North Carolina editorial roundup
Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
News & Record of Greensboro on voters’ awareness of proposed amendments to the state constitution:
You plan to vote this election season, more and more of you are saying, a remarkable concept for an off-year election in North Carolina, when Congress tops the ballot. You either have a candidate you like a lot or seek to address the values you are seeing emerge across our political spectrum — either to reinforce them or to reverse them.
But one reason some of you are voting and how you might vote in that area are matters of concern.
A News & Record/High Point University Poll ... noted that about 62 percent of you said you were likely to vote because of six constitutional amendments on the ballot.
That is a concept Republican lawmakers hoped would play out when they drafted them in the final days of the summer’s legislative session. We specify Republican because few Democrats have supported these amendments.
So it’s unfortunate that only one in five of you polled by HPU then said you had heard very much about these amendments. As low as that percentage is, it’s remarkably higher than a similar poll conducted about a month ago by Elon University.
That brings us to this essential point: Will you have any idea what these amendments say, how they might be enacted and whether they are a good idea for our constitution and — more importantly — you?
Because beyond any name, these six choices likely will have a far greater impact on your life and the well-being of the state. Is it possible you will hopscotch down the ballot, checking yes or no, or even leave some amendments blank if you are unfamiliar with what they will do?
Let’s look at what you told HPU about how you will vote and what that might mean:
About two out of three of you say you would support a voter ID law. What is the legislature’s plan for this ID that is more fair and equitable than those the courts have struck down in recent years?
More than six out of 10 like the idea of reducing the state’s maximum income tax. Should the constitution engrave a rate that may need periodic review because of economic pendulums?
Almost eight out of 10 support strengthening protections for crime victims, the Marsy’s Law. Does this mean you approve of a shift in the foundational innocent-until-proven-guilty?
About half of you want to approve an eight-member Bipartisan Board of Ethics and Elections Enforcement. Did you know this would move power from executive branch to the legislative by establishing lawmakers as tiebreakers?
About 36 percent support changing the way vacant judgeships are filled. But did you know that the legislature is siphoning power from the executive and judicial branches and lessening that constitutional balance?
And, yes, two out of three of you support putting a right to hunt and fish in the constitution. Is there a problem here?
One other thing you might want to know: How will the General Assembly implement any laws you approve? There is no answer for that.
Let’s be clear about one overriding issue: Taking up these items as constitutional amendments is bad governing. They don’t meet the arduous standards for being part of the document that shapes our government. ...
These are ideas that should be debated as legislation, not foisted on you as doctrine you may not embrace and maybe haven’t even read. But if you have, if you are in the know, you should vote no.
StarNews of Wilmington on coal ash spills:
At this writing, it is unclear if the GenX in the Cape Fear River will shortly be joined by the arsenic and mercury in coal ash washed from Duke Energy’s power plant just north of Wilmington.
For decades the old Carolina Power & Light Co. operated a coal-fired plant on the Cape Fear River. ... The plant is now fueled by natural gas.
During Hurricane Florence and its torrential rains, dams breached between a coal ash containment compound — reported to contain 900,000 cubic yards of the toxic sludge — and the adjoining manmade Sutton Lake. The swollen Cape Fear River, in turn, spilled into Sutton Lake.
The Duke Energy people keep saying there’s nothing to worry about ... Folks from Cape Fear River Watch and other environmental groups, who have had people bobbing about in boats nearby, say there’s plenty to worry about.
Threats to Wilmington’s water supply seem remote, since the intakes are miles upriver. But you never know.
Anyway, it’s a little late now, but the question remains: Why wasn’t this potential threat mitigated long before now? Hurricanes, after all, are nothing new along the Cape Fear coast, although they do seem to be dumping a whole lot more rain than they used to, lately creeping through the area instead of racing.
Some have noted the parallels between Florence and 1999′s Hurricane Floyd, which reached Category 4 strength, lost much of its steam before landfall here, then delivered a Category 4 load of floodwaters to woebegone areas farther inland.
Storing coal ash in low-lying areas and close to a river that obviously can flood doesn’t sound like a wise strategy. ...
The state, as you might know, has a history of rather chummy relations with Duke Energy. Back in 2014, 39,000 tons of coal ash from another Duke retaining pond washed into the Dan River, fouling western rivers and streams. Duke was hit with $102 million in federal fines and restitution money — but much of that was remitted under former Gov. Pat McCrory, a former longtime Duke Energy employee.
McCrory also effectively blocked legislation to require Duke to pay for a cleanup directly out of shareholder profits rather than passing the bill along to its customers.
The utility was supposed to be moving the Sutton Plant coal ash to a landfill, and apparently has been doing so with deliberate speed, but some of the sludge — enough to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool, by some reports — washed loose.
Duke Energy is the nation’s second-largest electric utility, based on market value. The best we can tell, the company has done a remarkable job of restoring power to its customers. In that regard, the utility obviously saw what was coming and was prepared. Duke also should have seen such a spill coming and prepared — and well before now.
The Fayetteville Observer on disaster aid issues:
The General Assembly is returning to Raleigh for a special session next week, sooner than originally planned, to deal with Hurricane Florence. That turns out to be a good thing, because there are some problems that need fixing fast. North Carolina can’t risk compounding what’s gone wrong with our recovery from Hurricane Matthew’s epic flooding of two years ago.
And things have gone wrong. As The New York Times reported Tuesday, the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development ranks this state as a “slow spender” in distributing federal block grant funding, some of which is appropriated for disaster recovery. As of Sept. 1, the Times reported, the state had spent only $2 million of a $236.5 million block grant. Only 53 families of the 1,100 who applied for the disaster-recovery grants through that program have received their money. While the state has distributed about $750 million in other, mostly federal, aid for Hurricane Matthew recovery, the bobbling of this block grant money could snowball as the state tries to juggle the recovery from yet another storm — one that may have caused even more damage than Matthew. In the week following Florence, 80,000 flood victims registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency for assistance. That’s double the number registering in the first week after Matthew.
State emergency management director Mike Sprayberry said in an interview with a Times reporter that, “We are really good at disaster recovery programs, hazard mitigation, helping individual people who are in trouble, but not at this kind of thing. We have had to hire and stand up a completely new staff — roughly 50, 60 new people — so this is a whole new ballgame.”
Part of the problem is that Sprayberry needs more help than he’s gotten. Lawmakers have consistently cut funding for the state’s executive branch, in part because of Republican legislative leaders’ determination to run the leanest possible government, and in part — in large part — because those same lawmakers have set a goal from the outset of making Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper fail.
People who are looking at the destruction of their homes and other property by Hurricane Florence aren’t interested in hearing about the political infighting in Raleigh. They’re begging for help. ...