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North Carolina editorial roundup

August 21, 2019

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Aug. 21

StarNews of Wilmington on legislation to get broadband access to North Carolina residents who live in rural areas:

Back in the 1890s, there weren’t mail carriers in the countryside. Farmers had to travel miles to pick up their mail from the nearest post office.

A number of congressmen pushed an idea called Rural Free Delivery (R.F.D.). It took years to push it through. Some argued that the cost of hiring all those mailpersons, gallivanting around the countryside, would bankrupt the Treasury. Others claimed that mail-order giants like Sears — yes, the Amazon of its day — would run local Mom-and-Pop stores out of business.

R.F.D. is mostly quaint today, but a new issue is sparking another urban-rural divide: broadband access. Lots of folks out in the country can’t get high-speed Internet.

For cable companies, telcoms and other providers, it’s not cost-effective to run the wiring out to the boondocks, where there aren’t that many potential subscribers per square mile. So, they’ve been taking their sweet time about it.

Folks in the country don’t like this. It’s not just a matter of watching YouTube videos or playing Fortnite. Increasingly, Internet access is essential to access health-care information, apply for jobs or take classes. In some areas, medical specialists are using Skype or some similar link to make digital house calls. And businesses — including farms — rely more and more on broadband.

Hence, N.C. House Bill 431, the FIBER NC Act, which would allow local governments to invest in broadband infrastructure. The lines, once built, would then be leased to a private provider.

The bill cleared the House local government committee by a 13-9 vote. Predictably, the opposition came from cable companies and telcoms.

What’s interesting is that the normally monolithic House Republicans split over this one. Usually, the GOP is all for free enterprise and Getting the Government Off Our Backs. Many rural Republican legislators, however, defected to back the plan.

They had a point. In this case, Free Enterprise isn’t doing the job, so it’s time for governments to step in. There are plenty of precedents. New Deal programs brought electricity to rural counties. Private industry didn’t build farm-to-market roads; the state did.

North Carolina already has a GREAT program (Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology), which is passing out $9.8 million in matching grants for broadband improvement in rural counties. But locals say that’s not nearly enough.

The FIBER NC Act has to jump hurdles in two other House committees, not to mention the Senate. With the current budget deadlock between legislative Republicans and Gov. Roy Cooper, there’s a real danger it could lie dormant.

It shouldn’t. Rural communities need broadband. Our legislators need to make this a priority.

Online: https://www.starnewsonline.com/

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Aug. 19

The News & Record of Greensboro on a North Carolina Republican who commented on a possible delay in funding for a university because of the legislature’s impasse with Gov. Roy Cooper over the state budget:

Last week, leading Republican state legislators — and one Democrat — took a tour of N.C. A&T (North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University).

It’s one of several institutions of higher learning, including UNCG (The University of North Carolina at Greensboro), UNC-Charlotte, East Carolina University and Elizabeth City State University, that legislators have visited to remind school officials — and the broader public — of the multi-million-dollar investments that will likely be made in those schools once the current budget impasse is settled.

But the real point of the visits came afterward, when Senate leader Phil Berger said in a news release, “It’s not right that funding for N.C. A&T and other state Universities is at risk because the Governor is willing to block an entire budget over one policy disagreement.”

Of course, Berger didn’t mention the Republicans’ role in that “one policy disagreement,” nor that the policy in question is Medicaid expansion. He didn’t mention that Republicans have been working overtime to undermine the governor’s veto of their budget, which lacks Medicaid expansion. And, of course, he didn’t mention the life-giving health care coverage that such a program would bring to an estimated 600,000 North Carolinians.

Berger could resolve this standoff just as easily as Cooper — and North Carolina would benefit if he did.

To review: Cooper vetoed the legislature’s budget proposal in June, saying it skimped on raises for teachers and it lacked Medicaid expansion, for which many in the state have been pushing for years. With increased Democratic numbers in the state House, his veto had teeth. Cooper countered with a proposal that gives teachers bigger raises, cuts another in a long line of corporate tax breaks and expands Medicaid coverage.

But the Republicans, led by Berger, don’t want Medicaid expansion ... never, no how, no sir, no matter what.

But they still don’t have the votes to override Cooper’s veto.

In July, Republicans began dangling pretty gewgaws in front of Democrats — the possible relocation of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services headquarters in Greensboro (and elsewhere), $7.7 million for a new Guilford County Mental Health Crisis Center, $3 million for a pilot program for career and technical education ... and more.

But so far, only one Democrat, Rep. Cecil Brockman of High Point, who joined last week’s tour, has seemed willing to concede on Medicaid expansion.

So now they’re trying this new tact, noting that they could spread such generosity if the mean ol’ governor would just stop being so unreasonable!

The fact is, this isn’t an either/or proposition: It’s and. But Republicans have shown little appetite for a compromise.

The educators to whom they tried to appeal most likely know what’s up, too. Our universities do stand to benefit from the budget once it’s passed, and the updates, improvements and additions have been a long time coming. But many educators are among the prominent business leaders, religious leaders and health experts who tout the benefits Medicaid expansion would bring to the state. It would create jobs and save lives. Thirty-seven states, including red ones, have signed up for Medicaid expansion and none have expressed regret.

So what’s next? Will Berger and Moore stalk General Assembly floors, hoping to sneak through a veto override while enough Democrats are in the bathroom?

Enough with the obstruction. Take the override vote, lose it, mark it down as a victory of principle and move on — or put it aside and sit with the governor to work out a compromise.

Berger should stop playing these games. Or take responsibility for the consequences.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/

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Aug. 19

The Fayetteville Observer on a law that allows private businesses and governments to charge electric car drivers to charge their vehicles:

Being for environmentalism does not have to mean being against business.

A bill passed this summer in the N.C. General Assembly with bipartisan support reminds us of this lesson, one that too often goes to the wayside in debates over green issues.

The law takes away a restriction that barred the reselling of electricity. In practical terms, it means private businesses and governments in our state can operate charging stations and charge drivers of electric vehicles and hybrid vehicles to use them. This should clear the way for businesses and governments to build more charging stations.

Republican Rep. John Szoka, who represents Cumberland County, was chief sponsor of the bill, House Bill 329 which was signed into law in July by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper with little fanfare. From Szoka’s perspective, the law is not just environmentally friendly but is green in another way: Dollars and cents.

He told a Fayetteville Observer reporter last week that he expects the law change to lead to new charging stations at shopping centers, restaurants, apartment complexes and other venues. He envisions owners setting prices and competing for the business of electric and hybrid drivers.

As he said in his interview: “Now you’ve got something where the free market is working the way it’s supposed to work.”

The new law goes into effect at a time when the number of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles on our state is edging up. By year’s end, an expected 13,500 such vehicles are expected to be on North Carolina roads, according to ChargePoint, which is the largest manager of plug-in stations in the United States. Cooper has said he wants to see 80,000 so-called zero-emission vehicles registered in the state by 2025. This would be in accordance with his Executive Order 80 that addresses climate change and pushes a clean energy economy.

Of course the number of EVs and hybrids registered here — which is about in the middle of the pack in the country — does not include the growing number of these type vehicles that will pass through our state on vacation or on the interstate roads. Sales of EVs rose 80 percent between 2017 and 2018, reports website Inside EVs. By 2025, analysts expect 14 percent of cars on the road will be electric, up from just 2 percent now.

North Carolina’s new law on charging stations contrasts with another bill that came up during the same legislative session. Hybrid and all-electric owners already pay a $130 annual tax, supposedly to make up for not having to pay any state gasoline taxes. Senate Bill 446 sought to raise that penalty to $230 for all-electric vehicles and $115 for plug-in hybrids.

The punitive bill stalled out. It would have had the effect of further disincentivizing prospective buyers of EVs, and hampered investment, like charging stations, that would go along with them.

As for the new law, locally there will be no immediate effect. Plug-in drivers in Fayetteville are not charged fees at any of the eight public stations operated by the Public Works Commission and the city of Fayetteville. A PWC spokeswoman said the utility wants to “continue the charging for free to encourage/promote the use of electric vehicles.”

That’s great. But they now have the option to charge in the future. And while it may bite individual drivers initially, it will be good for both EV owners and the earth in the long run — and could grow for businesses and local governments some of that other kind of green.

Online: https://www.fayobserver.com/

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