Scuttlebutt: Developments across the Triad and beyond
Iraq war bill to Triad taxpayers: $1.7 billion
New figures released by the National Priorities Project on July 3 estimate that taxpayers in Guilford County have paid $1 billion for total Iraq war spending approved to date since the conflict began in 2003. The Massachusetts research organization estimates that the money could have been spent to provide healthcare to 216,388 people, slightly less than the population of Greensboro. Forsyth County taxpayers were said to have spent $725.5 million on the war.
Get on the bus
We’re all trying to cut our gas consumption – even the Greensboro Transit Authority, which debuted a pilot diesel-electric bus last week on several local routes ahead of the arrival of its first permanent hybrids next year. The buses work just like Priuses, by storing operating power in a battery that alternates with the diesel engine that charges the battery and provides additional acceleration. The hybrid buses seat 35-40 passengers and get better gas mileage than their all-diesel counterparts, according to Kevin Elwood, a spokesman for the transportation authority. How much gas the new buses will save is still an open question, Elwood said, and part of the reason the city is borrowing the bus this week. In related news, the price for a single fare on Greensboro buses went up to $1.20 on July 1. Senior citizen and disability fares went up five cents. So riding the bus from one end of town to the other now costs roughly the same as a third of a gallon of gas.
House Dems take up for gays
A motion for the NC House to take up the School Violence Prevention Act, legislation passed by the Senate last August, failed by four votes on July 2. Among Triad lawmakers, votes fell strictly along party lines, with Democrats opting to scuttle the weakened legislation while Republicans tried to save it. The bill ran into trouble when advocates discovered language establishing gay North Carolinians as a protected class had been removed from the Senate bill. NC Association of Educators, NC Equality, Action for Children and Arc of North Carolina were among the groups opposed to the Senate legislation, and Gary Palmer, chairman of Greensboro’s Gay Straight Advocates for Education, drafted an e-mail on the eve of the vote urging gay rights supporters to contact state lawmakers.
Hunt for Hagan
Kay Hagan, the Democratic state senator from Greensboro challenging Republican Elizabeth Dole for her US Senate seat, received some help from former Gov. Jim Hunt in a fundraising push last month. Hunt, the Democrat who dominated North Carolina politics in the last quarter of the 20th century, lent his name to a June 30 e-mail from the Hagan campaign. “People like Kay and you and I have worked hard for a long time to help make North Carolina a better place for all of our families,” the Hunt e-mail read. “Elizabeth Dole has not done her part for our state in Washington, DC and we need someone up there who will.” While Hagan has enjoyed the backing of Hunt, Dole holds a reputation as an establishment candidate in her party as well, having chaired the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and acquired a reputation as a Bush loyalist. The Hagan campaign reported that it raised $44,695 in three days in late June, but total receipts had not been tallied at press time. The latest reports available from the Federal Election Commission from April showed Dole having $3.1 million in cash on hand, compared to Hagan with $317,311.
Prying open the doors of government
The Open Government Act, a piece of legislation filed in the NC House on May 27 by Sen. David Hoyle (D-Gaston), would provide for automatic attorney-fee recovery for citizens who sue and win public records claims over violations of public-records law. The legislation would also create an open government unit in the NC Department of Justice, which would make formal advisory opinions and mediate some public-records disputes. The latter provision has been used by newspapers in states such as New Mexico to force local governments to comply with public records requests. So far, the bill has only attracted two cosponsors, one of whom is Sen. Stan Bingham (R-Davidson), who represents part of High Point and publishes the weekly newspaper The Denton Orator. The Senate Judiciary Committee for civil law took up the bill on July 1.
Friend to shareholders, foe to workers
Rep. Howard Coble, the Greensboro Republican who represents North Carolina’s 6th District in the US House, received the Washington-based American Shareholders Association’s “Friend of Shareholder” award on June 26. The recognition was given based on Coble’s votes on 10 different measures, ranging from “preventing tax increases, to price controls on Medicare prescription medicines, to denying workers their right to a private ballot when deciding on unionization,” the organization noted in a press release.
Leaders in the NC House and Senate agreed to delay two tax cuts in order to balance next year’s $21.3 billion budget after Gov. Mike Easley accused legislators of fiscal irresponsibility during the economic downturn. Legislators had planned to eliminate the gift tax, which would have helped wealthy taxpayers, and increase the earned income tax credit, which would have helped lower-income residents. Easley said he won’t sign an unbalanced budget, and the money saved by postponing the tax cuts still falls short of the goal set by the governor. But budget negotiators have said they still plan to present the document to Easley sometime this week.