Exploring NC's gas tax conundrum

It's not as cut-and-dried as you might think:

The gas tax is a major revenue source for transportation projects such as repairing bridges, repaving roadways, and building highways. The failure of the current gas tax (and other transportation funding sources) to support these important public services means that backlogs for both maintenance and repairs projects persist. The state Department of Transportation estimates that North Carolina faces a $60 billion shortfall for transportation improvements through 2040, and that the state needs to come up with $32 billion just to keep the status quo.

I am genuinely conflicted on this issue, and it's doubtful I will be able to find a comfortable position on either side. I also find little comfort in the fact that infrastructure is crumbling all across the country, and not just in North Carolina. In response to a comment I made on Facebook about the regressive nature of the gas tax, Mark Turner made a good point:

Coal Ash Wednesday: The deadly ingredients

Thanks to Physicians for Social Responsibility for outlining the harms:

Arsenic: It has long been known that arsenic, if ingested in very high levels, is deadly. However, lower levels of exposure are also harmful and can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea; anemia and decreased production of the white, infection-fighting blood cells; abnormal heart rhythms; blood vessel damage; numbness in the hands and feet; partial paralysis; and decreased vision, even blindness. Repeated low levels of exposure over an extended period of time can produce effects similar to a one-time high level of exposure, and chronic exposure to low levels can cause skin cancer. Arsenic has also been linked to cancers of the lung, bladder, kidney, liver and prostate.

Contaminated drinking water is a primary route of arsenic exposure. Exposure from birth may increase urinary cancer risk much later in life, suggesting that people whose drinking water is contaminated by arsenic from coal ash should be monitored long-term for this cancer, even if they stop drinking the contaminated water.

I know a lot of environmental advocates who are energetic as all get-out, but lacking somewhat in the details. Energy is important, but you need some basic factual tools at your disposal if you want to persuade others the danger is real. Understanding the toxics involved and their deleterious effect on our health is likely the best tool you could wield in that effort:

The crossroads of poverty and poor student performance

A concerned teacher speaks out:

The strong correlation between poverty and academic achievement has been noted for decades. Nutrition, stress, lack of health-care and housing stability all play a role in brain development and student learning. This is not disputed, yet as educators, we largely ignore poverty and instead focus on how to better teach our students. No amount of revised lesson plans or new curriculum will remove the impact of poverty on student learning.

Taking a stand against low wage poverty is a stand for education. I want to be clear: there is nothing intrinsically wrong with the academic abilities of poor children. In fact, when you remove the stresses created by poverty, academic achievement goes up. There is something wrong with a society and economic system that allows so many of our children to live in poverty.

And one of the biggest problems we have to overcome is ingrained prejudice bolstered by a healthy dose of narcissistic navel-gazing. I got into a very unsettling argument with a handful of normally progressive friends and family recently over the living wage issue. The concerns raised by these folks centered around fairness: "Is it fair to the people who have labored to obtain a college degree or professional certification, only to have someone who didn't even graduate high school come along and get paid $15 per hour?" The argument pretty much fizzled out when I explained how they (as taxpayers) were actually paying part of the wages the employers refused to, via food stamps and other public assistance a $7.25 per hour worker was qualified for. But that didn't address the deeper social schism that caused those feelings of unfairness, a schism that is a direct result of decades of Meritocratic thinking. We're programmed to believe we compete with each other, but, in fact, we are competing with the 1%. And losing.

Tuesday Twitter roundup

The NCGA laser-focused on jobs and the economy:

Um, what? Seriously, what? So, if you're in a 55 mph zone, and the car in in front of you is going 30, you're stuck there. *sigh*

Preserve the Preservation tax credits

For many rural townships, it's the only economic tool they have left:

Last year, Paul Norby, the director of the City-County Planning Department, told the Journal editorial board that the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, using these credits, “has generated $200 million or more in economic investment.”

We’re not alone in benefiting from these credits. For some rural areas in the state, preservation tax credits could play a significant role in spurring economic and community revival. In a lead up to Wednesday’s address, McCrory toured the Hotel Concord on Jan. 30, which local officials hope to restore, and talked about hosting executives who consider investing in the region. “And the first place they want to go to is the center city, to see is there blight or decay or is there a future,” he told The Associated Press.

Republicans like to talk about bringing back old-fashioned values and such, so it's a little confusing why they would casually discard a program that restores historical structures. Their answer, which is becoming a pat response, is for government to "get out of the way" and let private investors do the work. I can tell you with absolute certainty that government is not standing in the way of investments in small towns or historical sections of larger cities. The truth is, those investments are simply waiting for a catalyst, and that catalyst is the government-sponsored refurbishing of key structures that will anchor the revitalization of a district.

Jim Womack puts on his bullying cap over anti-coal ash sign

"No more espresso shots for you!"

Kathy Addison, owner of Kathy’s Java Express in downtown Sanford, says Womack had coffee there on Thursday and after a quick trip to the restroom, entered the kitchen to ask to speak to the owner. Addison, who wasn’t in the cafe at the time, says Womack told her daughter she needed to take the coal ash sign (pictured above) down.

“He said it’d be in our best interest to take it from the window,” she said. “And if we didn’t, we’d lose his business, and he’d make sure we lost other people’s business as well.” Addison’s daughter filed a “communicating threats” complaint to the Sanford Police Department following Thursday’s ordeal.

Good for her, and shame on Womack for making the threat at all, much less to the daughter instead of the owner. Didn't we used to have a "Jackass of the Week" award here? Well, he wins it hands-down.

Against all better judgment, virtual charters coming to NC

And Wall Street investors are throwing a party:

Today’s anticipated vote of approval will be a significant change of the state board, which fought an attempt in the courts from the N.C. Virtual Academy to open up a virtual school three years ago.

If approved, the N.C. Virtual Academy (to be run by K12, Inc., NYSE:LRN) and N.C. Connections Academy (to be run by Connections Academy, owned by education giant Pearson, NYSE:PSO) will be able to enroll up to 1,500 students each from across the state, and send millions in public education dollars to schools run by private education companies.

Why "throw money" at NC's public schools, which graduate 80+% of their students, when you can piss away millions to out-of-state companies that often only achieve a 10% graduation rate? Because "Freedom." But the working poor better not get any ideas about taking part, because the GOP's irresponsibility is all-encompassing:

Coal Ash Wednesday: The contamination continues

The only thing that's ceased is the outrage and determination from lawmakers to fix the problem:

The more that the scientists look, the more problems they find – for example, arsenic in a drinking water reservoir, contaminated well water, fish kills, polluted groundwater. All are unnecessary.

Every day, 3 million gallons of polluted coal ash water flow into North Carolina rivers from Duke Energy’s coal ash lagoons. Every day, groundwater is being contaminated. Every day, there is the risk of another catastrophe. It is long past time for DENR and Duke Energy to act to clean up North Carolina’s coal ash mess and protect all 14 communities and rivers across North Carolina.

And the only thing lawmakers seem to be concerned about is losing ground in their efforts to suppress women's access to health care and LGBT rights. Once again, the GOP is allowing its misogyny and bigotry to draw their focus away from real dangers, and the citizens of NC are paying the price for that lack of concern. Meanwhile, the Duke Energy happy talk express is chugging right along:

State of hate address


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