a certain type will be closed, they have traditionally added comparable bases to those suggested by the secretary. For example, the commission in 1995 chose to evaluate all Navy aviation depots -- including the one in Cherry Point, N.C. -- instead of just those recommended by the secretary of defense. The commission ultimately followed the secretary's recommendations on which naval aviation depots to close.

In the second phase of the its work, the BRAC will go through the list of bases and make recommendations for closure or realignment. The recommendations are based upon a set of carefully defined criteria including military value and time to recover cost. The president may then modify the list for national security reasons only. Congress must then approve, but can only accept or reject the list of proposed closings in its entirety -- it may not make changes.

At this point, it is impossible to predict how the 2005 BRAC process will affect North Carolina. The effects of Sept. 11, the War on Terrorism, the abrogation of the ABM Treaty, and recently proposed deep cuts in the United States' strategic nuclear forces have not yet translated into a defined force structure. Developments between now and 2005 can and will influence the proposed base closing list. Likewise, the 2004 presidential election and ensuing military policy reviews will be factors.

In any case, with no guarantee that the Pentagon will be allowed to eliminate facilities again in less than 10 years, if ever, one can expect an aggressive list of proposed closings in 2005. As a result, it is likely that North Carolina military facilities will at minimum be considered for closure, either on recommendation of the secretary of defense or the commission.

Capital Quotes

"I saw in my work that politics is very distracting, and I just couldn't combine the two together successfully."

— Judge Albert Thomas, of the N.C. Court of Appeals, announcing his intent to the Associated Press not to seek re-election. Thomas' announcement came shortly after the N.C. Supreme Court ruled that he must stand for re-election this year. Thomas' seat was one of three created in June 2000. A provision in the law creating the seats specified that those appointed would serve until 2004; the high court, however, noted that the N.C. Constitution requires the appointed judges to stand for re-election at the next general election, which in this case would be November 2002.

"There is very little, if any, cause and effect between the foreign-trade offices and foreign trade. Businesses use their own staff to make these contacts. They use trade associations."

— Rep. Art Pope, R-Wake, commenting to the Associated Press on North Carolina's six foreign trade offices. The offices, located in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Frankfurt, Mexico City, Seoul, and Toronto, are suppose to act as a contact point for information on the state and companies in it that are trying to sell their products overseas. About half of the International Trade Division1s $2.6 million budget is spent on the offices.

"All of a sudden it has made this benefit affordable to people where as before it might have been much more expensive. We've been running a blue-light special over here... It's a substantial difference."

Michael Williamson, director of the state retirement system, describing to theWinston-Salem Journal the effect of a recent change in the buy-back system. The changes affect those that once worked for the state, then quit and withdrew their retirement funds from the state system, only to later become state employees again. The changes, authorized in the state budget passed in September, apply to about 5,000 people.

Campbell Mourns News Coverage

"N.C. Spin" host calls local media lazy and biased

Tom Campbell, host of the statewide syndicated political talk show "N.C. Spin," has seen the news media's coverage of statewide issues and the legislature, and finds it withering.

"They are lazy," Campbell said at a John Locke Foundation luncheon in December. "If they did their work, they would really ask questions."

A former assistant state treasurer under Harlan Boyles, Campbell said he has become increasingly frustrated with the way state news reporters cover how lawmakers do, or don't do, their jobs. As a result, he started the "Spin" program almost four years ago.

"You by-and-large don't even know the legislature is in session today, by the [Raleigh News & Observer]," he said.

A self-proclaimed moderate, Campbell guides the show with panelists John Hood of the conservative Locke Foundation, Chris Fitzsimon of the liberal Common Sense Foundation, columnist Barry Saunders of The News & Observer of Raleigh, and a different fourth panelist every week. He explained his desire to find a moderate-to-conservative woman to appear regularly, but said he was unable to find one. The program airs in the seven largest cities in the state and beyond, and is watched by a high percentage of elected officials and public figures.

The program is taped on Wednesday evenings, with each panelist the primary handler of one question before leading into debate. The show is unrehearsed.

"I don't know if I'd call the show a smash hit," said Campbell, who likened the experience to being responsible for tossing the red meat to the lions in the middle of the Roman Coliseum. "It's a tremendous amount of fun to do this."

Feasting on red meat of his own, Campbell heaped harsh criticism on last year's legislature and on Gov. Mike Easley. He criticized both chambers of the General Assembly, who "knew the budget was unbalanced the day they passed it."

"They're going to have to come back and doctor this budget some more," Campbell said.

He criticized Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight for "ruling with an iron fist" and House Speaker Jim Black who "got conflicted, and either couldn't lead or wouldn't." He said Black reneged on a promise to conduct a civilized and fair redistricting process.

When asked what he thought of the Republicans' performance in the legislature, Campbell said "not much better."

As for Easley, Campbell said he wished he had seen more candor and forthrightness from the governor once he was faced with the budget crisis. He said Easley demonstrated no leadership, and said, "I think it's a travesty that we can't tell the people of North Carolina the truth."

Campbell predicted that because voters were left with such distaste for the political antics in the capital this year, that there may be a lot of turnover in the legislature in 2002. He said that despite gerrymandering in the redistricting process, "there are a lot of districts that are "swing" districts still."

"Hit (voters) in the pocketbook, and typically they wake up," he said, referring to the budget's numerous tax increases.

For dates and times of "N.C. Spin," go to the program's website at ncspin.com.

Coming Up

On Jan. 19, the Center for Local Innovation will sponsor 3Innovate 2002,2 a daylong conference at the Washington Duke Inn on the campus of Duke University in Durham. The conference will begin at 8:30 a.m. and will feature three sessions. Topics include annexation, local government budgets, and terrorism threats. Guests include U.S. Rep. Walter Jones and former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot. The conference will end at 3 p.m.

Syndicated columnist and CNN personality Robert Novak will speak at a John Locke Foundation Headliner luncheon at noon Feb. 11, at the Brownstone Hotel in Raleigh. Novak writes the political column "Inside Report" three times a week, and appears in more than 300 newspapers nationwide. He is perhaps most well-known for his cohosting duties of the programs "Crossfire," "Capital Gang," and "Novak, Hunt & Shields," all on CNN. Cost for the lunch is $15.

Contact Kory Swanson at (919) 828-3876 or info@johnlocke.org for more information, or to register for either event.

 

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