Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Greensboro News and Record. September 1, 2022.

Editorial: Toyota recharges the Triad economy

Frankly, it still isn’t much to look at.

Most of what you’ll see at the site today are construction crews and equipment and vast swaths of Carolina red clay.

But a new Toyota battery plant that has yet to be built at the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite in Liberty is already growing its workforce.

A Toyota subsidiary, Toyota Battery Manufacturing, said Wednesday that it plans to add 350 more workers to meet the anticipated demand for the electric-vehicle batteries it will produce.

Toyota said its investment in the facility has now grown to $3.8 billion, its workforce to 2,100.

And, as the Winston-Salem Journal’s Richard Craver reported on Thursday, the Toyota project may become the biggest corporate investment in North Carolina history. That’s big news for Greensboro and Guilford County — as well as the rest of the state — if not that big of a surprise.

Word of the expansion comes in the wake of a new rule in California that mandates a transition to electric vehicles and may be emulated by more than a dozen additional states.

The California Air Resources Board told automakers this week that the share of new zero-emissions cars and trucks they sell must increase steadily beginning in 2026 — and must reach 100% by 2035. Further, the rule caps the number of new plug-in hybrids they may sell in the state at 20%.

“This marks another significant milestone for our company,” Norm Bafunno, a Toyota senior vice president, said Wednesday in a news release. “This plant will serve a central role in Toyota’s leadership toward a fully electrified future and will help us meet our goal of carbon neutrality in our vehicles and global operations by 2035.”

Which happens to coincide with California’s timeline.

This, of course, means the demand for electric vehicles and the batteries that power them is expected to be fierce.

As Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson noted Wednesday in the News & Record, “If California were a country, it would be the 10th-largest automobile market in the world.”

And if the 15 other states that typically follow California’s lead in emissions standards do so in this instance the requirement would affect more than one-third of all new vehicles sold in the nation.

Toyota is hardly the only automaker that has made major commitments to electric vehicles. Honda, Ford, General Motors and Hyundai-Kia also plan to build battery plants for the North American market.

The Toyota plant at the megasite will produce lithium-ion batteries for both hybrids and fully electric vehicles. The facility also should attract suppliers to the Triad.

“Toyota, of all the major automakers, likes to have suppliers close to its manufacturing operation, even sharing the same industrial site,” John H. Boyd, a Florida-based site-selection specialist, told the Journal.

As for the Toyota jobs, hiring is expected to begin later this year. Said Toyota’s Bafunno of the region: “We’re working hard to create what we consider to be an employer of choice in that area of North Carolina. There’s going to be great wages, great benefits, job security — great elements for a career.”

After the slow, heartbreaking decline of its bedrock industries over the years — textiles, tobacco and home furnishings — the region is hitching its wagon, better yet, plugging in, to the future of transportation with both Toyota and the upstart passenger jet manufacturer Boom Supersonic, which plans a factory at PTI Airport.

The old, legacy industries are a part of who we are. They paid good wages and have been very generous to Piedmont communities. Some continue to survive, but the good old days are over. The past, in this case, really is past. Soon, if perhaps not soon enough, the same will be said of cars that ingest fossil fuels and exhale toxic fumes through tailpipes.

So this week’s news about Toyota is further confirmation of what could be the dawning of a new economic future here.

It’s certainly balm for this area’s collective soul, finally, to be able to look ahead to what may be rather than to mourn for what once was.

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Charlotte Observer/Raleigh News and Observer. September 5, 2022.

Editorial: NC schools face a double crisis as teachers quit and lawmakers resist order to boost funding

When the Leandro school funding case was filed in 1994, it sought more state funding for five poor rural districts.

But nearly three decades later the crisis caused by state neglect has spread statewide.

As North Carolina children return to the classroom, their schools are reporting a shortage of more than 4,400 teachers and overall staff vacancies that top 11,000. The COVID pandemic has added to a national teacher shortage, but the effects have been especially strong in North Carolina, where teachers were already quitting over low pay and poor treatment from the Republican-led General Assembly.

These were the pressures bearing down on North Carolina’s public schools as the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments last week in the long-running school funding case. At issue is whether the court can compel the legislature to fulfill an agreement between the Leandro plaintiffs and the state’s executive branch that would provide full funding for school needs.

Melanie Dubis, attorney for the school districts, told the seven Supreme Court justices: “The future of the children of North Carolina is now in this court’s hands.”

In return, a lawyer for the legislature’s Republican leaders made the bewildering claim that there is no legislative reluctance to give schools what they need. “This not a contest between those who want to fund education and those who don’t,” Matthew Tilley said.

Tilley repeated the Republican lawmakers’ disingenuous contention that they have given schools “more money than ever.” But that appropriation is still $785 million short of what’s required over the next two years under a court-approved Leandro Plan. Ultimately, the plan calls for the state to increase annual school funding by $5.6 billion by 2028.

Republican lawmakers do not want to pay that amount, but they dress up their unwillingness as a constitutional issue. The legislature, they say, has the power of the purse, a power the state Constitution invests in the people’s representatives. They say they’re not going to allow an “unelected judge” appointed to oversee the Leandro case tell the legislature how much to spend.

But this is not a matter of the court dictating to the legislature. It is a matter of the court determining what the state Constitution requires. That requirement is that the General Assembly support free public schools and ensure that “equal opportunities shall be provided for all students.”

More than 800 high-poverty North Carolina schools, especially in rural areas, are not adequately funded. That has left more than 400,000 of the state’s 1.5 million public school students without an equal opportunity to realize the state Constitution’s promise, a promise the state Supreme Court has defined as a right to “a sound basic education.”

In the Leandro case, Republicans are not defying the courts in defense of the Constitution. They are defying the Constitution in defense of their unwillingness to adequately support all public schools.

The state Supreme Court’s four Democratic and three Republican members will decide the issue. If the court is consistent with its previous Leandro rulings, it will decide that the legislature must fulfill the funding plan.

If Republican lawmakers refuse, they will make clear the truth behind their hollow claims of protecting legislative powers. The truth is that they don’t care if the state’s traditional public schools are starved and inadequate. That neglect allows for tax cuts and improves the prospects for what they really want – to increase the voucher program to help children attend private and religious schools.

Public schools are institutions in which all share the costs and children and the economy reap the benefits.

The state Supreme Court should rule in favor of North Carolina honoring its values and its Constitution. Those who would have it rule otherwise are not serving their state. They are serving themselves at a lifelong cost to children whose ability to fulfill their potential depends on a sound basic education.

END