Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Gorman, Jones agree on doing 'less with less'

In one of their rare joint appearances on the same side of the table, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Peter Gorman and Mecklenburg County Manager Harry Jones gave pretty much the same message to residents at the Tuesday Morning Breakfast Forum today: These are tough financial times and this community will feel the pain for years to come. Employee layoffs and cuts in services will happen next year for the schools, and for the county.

For the county, every revenue source except property taxes has seen a decline this year, Jones said. As a result, "we're going to have layoffs (expected to be 500-plus employees) and significant curtailment of services," he said.

Gorman said the "new economic reality" for the schools is to do "less with less."

The two were pretty chummy even when talking about the bone of contention between them - the county's cuts in funding for the schools. The county provides about a quarter of the the school system's operating funds. Last year, the county cut funding to the schools by $40 million. Gorman points out that other school systems throughout experienced much smaller cuts in local funding. Wake County cut its schools by $2.8 million. Guilford (Greensboro) got about the same as it did the previous year. "We wouldn't have laid off any individuals last year if we got the same cut as Wake (schools) did?" Gorman said.

But Gorman said he understood the situation the county was in, with service demands going up in other areas.

For his part, Jones noted that Wake has a different budgeting system. They put aside money for construction debt service in a debt service fund, which now has over $150 million. Mecklenburg pays for debt service out of its general funds each year so "operating funds and debt costs wind up competing with each other," he said. Wake also did property revaluations when property values were at their peak so Wake is getting more revenues from that stream and thus is in a better position financially.

Those at the forum peppered both with questions that showed their discontenct and had suggestions about how the county and the schools could do things better. Among them: Give more resources to education and look for other strategies to deal with some crimes other than jails. Jones said he was already planning to put on hold jail expansion plans so this might be "the time to have the discussion" of alternatives.

Gorman said no schools would close next year to deal with budget cuts. He's not recommending that. Residents didn't like the idea of laying off more teachers and suggested instead furloughs (Gorman said he liked that as an option but legislative approval is needed and it would take 26-27 days to make up the budget deficit through furloughs alone), longer days/four-day weeks (Gorman said some savings could accrue but there were also problems such as child-care for parents on that day kids weren't in school), 10 percent across the board salary cuts (Gorman said it would only get part of the needed money - about $60 million of the $80 million in anticipated cuts plus some cuts would constitute demotions and require hearings to resolve. But Gorman just doesn't favor across-the-board-cuts because he said it only puts off the need to "reduce the budget to meet the new economic reality" that will be around for the next five or so years, he said.)

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Vote for me, because I'm not a Duke fan!

Who cares what a U.S. Senate candidate thinks about the issues?! As long as he's not a Duke fan!

Ahhh, what a candidate will do when he's losing a race he was supposed to win. Voters in Kentucky are really (not) wrestling with the things that matter, thanks to U.S. Senate candidate Trey Grayson. In a new ad, Grayson, a Republican, distinguishes himself from primary opponent Republican Rand Paul not over health care reform or the deficit but over ..... Duke vs. Kentucky basketball.

His ad shows grainy video of his opponent acknowledging he is a Duke fan. Grayson then swears his allegiance to the Wildcats. "I approved this message because I will always cheer for the Big Blue," Grayson says without a hint of tongue in cheek.

Maybe Grayson should be more concerned about the critical problems facing America and Kentucky, including education. His beloved Wildcats have one of the worst academic performances in the nation, with just 31 percent of players graduating. At Duke, 92 percent of players graduate. It's probably too much to ask for, but we hope this scheme backfires on Grayson.

Here's Grayson's pitiful ploy.

- Posted by The Observer's editorial board

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Libraries slashing; who's out of touch?

Two items arrived in the e-mail inbox of our department today. One was from former N.C. Sen. Robert Pittenger, a Mecklenburg Republican.
He wrote:
"The liberal big government machine grows larger and larger, as it did
when I served - continuing to raise taxes and public spending at
alarming rates. The amazing thing is, whether the public favors their
actions or not, they do it anyway."

Not too long afterward, we received this, from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library:
"On Tuesday, March 16, the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library learned that Mecklenburg County would be reducing the Library’s funding for Fiscal Year 2010 by 6.3 percent, or $2 million dollars, before June 30, 2010. To absorb a $2 million reduction in such a short period of time, the Library will need to lay off at least 140 employees, resulting in the closure of at least twelve Library locations, pending final library board approval."
While we agree with Pittenger that our governments need to root out any waste and fraud they can find, it's hard to see how closing 12 county libraries, or laying off up to 600 teachers for next year, as Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools may have to do, equates to the "big government machine" growing "larger and larger."
"What will it take for the out of touch liberal establishment to
understand that they cannot go on brazenly
behaving so irresponsibly?" he asks.

Er, maybe the liberal establishment isn't the only one you could say is "out of touch"?

- Posted by The Observer editorial board

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ronald Reagan on the $50 bill?

One Charlotte-area congressman is pushing to put President Ronald Reagan on the $50 bill. Rep. Patrick McHenry, R-N.C., of Cherryville, today announced he has introduced a bill that would do just that.
“President Reagan was a modern day statesman, whose presidency transformed our nation’s political and economic thinking,” McHenry said in a press release.
Reagan would replace Ulysses S. Grant, widely regarded by historians as one of our weaker presidents. In fact, Grant seems like the most likely target if you're going to replace someone on a bill. We'd have a hard time arguing to bounce George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln or Benjamin Franklin. Even Alexander Hamilton and Andrew Jackson are pretty strong. If not Grant, maybe Reagan could replace William McKinley on the $500 bill.
What do you think? Reagan on the $50 bill? Reagan on a more prominent bill, or less prominent one? Or would you keep Reagan off any currency?
-- Posted by The Observer's editorial board