A new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association alleges a significant increase in lung cancer risk for those exposed to high-levels of particulate matter, commonly called soot. In North Carolina, the news media and others have cited the study to boost support for the proposed Clean Smokestacks bill. But according to expert analysis, the study is so flawed that it should have been rejected by the journal. Moreover, it does not establish a case for new regulation.
To date, debate over the proposed Clean Smokestacks bill has focused primarily on the purported air-quality benefits, which would be negligible. Little attention has been paid to the cost, which could be substantial given North Carolina's already high electricity and tax rates compared to its neighbors'. This study estimates the impact on such institutions as school districts and manufacturers. The higher prices and lost jobs must be weighed against any potential benefits.
State lawmakers will consider today a revised tax and spending plan for the 2001-03 biennium that promises to shove an already teetering economy, buffeted by layoffs and the prospect of war, into a full-blown and painful recession. Its massive tax hike will fuel a healthy increase in wasteful state spending and help to push the state’s tax burden well above that of Massachusetts, California, and all the Southeastern states — and higher than the national average for the first time.
Supporters of the so-called "Clean Smokestacks" bill now under consideration by the state legislature are citing a study they claim proves that the legislation would save the lives of a thousand North Carolinians annually. In fact, the study says no such thing. Its subject matter bears little relationship to the bill's likely impact on North Carolina, which would be limited because most power-plant emissions affecting the state's air quality originate outside North Carolina.
A recent report showing that many state university buildings are in very poor repair and warning of explosive UNC enrollment growth has led to a proposal that would allow the state and the university system itself to sell bonds without voter approval. There are strong reasons to doubt that this is the best way to solve the problem of building maintenance, and to consider redirecting existing funds and allowing more students to choose private colleges to reduce the pressure.
Some state lawmakers are discussing a plan to give local governments the authority to raise their sales taxes by up to 1 penny while simultaneously eliminating state tax reimbursements. While it is true that many counties are raising property taxes this year, most have not been starved for revenue during the 1990s. More importantly, the state can give the same assistance to localities without raising taxes by increasing flexibility and assuming more responsibility for Medicaid.
Author Charles J. Sykes identifies a growing crisis in North Carolina higher education and suggests reforms to reward teaching, improve curriculum, and to spend scarce resources better. (40 pages-not available online.)
North Carolina has reached a crossroads in the delivery of mental health services. After decades of escalating budgets and haphazard growth, years of costly and controversial study, and promises to act that have yet failed to materialize, the state’s mental health system continues to suffer from a host of systemic problems. Only fundamental change in the structure and funding of the system will improve outcomes for patients and taxpayers.
North Carolina's new Child Health Insurance Program known as Health Choice has grown rapidly in its first two years, attracting national praise and prompting calls for additional funding to enroll more children. But the program, while helping to reduce the uninsured rate, has also contributed to a 30 percent drop in private coverage and self-sufficiency among families of modest means. Significant changes are needed to ensure a better use of taxpayer dollars.
Among the major causes of this year's $800 million state budget deficit is a $108 million increase in projected Medicaid spending. After a brief period of slow growth in the late-1990s, North Carolina's Medicaid program is now a significant threat to the state's long-term fiscal health. It is also the most expensive Medicaid program in the South. The state should enact reforms in eligibility and benefits which could save taxpayers at least $251 million a year.
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