Are NC tax cuts a race to the bottom? (Hendersonville Times-News) -- The 2013 N.C. tax reform Gov. Pat McCrory praised when he signed it into law provided the overwhelming benefits to higher-income taxpayers and increased sales taxes on consumers. A family with a taxable income of $50,000, which is above the median income, received a tax cut of $388. A family with a taxable income of $200,000 received a tax cut of $2,938. While families with higher taxable incomes benefited significantly, the vast majority of taxpayers who have much lower taxable incomes received a very small cut in their income taxes. Who ends up paying most of the sales taxes? Those with taxable incomes below $50,000. Did this tax reform really put more money in most families’ budgets?
THE WHOLE STORY http://www.blueridgenow.com/article/20150201/ARTICLES/502011009
Leaders to target jobs plan (Rocky Mount Telegram) -- Among the major issues being discussed by the N.C. General Assembly is using economic incentive packages as a tool to lure major industries to North Carolina.
Lawmakers mum on PWC dispute as both sides file proposed changes (Fayetteville Observer) -- Two very different sets of proposals for changing the Fayetteville Public Works Commission charter have gone to Raleigh.
Locals: Gay marriage option not needed (Elizabeth City Daily Advance) -- The General Assembly caused new rumblings this week along the fault line between gay rights and religious beliefs, following state senators backing a bill to let local officials opt out of helping gay couples get married.
POLICY & POLITICS
McCrory prepares to lay out agenda in state speech (Raleigh News & Observer) On Wednesday night, Gov. Pat McCrory will stand before a joint session of the state legislature, with Supreme Court justices, Council of State members, Cabinet secretaries and the rest of the state’s political world watching as he gives his second State of the State speech.
Is N.C. really the most military friendly? (Fayetteville Observer) -- Like many states, North Carolina has millions of dollars on the line. No cause for concern if you really are the most military-friendly state in the nation, but three canaries in the coal mine say not so fast. … The first red flag is findings by a consulting group hired by the N.C. Military Affairs Commission, improve quality of life for service members and support military-related economic opportunities for the state. Florida and Texas out-score North Carolina in benefits and incentives for the military and their families.
NC's Photo ID Voting Requirement May Be Challenged In Trial This July (WUNC-FM) -- Voting rights advocates argued in a Wake County court on Friday that a new state law requiring voters to show photo identification at polling stations is unconstitutional because it will create a barrier to voting, keeping primarily minorities from the ballot.
For Henry McCollum and Leon Brown, freedom has a cost (Raleigh News & Observer) -- Henry McCollum spent three decades in prison, an innocent man on death row, praying every day for his freedom. But now, four months after he and his half brother were exonerated of a horrible rape and murder, McCollum is struggling in the free world. He can’t drive. His family has no car and no income. He’d like to work as a janitor, but he feels he needs a pardon to clear his name before he can get a job. “I can’t do nothing to help my family,” McCollum said. “They’re not able to pay their bills.”
Camper who was injured by hunting dogs works to change law (Asheville Citizen-Times) -- Kadie Anderson hopes no one else ever has to suffer the terror and helplessness she experienced when her dogs were attacked by a pack of bear hunting hounds in a Graham County wilderness area in October. That's why Anderson is leading a petition drive aimed at changing North Carolina's dangerous dog law, which presently exempts hunting dogs. "It doesn't take away any of their rights," Anderson said of hunters. "It's about making people responsible for the actions of their dogs."
Blue Cross pricing tool could shake up medical industry (Raleigh News & Observer) -- Blue Cross pricing tool provides average reimbursements paid to hundreds of doctors and hospitals across North Carolina.
Letter with suspicious powder received at Samaritan's Purse (AP) — The FBI says it's investigating a suspicious letter containing white powder that was sent to the headquarters of the Samaritan's Purse charity in western North Carolina.
3 men shot in Afghanistan worked for N.C. firm (AP) — A Fayetteville-based firm employed three Defense Department contractors who were shot to death earlier this week in Afghanistan, according to a company news release.
Coach stunned by invitation to Cuban wrestling tournament (AP) — When Dave Pelsang received the email from USA Wrestling informing him he'd been selected as one of the officials for an international tournament in Cuba, Northside's first-year coach wasn't sure what to think.
Town honors distinguished newsman, preservationist (Washington Daily News) -- Bath residents and historic preservationists gathered Friday to celebrate one of their own. Distinguished journalist, editor and a driving force, among many, behind historic preservation in North Carolina’s oldest town, Gene Roberts was awarded one of the state’s highest honors, the Order of the Long Leaf Pine.
Nags Head envisions use for defunct amusement park (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot) -- A new Nags Head public area proposed to replace the iconic Dowdy's Amusement Park will likely feature large open spaces, walkways through gardens and themes related to the sea and cottages. Town staffers unveiled three concepts for the park last week. All three offer similar amenities. A final design is expected in March or April.
UNIVERSITIES & SCHOOLS
App State student dies after emergency medical (AP) — Police say a 23-year-old student at Appalachian State died at a hospital after being found in distress at an off-campus residence.
Appalachian State University student dies, eighth since August (Charlotte Observer) -- Boone Police reported Saturday that an Appalachian State University student from Charlotte had died, bringing to eight the number of student deaths in the ASU community since classes began in August.
New documentary explores sexual assault at UNC-Chapel Hill, other campuses (Raleigh News & Observer) --
"The Hunting Ground," a new documentary about campus sexual assault, features former UNC-Chapel Hill students whose federal complaint prompted significant changes at the university.
Shawn Horton - UNCW mishandles decision on track programs (Wilmington Star-News column) -- When it comes to handling decisions and communications regarding athletics, the University of North Carolina Wilmington has a losing record.
Parents weigh in on school grades (Elizabeth City Daily Advance) -- Even before their release, school officials and parents are questioning the value of new school letter grades, dubious they will accurately reflect student learning and school performance.
Morehead girls bring back the cheer (Raleigh News & Observer) -- The Governor Morehead School in Raleigh played host to a wrestling and cheerleading tournament for schools for the blind.
Craven Schools begin redistricting process (New Bern Sun Journal) -- Upon the completion of a special Craven County Board of Education meeting Tuesday dedicated to the redistricting of schools, it was anticipated the following Thursday’s board meeting would have increased attendance.
Ash spill changes Duke’s attitude (Greensboro News & Record) -- The thousands of tons of coal ash that spilled into the Dan River caused Duke Energy to re-examine “every aspect of our organization” with an emphasis on safety and environmental stewardship, Duke Energy CEO Lynn Good said. Good said that, a year after the spill, Duke Energy has emerged with a re-energized resolve to do right by both the environment and the communities affected by its power plants.
GREENSBORO NEWS & RECORD SPECIAL SECTION
· Chapter 1 -- The day the pipe broke, an accident waiting to happen -- At 6 that morning, a guard at the Duke Energy plant made his rounds and noticed that the coal ash ponds by the river were iced over. That’s all — nothing dramatic or unusual for a cold February dawn.
· Chapter 2 -- Where did the ash go? Most ash settled up to 25 miles downstream -- All this trouble stems from the powdery, drab-colored substance that remains after a power plant burns coal to produce electricity.
· Chapter 3 -- Coal ash in the water supply, Is the water safe to drink? -- Plant operator Steven Johns never counted himself a big sports fan, so he didn’t mind working a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift on Super Bowl Sunday last year at the city’s water treatment plant.
· Chapter 4 -- Response to the spill, Did Duke Energy downplay severity in spill notification? -- That Sunday evening as the Dan River spill grew in size and intensity on the outskirts of Eden, the response in Virginia progressed like an outtake from an emergency training video.
· Chapter 5 -- Stemming the deluge,Stopping the leak took 4 days -- Duke Energy failed that Sunday to successfully convey to North Carolina officials the potentially disastrous nature of what had just happened at the retired steam station, but the company reacted quickly within its own ranks.
· Chapter 6 -- Regulators and accountability: A lack of oversight let flaws go undetected -- North Carolina utility executives enjoyed special status with the state government for a long time and with both political parties. Nowhere is that more evident than in state regulation of the ash ponds run by Duke Energy and Carolina Power & Light, later renamed Progress Energy and absorbed in 2012 into the Duke system by a merger.
· Chapter 7 -- Anatomy of a spill: Duke told about pipe failings -- As much as anything, the story of the Dan River spill is a tale told in metal. The spill owes much of its threat to the relatively small amount of heavy metals contained in the ash, the major pollutants fused to what remains of pulverized coal used in the production of electricity.
· Chapter 8 -- The aftermath: Environmental impact could take years to determine -- It could take years for an accurate picture to emerge of exactly how much serious damage, if any, Duke Energy’s coal ash spill inflicted on the Dan River one year ago this week.
Duke Energy’s coal ash leaks persist across NC (Charlotte Observer) -- A year after a spectacular spill into the Dan River, Duke Energy’s North Carolina ash ponds are apparently still leaking more than 3 million gallons a day near rivers and lakes. In filings to state regulators in December, Duke reported 200 seeps at its 14 coal-fired power plants. Duke says it’s not clear whether all of them come from ash ponds.
Protesters march against coal ash disposal in Lee County (Fayetteville Observer) -- Passing cars honked at the procession marching down N.C.87 in Sanford Saturday. The gathering that assembled in front of the Big Kmart at the N.C. 78 intersection at 10 a.m. held signs with slogans such as "Duke Energy is making Lee County its ashtray" and "Don't ask Lee to save your ash!" Leading the march was Ternica Luxton, a volunteer for the Environmental Lee chapter of the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League dressed as a brown bear and holding a three-sided sign. "I can't bear to see Lee County polluted," she said by way of explanation.
Residents Say No to Coal Ash in Lee County (TWCN-TV) -- A proposed coal ash storage facility is receiving a lot of opposition in Lee County. "You can't sit out on your own front porch and enjoy your flowers and nature if you know you are breathing hazardous chemicals,” said Johnsie Redding Tipton, whose family has lived next to the train tracks in the Colon community for more than 100 years. Tipton says her home is a nature preserve that's now threatened. The million tons of coal ash that could find a new home in Lee County will travel by rail, right past her home.
Officials Test Dan River Near Anniversary of Coal Ash Spill (TWCN-TV) -- Monday will be the one-year anniversary of the massive coal ash spill into the Dan River. State officials and environmentalists gathered Friday on the North Carolina/Virginia line to take samples. The Milton boat launch is among the spots the state periodically tests to check on water quality. It's about 30 miles downstream from the spill site. ‘’From our perspective, the health of the river is very good,’’ said Tom Reeder, Assistant Secretary for the Environment. "What we've found … is the river's recovered quite well." But members of the Waterkeeper Alliance point out that river bed samples show that coal ash has settled to the bottom and is covered with sediment. "We know what's in coal ash, and it's a whole host of toxic heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, chromium, all carcinogens, lead, mercury, neurotoxins,’’ said Peter Harrison, Staff Attorney for Waterkeeper Alliance.
Local residents march against coal ash in Lee (Sanford Herald) -- Signs that read “Duke Energy is making Lee County its ashtray” and “No coal ash dumping” made their way down South Horner Boulevard in Saturday.
Opposition rises against coal ash disposal plans (Raleigh News & Observer) -- Fifteen miles apart, in Lee and Chatham counties near the geographic center of the state, lie two giant holes in the earth in which Duke Energy Progress and its millions of electric customers might hope to bury their troubles. Excavating the material, moving it and encapsulating it in former open mines is a grand-scale experiment that could change the landscape of two North Carolina counties in more ways than one. The boards of commissioners in both counties have adopted resolutions opposing the coal ash dumps, and residents are consulting with lawyers and environmentalists to see what actions they can take to stop or stall the plans.
Permanent plans for ash at Buck Steam Station still undecide (Salisbury Post) -- After five decades of storing coal ash next to the Yadkin River, sweeping state legislation and an environmental disaster on the Dan River, permanent plans for the six million tons of dark, gray matter in ponds next to Buck Steam Station.
Make Belews Creek a top priority, residents and environmental activists say (Winston-Salem Journal) -- A coal ash spill at the Belews Creek Steam Station could be far worse than the one last year in Eden that dumped 39,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River, a group of residents and environmental activists said at a rally Saturday.
ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
Flooding could become daily problem in N.C. by 2045 (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot) -- North Carolina’s coast will see more frequent and more destructive floods at high tide over the next 30 years, several studies say - even on mild, sunny days - as rising sea levels shove the Atlantic Ocean higher onto our shores. A 2014 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists warns that minor tidal flooding will become a near-daily event in the Wilmington area by 2045.
Coastal towns keep eye on changes in drilling (Jacksonville Daily News) -- The signs are there that drilling for oil and natural gas may be on the horizon off the North Carolina coast, and coastal towns are watching. The Obama Administration announced this week a draft strategy for offshore oil and gas leasing that includes potential lease sites off the mid- and south Atlantic coast. On the heels of the Jan. 27 announcement, the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources said Friday that it has received the first consistency submissions from two companies proposing to conduct seismic surveys in the Atlantic Ocean related to oil and gas resource development.
Thom Tillis: Bill would give states access to fuel (Fayetteville Observer column) -- When I ran for the U.S. Senate last year, I promised North Carolinians I would fight for common-sense policies that create opportunities for hardworking taxpayers. I have repeatedly stressed the need for both parties in Washington to work together to pursue an "all of the above" strategy to unleash America's untapped energy resources to spark both job creation and technological innovation.
Dreams of drilling (Greensboro News & Record editorial) -- Visions of drilling in the oil-rich waters off North Carolina’s coast may stir the imaginations of some Tar Heel politicians, but a realistic approach to resource development is best for the state.
Fayetteville, N.C. officials search for source of chemical in water supply Updated (Fayetteville Observer) -- Fayetteville's tap water contains traces of an industrial chemical that has been classified as likely to cause cancer in humans, and local and state officials are working to find its source in the Cape Fear River.
Governing by illusion in NC (Raleigh News & Observer column) -- The political contest in North Carolina is no longer between Democrats and Republicans. The Democrats have been vanquished, undone by their disorganization and lack of conviction and gerrymandered into irrelevance. Now the contest is between Republicans and reality. And, for now, reality is losing.
NC must pay for quality teachers (Raleigh News & Observer) -- It was nonetheless refreshing to see the Republican-appointed board members recognizing a problem and listening to educators who know the depth of it. This is something new. Since Republicans took control of the General Assembly four years ago, they’ve issued a series of edicts to “reform” K-12 education without bothering to follow the advice of people who have experience running schools and teaching in them.
The dangers of anti-test frenzy (Charlotte Observer) -- The fight against standardized testing has become about more than testing. For some, it’s about control over what happens in our children’s classrooms. For some, it’s about finding a new weapon in the political battle against Common Core standards.
Raleigh needs buses, not rail (Raleigh News & Observer column) -- Before we sink huge bundles of money into a light-rail system, a stronger case needs to be made, given limited resources.
Funding needed for highways (Wilmington Star-News) -- Time's a-wasting. The state gas tax that has paid for many of the state's roughly 80,000 miles of state-maintained roads is no longer keeping up, and if lawmakers don't find other sources of money, our crowded roads and substandard bridges will only continue to decline.
Youg black males need demonstrators, not protesters (Raleigh News & Observer column) -- Even those black males who don’t completely subscribe to the “being smart is being white” philosophy are forced by peer pressure to dial back their classroom participation, and their educations suffer accordingly. The core contributor to the detrimental attitudes of young black males toward education is a woeful lack of black male role models in any facet of their lives, be it home, school, work or church. This problem is self-perpetuating.
Historic building tax credit needs to be revived (Fayetteville Observer) -- The General Assembly tossed out the baby with the bath water. But there's still time to get the baby back. Sooner would be much better than later. The baby was golden: tax incentives that helped make historic-building restoration affordable. In Fayetteville, the tax credits were a key to the remarkable resurrection of our downtown over the past 15 or 20 years.
Salisbury ahead of curve, hoopla for fiber (Salisbury Post) -- City officials in Salisbury saw fiber-optic cable as a way of creating jobs, helping education and giving Salisbury a competitive advantage, which all sounds eerily familiar. They also feared the advantages of high-speed, fiber-optic Internet connections would not come to Salisbury for years, maybe decades, if left to the existing cable providers. They predicted — and Google Fiber’s announcement reinforces their assessment — that the speeds associated with fiber-optic networks would go to the metropolitan areas first, unless Salisbury took action on its own.
It's too late when the roof falls in (Fayetteville Observer column) -- I've seen locally how well the Museum of the Cape Fear will draw crowds for top-notch free events, a credit to our state and to the hardy staff that has kept going despite budget cuts and threats to our regional museum's future. Smart people know that you can build on history. Sometimes you just need some help to make it possible. And it always pays to step up before the roof caves in.
Dan Forest: Value of historic preservation tax credits (Fayetteville Observer column) -- The North Carolina historic preservation tax credits, along with local and federal support, ensure that our most treasured, and often most endangered, landmarks have a chance to be renovated and added back into the fabric of our communities.
Celia Rivenbark - College aid too sweet for comfort (Wilmington Star-News column) -- I'm alerting Duh Hubby that we don't have any financial worries at all no matter where the Princess goes to college.
A Personal Right to Ignore a Law? (Southern Pines Pilot) -- Suppose there were a member of a non-Christian faith working in the courthouse down in Rockingham County.
Historic tax credits should be renewed (Rocky Mount Telegram) -- Gov. Pat McCroy last week again called on state lawmakers to restore historic preservation tax credits that expired Jan. 1.
McHenry must steer GOP votes toward keeping budget savings (Raleigh News & Observer column) -- As chief deputy whip this session, U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry will be responsible for helping to hold together a fractious Republican bloc when signature legislation comes up for a vote in the House. At no time will that be harder, or more critical, than when it's time to decide on the federal budget.
NC East aims to bring more jobs; let’s hope it does so (Elizabeth City Daily Advance) -- It was encouraging to hear the head of the region’s newly merged economic development group say recently that his organization won’t be taking a one-size-fits-all approach to recruiting new business and industry.