Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Charlotte Observer/Raleigh News and Observer. April 21, 2022.

Editorial: Will the Panthers still move to SC? What Charlotte should take from the dispute

There’s a not-so-new lesson to be learned this week by everyone in the Carolinas: if David Tepper has leverage, you might as well assume he’s going to use it.

That’s what happened Tuesday, when the Carolina Panthers said they had terminated their contract with the city of Rock Hill for the team’s new $800 million headquarters and practice facility.

Construction was already underway on the massive 240-acre project but was paused last month amid funding issues. Tepper Sports & Entertainment, the parent company of the Panthers, said then that Rock Hill had been “unable to contribute to the agreed-upon investment to fund the construction of the public infrastructure.” The city, for its part, claimed it had met all obligations required under the agreements, though reports indicate there were some hiccups in issuing the $225 million in bonds it promised.

It’s unclear what, exactly, will happen to the project moving forward. Tepper Sports & Entertainment has already invested $170 million into the development, which is currently sitting dormant and half-finished off of I-77.

Some form of reconciliation may not be totally out of the question. In a statement provided to local media, a spokesperson for GT Real Estate Holdings, which represents Tepper Sports & Entertainment in the deal, said that representatives “are prepared to sit down with the City and other interested parties to discuss the significant challenges ahead.”

Tepper didn’t amass his large fortune by leaving money on the table, and he certainly isn’t going to start doing so now. When he decided to move operations across the border to South Carolina, it came with a pretty package of incentives and public investment, including $225 million in local government bonds and $115 million in tax breaks from the state.

There’s no indication that the Panthers would want to bring the project back to Charlotte, close to Bank of America Stadium where the team plays its games. It wouldn’t hurt for Charlotte to check in on that possibility, anyway, but for now, Charlotte should take the saga over the border as a cautionary tale.

Somewhere down the line, Tepper will be making a formal request for more of Charlotte’s money, and more than likely, he’ll be asking for a brand-new, state-of-the-art stadium in the heart of uptown. Bank of America Stadium is one of the oldest stadiums in the NFL, and Tepper has expressed interest in building a new one. He says, however, that he’s not going to build it alone.

Which means, of course, that Charlotte would be expected to cough up big dollars to make it happen — likely at least a third of the cost.

But splitting the bill for a stadium that could cost upwards of a billion dollars may not be wise, let alone feasible, for Charlotte. The idea that stadiums more or less pay for themselves in jobs and economic development often doesn’t hold true, and some Charlotteans object to the idea of investing significantly more in professional sports when problems like transit and housing have yet to be addressed. Besides, it’s not clear if Charlotte even has the debt capacity to contribute that large a sum. And yet, if the city isn’t able or willing to fork the money over, Tepper could walk and take the Panthers elsewhere.

There’s no indication — and no apparent worry yet among city leaders who spoke to the Editorial Board — that this is the first step toward the team leaving the Charlotte region altogether. But when the time comes for a new stadium, Charlotte should be prudent in untying the purse strings for a billionaire who happens to also be the richest owner in the NFL.

As we’ve said before, city leaders should find a way to negotiate a deal that benefits both Tepper and Charlotte, perhaps by creating a sizable entertainment district near the stadium that could yield additional food and beverage tax revenue. The stadium, and the two Tepper-owned professional sports teams that play in it, no doubt yield tremendous value for the city — not just economically, but culturally, too — and no public official wants to be viewed by sports fans as the reason the Panthers left Charlotte.

Regardless of what happens to the team’s headquarters in South Carolina, it’s another reminder that Tepper is a negotiator who is unafraid to play hardball and walk away. Charlotte leaders, who have had to play ball with Tepper since he bought the Panthers in 2018, surely know this. If they don’t, they just got a clearer signal.

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Winston-Salem Journal. April 23, 2022.

Editorial: The GOP’s contempt for our public schools

If the decades-long debate over school funding in North Carolina has accomplished nothing else, it has removed any doubt about where Republicans stand on public education in North Carolina.

The GOP-controlled General Assembly is not only indifferent to the issue of money for schools, it is downright hostile.

Republicans’ contempt for public education in North Carolina is so obvious that you could tie on a blindfold, turn your back and cover your ears and still know it’s there.

Flush with a fat budget surplus and higher-than-expected revenues, the legislature still refuses to give underfunded schools the resources they need and deserve.

And it will fight tooth and nail to keep things that way.

The latest front in this shameful battle is back in a familiar setting: a courtroom.

In case you’ve missed the latest twists in the saga, the new judge in the case has asked for more time.

The state Supreme Court has given Special Superior Court Judge Michael Robinson a week’s extension, until Wednesday, to decide whether he will order the state to fully fund a remediation plan for poor school districts.

What’s another week? The Leandro suit originally was filed 28 years ago, in 1994, by needy schools seeking more equitable funding.

As for why there’s a new judge in the first place?

Because the previous one was removed. Chief Justice Paul Newby reassigned the case from David Lee, who had rankled GOP leaders with his insistence that the state send $1.75 billion to schools to address the inequities. The money would finance a remedial plan to upgrade K-12 schooling through mid-2023.

Lee rightly contended that lawmakers are violating the state constitution’s mandated “opportunity for a sound basic education” for North Carolina. At-risk students and students in poor districts are not getting that opportunity, Lee said.

Republicans contended it was not Lee’s call to make — that he was infringing on the legislature’s authority to determine how the state spends its money, they say.

The majority-Republican state Court of Appeals agreed, blocking Lee’s order.

But now the state Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case, but only after Robinson has reviewed how school appropriations in the current state budget affect the total amount.

As for Lee, he had presided over the funding case, Leandro v. North Carolina, since 2016. He has reached the mandatory retirement age for judges, 72, but many retired judges have been allowed to preside over pending cases beyond retirement — with the chief justice’s approval.

Newby didn’t approve, booting Lee without telling him why. So Lee, a Democrat who was appointed by a Republican governor, Pat McCrory, in 2016, was replaced with Robinson, a Republican.

Lee has been allowed to continue to preside over another case, but not Leandro.

“I’ve never gotten any formal notice or explanation,” Lee told the Associated Press at the time. “My guess on that is as good as yours.”

To be clear, Newby was well within his authority to remove Lee from the Leandro case. That didn’t make it right.

So, in Lee’s place is Robinson, who will evaluate what the current budget provides for Leandro versus what Lee had ordered.

To recap: Republicans fiercely disagree with Lee’s order that the state invest more in its schools, even calling him “unhinged.”

Newby, a Republican, takes Lee off the case and replaces him with a Republican.

With a massive budget surplus, the state easily can afford this expense.

Yet it won’t and here we are.

The need clearly is there. This state ranks 47th in the nation in per-student funding, 33rd in teacher pay, even as the state is scrambling to find and keep enough educators on the job.

According to a recent WRAL-TV poll, 62% of North Carolinians say public schools are underfunded, 59% of Republicans. Sixty-six percent of North Carolinians say teachers are underpaid, as well as 66% of Republicans.

Teachers have been confronted with COVID, culture wars and poor working conditions, and yet their concerns are disparaged and dismissed.

Instead of providing books, the GOP seems more concerned with removing them.

Public schools should be a linchpin for healthy communities and economies.

But even as Republican lawmakers huff and puff about “accountability,” they attempt to dodge their own accountability to the voters with gerrymandered districts.

How else to explain all of this as anything but a dislike for public schools?

Will somebody, please, prove us wrong, and do right by our schools?

It’s only been nearly 30 years.

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