Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Can Charlotte can the bag?

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is pushing for a six-cent fee to be charged for each plastic bag now given away by city stores. He sees the fee (others might consider it a tax) as an effort to raise money for the city and to encourage greener living by creating an incentive for folks to switch to reusable bags instead. As the New York Times reports:

Plastic bags, particularly the flimsy ones that float over windy streets, are widely considered an environmental nuisance that use up petroleum, litter the landscape, clog storm drains and recycling equipment and linger for centuries in landfills. . . .

Several European countries already impose hefty taxes of as much as 33 cents on standard plastic bags. San Francisco has banned them altogether at large grocery stores and pharmacies unless they are biodegradable bags, which are more expensive than regular ones.

While some New Yorkers welcome this change, the Times goes on to say, many others think the plan is just too big a disruption of their lifestyle.

What about Charlotte? Some grocery stores here already offer incentives for shoppers to bring their own cloth or string bags. The Home Economist, for instance, offers five cents off the receipt for each bag a shopper uses of their own. Personally, I think it's a great idea, and have found it fairly easy to remember to bring my own reusable bags to stores for quite a while now. But are others willing to give up the convenience of plastic bags? Would Charlotteans welcome not having these things pile up in pantries, trash bins and cars? Or has the plastic shopping bag become a too-ingrained habit of our city life? -- Kevin Siers

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Urban chickens for when the sky is falling

Here's part of what the Boston Globe says the next depression would look like:

"According to Marion Nestle, a food and public health professor at New York University, people low on cash and with more time on their hands will cook more rather than go out. They may also, Nestle suggests, try their hands at growing and even raising more of their own food, if they have any way of doing so. Among the green lawns of suburbia, kitchen gardens would spring up. And it might go well beyond just growing your own tomatoes: early last month, the English bookstore chain Waterstone's reported a 200 percent increase in the sales of books on keeping chickens."
Of course, that's the fun part. The rest of the more depressing part of a depression can be found here. -- Kevin Siers

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Should Charlotte copy Pembroke?

UNC Pembroke is one of the state's smallest universities, with 6,303 students. Yet it has come up constantly in the debate about whether UNC Charlotte, which has 23,000 students, ought to start a football program. A reader suggests the success of that university's program, which is modest and targets a geographic community, not the big-time, might be a model for UNCC.

Here's what the reader wrote:

"It would be great to write about the UNCP program. In 2 years the program
continues to sell out each game went 9-1. If a program is built right from the
ground up, it can do wonders for the school and community. This could be a model
for Charlotte. It would only be fair to admit that I'm the proud parent of a
UNCP football player that was a product of Independence HS. If football were in
Charlotte at the time it's likely that a lot of our young men would stay &
play at home."

Here are some links he sent along:

What about it? UNCP is in Robeson County, in southeastern North Carolina. It serves a primarily rural area.
Can a large, urban public university take a page from the playbook of a small, rural one?

­- posted by Mary Schulken

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pat & Bev: Side by side in Charlotte?

"She can have the office right next to mine," quipped Pat McCrory, Charlotte's almost-governor mayor, in Monday's city council meeting.
He was talking about Democrat Bev Perdue, who bested McCrory, a Republican, Nov. 4 after a scrambling campaign to be North Carolina's governor. Nov. 4.
That's a gracious gesture for the loser of a close race to make - especially a race in which Perdue threw mud at Charlotte, McCrory's city, in order to drum up rural votes. We don’t know if McCrory was serious, but if he was, it could be the start of a lively relationship.
Here's what he was talking about: Perdue has said she will establish a governor's office in Charlotte and work there a few days a month. Charlotte City Council member Michael Barnes suggested the government center offer the governor empty space if it was available.
McCrory seconded that suggestion, then went one step further.
Was he kidding? Maybe he was thinking the governor might have a job for him …
Can't you just see Bev and her polished small-town cheerleader politician act side by side with Pat the city dude with his serious spectacles and his talk about the train?
­- Posted by Mary Schulken

Tax revaluation: It's about fairness

We hope the new board of county commissioners will look more closely at the issue of whether to postpone the county tax revaluation. An Observer article today indicated a delay is likely.

It's about fairness. When property values change but the tax valuation doesn't -- and the last revaluation was in 2003 -- plenty of people in expensive houses that have gained in value get huge tax breaks for years. And plenty of people in hurting neighborhoods, where houses have lost value, have been penalized for years.

Who needs fair, up-to-date valuations more? People whose homes have lost value and yet who are paying as if their homes are worth more? Or people who've gotten thousands of dollars in tax breaks? That's the question county commissioners must answer. Remember, tax valuation is a different issue from the tax rate. Commissioners can, if they choose, adopt a revenue-neutral budget next year. That means some tax payers would pay more and others less, because of their property values. It doesn't mean tax rates rise, although people with rising-value property would, as is fair, pay more. But people whose property values rose only as much as the countywide average wouldn't pay higher taxes. And people whose property values rose less than the average, or lost value, would pay lower taxes.

Delaying revaluation will cause even more political and financial trauma when it finally happens. The county's previous plan to continue with revaluation this year, and then move to every two years is preferable. Commissioners should stick with that plan.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Turnout today lower than expected

North Carolina's elections director is now predicting a lower-than-expected turnout, meaning more voters cast absentee and early ballots than actually voted today.
After talking to elections officials in about 60 of the 100 N.C. counties, Gary Bartlett, N.C. elections director, expected turnout to be at about 66 percent of registered voters, less than the predicted 70 percent.
Bartlett said he didn't know why turnout was less than expected. It would be easy to blame the rain, but lines were strong in the Triangle when rain was pouring today, he pointed out.
We have two theories:
Theory No. 1: So many people, pundits and polls were predicting an Obama victory that people who hadn't already voted figured their vote didn't matter.
Theory No. 2: The last week of near continuous robocalls, TV commercials that became a contest in negativity, daily flyers attempting to besmirch other candidates probably all combined to just make some voters say, "Ugh! A plague on both your houses."

Analyzing which votes are still out

The Obama-McCain race is neck and neck in North Carolina and the governor's race is still very close.
So the key question is: whose votes haven't been counted yet?
Tom Jensen of Public Policy Polling in Raleigh just revealed the 21 counties that have not yet reported, and who those counties voted for in 2004:

-Graham (Bush +36)
-Jackson (Bush +4)
-Buncombe (Tie)
-Polk (Bush +15)
-Cleveland (Bush +23)
-Avery (Bush +52)
-Caswell (Bush +3)
-Montgomery (Bush +14)
-Scotland (Kerry +11)
-Hoke (Kerry +5)
-Cumberland (Bush +3)
-Chatham (Tie)
-Wilson (Bush +8)
-Greene (Bush +18)
-Franklin (Bush +11)
-Vance (Kerry +12)
-Warren (Kerry +30)
-Halifax (Kerry +14)
-Beaufort (Bush +28)
-Washington (Kerry +9)
-Gates (Kerry +5)

At a glance, that looks good for McCain and McCrory, with so many Bush-friendly counties on the list. But Jensen points out the only sizable counties on the list are Cumberland and Buncombe, both of which could go for Obama and Perdue. Chatham and Wilson are mid-sized counties that will likely go for Obama for Perdue.

Jensen also points out there are still a lot of votes to count from other counties that have partially reported.

Dole ousted on her own mistakes

Wow. Elizabeth Dole ousted. One of the biggest name in politics -- not just in North Carolina, but nationally -- dumped after just one term, according to The Associated Press, CNN and other major networks.

This election was a referendum on Dole more than her opponent, Democrat Kay Hagan. And Dole just gave voters too much ammunition in a year that's shaping up to be big for Democrats.

After six years of being invisible to many N.C. voters, Dole got desperate in the closing days of the campaign and aired an ad that will go down as one of the nastiest in N.C. political history.
It backfired and now Republicans have lost control of a Senate seat they had held since 1972.

- Taylor Batten

Can Republicans come back in Meck commish race?

Early voters gave at-large Democrats a huge lead in the race for the Mecklenburg board of county commissioners. You'd expect that, with a majority of early voters being Democrats. But the hole Republicans have to dig out of now is huge.
Democrats Jennifer Roberts, Harold Cogdell and Dan Murrey had roughly twice as many votes as Republicans Dan Ramirez, Susan Walker and Hal Jordan among early voters. That's 60,000 to 70,000 votes Republicans have to make up.
If you figure roughly 200,000 people voted in Mecklenburg today, the Republican commissioner candidates have to win about two-thirds of the vote today to make up the lost ground. Possible, but not probable.
If they don't, you're looking at a new Mecklenburg board of commissioners firmly in control of Democrats -- 6-3, at least, maybe even 7-2.
Republican Bill James would have a lot of fun on that board.
- Taylor Batten

Will rain affect N.C. outcome?

The eastern half of North Carolina has been getting rained on steadily most of the day. How does that affect the outcome of races for president, governor and U.S. Senate?

That half of the state is a mix: the urban Raleigh area, the small cities and suburbs of Wilmington, Wilson and Rocky Mount, the rural white areas and rural black areas.

If it rained hard enough to keep people home, that could hurt Bev Perdue, who needs strong turnout in eastern North Carolina to beat Pat McCrory for governor.

At the same time, it is believed that Republicans were going to make up a bigger proportion of the electorate today than they did during early voting. Of the 2.5+ million people who voted early, 52 percent were registered Democrats. Black voters made up 26 percent of early voters, compared with 17 percent in 2004. So if the rain is keeping people away from the polls, it might be keeping more Republicans away than Democrats. That would be bad news for John McCain, Pat McCrory and Elizabeth Dole.

- Taylor Batten

Monday, November 3, 2008

Praise from afar of U.S. prez politics

We voters in the United States might think the presidential election season is endless, and a test of fortitude and patience. But Economist magazine finds our process praiseworthy. "America's bizarre process for electing its president inevitably raises questions," it says in its most recent edition. "No other country obliges its future leaders to spend two years on the campaign trail. No other country forces them to conjure hundreds of millions of dollars out of thin air. And no other country gives make-or-break power to people in plaid shirts in out-of-the-way places."

"The complicated obstacle course is about as good a test of a potential president's character as you can devise...The system may be time-consuming and money-grubbing. But it has allowed the son of a couple of nobodies, who was denied a floor pass to the Democratic Convention eight years ago, to become, by dint of sheer charisma and organizational skill, the probable president of the country. "
In a separate article, the international politics and business magazine gives its endorsement: "For all the shortcomings of the campaign, both John McCain and Barack Obama offer hope of national redemption. Now America has to choose between them.
The Economist does not have a vote, but if it did, it would cast it for Obama. We do so wholeheartedly: the Democratic candidate has clearly shown that he offers the better chance of restoring America's self-confidence."