SCUTTLEBUTT: Developments across the Triad and beyond

by Keith Barber

Burr rebuts Obama’s radio address

North Carolina Sen. Richard Burr delivered the official Republican rebuttal to President Obama’s proposed budget during a radio address on Feb. 27. Burr characterized Obama’s fiscal 2009-10 budget as the “single largest increase in federal spending in the history of the United States,” saying the American people would have to foot the bill for the $4 trillion in interest payments over 10 years. “Think of that $4 trillion as a finance charge on your credit card bill — you have to pay it, but you get nothing for it in return,” Burr said. “These payments don’t even make a dent in the balance we owe.” Burr’s radio address came on the heels of Obama’s first address to both houses of Congress on Feb. 24. The Obama administration has said the economic stimulus package will benefit North Carolina in the following ways: Create or save 111,300 jobs over the next two years, provide a tax cut of up to $1,000 for 3.2 million workers and their families, offer an additional $100 per month in unemployment insurance benefits to 604,000 workers, and provide funds to modernize at least 263 schools statewide. On his website, www., Democratic blogger Nate Silver ranks Burr’s Senate seat as the eighth most likely to change parties in 2010. — KTB

General Assembly considers smoking ban

A bill that would restrict smoking in public places and workplaces is currently wending its way through the NC General Assembly. House Bill 2 cites a 2006 report issued by the US Surgeon General, which concluded there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke, as the basis for the smoking ban. The bill would allow local governments to adopt local laws governing smoking within their jurisdictions that are more restrictive than state law. A state law passed in 1993 expressly prohibits any smoking restrictions to be passed by any form of local government in North Carolina. Under the proposed law, any person who owns, manages, or operates a business, including a bar or restaurant, must display no smoking signs, remove all indoor ashtrays and other smoking receptacles, and direct a person who is smoking to extinguish the lighted tobacco product. Infractions of the smoking ban would be punishable by fines up to $50. The NC House rejected a statewide smoking ban in May 2007. Rep. ###Dale Folwell### (R-Forsyth), who joined his fellow representatives in opposing that bill, has stated his opposition to the current bill. — KTB

Guilford County cuts 35 jobs

Interim Guilford County Manager Brenda Jones-Fox announced in a memo last week that the county cut 35 positions, including 10 active positions and 25 vacant positions in a move to save the county $2 million. “This action was in response to a shortage of funds, work, other material change in duties or needs of the organization,” the memo stated. In the wake of the worldwide economic recession, Guilford and Forsyth counties are bracing for significant budget cuts as the state is staring down the barrel of a $2.2 billion budget shortfall. The job cuts in Guilford span a range of departments including administration, cooperative extension, human resources, information services, planning and development and mental health. Cuts in mental health services could only exacerbate a growing problem in the Triad and around the state. Despite spending $2.7 billion in fiscal year 2006-07, problems still abound for the state mental health system, including short supply of community-based crisis services, over-crowded state psychiatric hospitals, growing numbers of people with mental illness detained in jails, and people with serious needs that are not being served by the system, according to the NC Department of Health and Human Services. — KTB

Perdue announces economic stiumulus projects

Gov. Beverly Perdue announced on Feb. 24 that 70 highway and bridge projects throughout North Carolina will soon get under way using $466 million in federal economic stimulus funding, according to a NC Department of Transportation press release. The money is the first half the state will receive for highway improvements through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was approved by Congress last month. The new federal law requires states to obligate the first half of transportation stimulus money within 120 days of receipt, and the remaining half to projects within a year. According to state transportation officials, this round of infrastructure investment will create about 14,000 jobs for the state. “Our overriding goal is to get North Carolina’s economy moving by funding transportation projects that will create jobs from the mountains to the coast,” Perdue said. The second half of stimulus-related road and bridge projects is expected to be announced in the next 45 days. Perdue also announced last week that she will also pursue discretionary grant money included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to use for the $300-million replacement of the Yadkin River Bridge on Interstate 85 in Davidson and Rowan counties. — KTB