Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Charlotte Observer. Nov. 16, 2021.

Editorial: North Carolina will finally get a budget — but it’s not a good one

More than two years after a standoff between Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper and Republican lawmakers left North Carolina without a comprehensive spending plan, it appears North Carolina will finally get a budget — no matter how bad that budget may be.

North Carolina is the only state in the country that has yet to enact a budget for the fiscal year that began more than four months ago. On Monday, lawmakers released a budget proposal that they say contains elements of “compromise” between Democrats and Republicans. Less than 24 hours later, Cooper announced he’d sign it, saying that “on balance, the good outweighs the bad.”

Yes, it is a budget (at last!). But that doesn’t make it a victory.

This budget proposal isn’t much better than the one Cooper vetoed two years ago. It doesn’t contain high enough raises for teachers and other state employees, nor does it expand Medicaid for the more than 500,000 North Carolinians who lack access to affordable, quality health care.

In fact, this so-called compromise budget is hardly a compromise at all.

For starters, most educators and state employees, who haven’t seen a pay increase since the last budget was passed in 2017, will get a tepid 5% raise over the next two years. Though it also includes teacher bonuses and salary supplements for teachers in low-wealth counties, it’s hardly enough to keep up with inflation, and it’s unlikely to alleviate the critical teacher shortage our state is facing. The same goes for non-certified public school employees, including cafeteria workers and custodians, who will make $15 an hour after two years. While that may be an improvement, it’s certainly not a solution.

And rather than acknowledge their obligation to fund education in accordance with the Leandro case, Republicans are apparently choosing to take advantage of the state’s multibillion-dollar surplus by spending on tax cuts. In addition to reducing the personal income tax rate, the budget will completely phase out the corporate income tax after 2029. That might benefit corporations, but it won’t help North Carolinians. Republicans also managed to squeeze in the contents of two bills that Cooper had already vetoed this year, including a provision to limit the governor’s powers during an emergency.

But despite what he called “missed opportunities and misguided policies,” Cooper decided the costs of another veto were too high — and we don’t blame him. Budget battles have consequences, and North Carolinians — especially teachers — have felt those consequences over the past couple of years. While we might have preferred for him to go back to the table and negotiate for better educator raises and Medicaid expansion, Republicans probably wouldn’t have budged. Cooper’s veto didn’t give us a better budget last time, and it’s unlikely to do so now.

There are some positives in the budget, including broadband expansion, water and sewer upgrades, child tax credit increases and higher education funding. That includes expanding the NC Promise program, which guarantees $500-per-semester tuition for in-state students at several universities.

“I will sign this budget because of its critical and necessary investments and I will fight to fix its mistakes,” Cooper said in his announcement Tuesday.

Unlike Cooper, we’re not certain the positives outweigh the negatives, but this is probably the best deal North Carolina is going to get right now. That’s not Cooper’s fault; it’s the fault of Republicans who have repeatedly been unwilling to craft a bipartisan budget that reflects much more than their own priorities. Lawmakers could address the challenges our state faces — we have the money, after all — but they won’t, at least not in meaningful ways.

Voters should take note of that. This budget may be better than nothing, but it’s still a long way from good. While the budget process may be mercifully nearing its end, Cooper and Democratic lawmakers should keep fighting to improve the many areas in which it falls short.

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Winston-Salem Journal. Nov. 11, 2021.

Editorial: Balancing our monuments

As movements to remove Confederate statues from places of prominence on public property — often near town halls or courthouses — gained steam over the last few years, some warned that doing so would be tantamount to “erasing history.” Never mind schools, museums, books, films, podcasts, etc. The statues were apparently doing the heavy lifting.

Those history supporters should be celebrating now that a new movement seems afoot — one that counters the dubious lessons offered by Confederate memorials with representations of people who fought on behalf of the United States rather than against it. Rather than bringing Confederate monuments down — which some state laws now prevent — these new memorials confront and confound their messages.

“Boundless,” a new public sculpture honoring the United States Colored Troops, a unit of African American soldiers who fought for the Union, is being unveiled this weekend at the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington. The memorial consists of a series of life-size bronze statues depicting the three ranks of USCT soldiers, along with a color guard and a drummer, marching toward Confederate fortifications.

“As a Black man in America, you see the imagery of a Black person in chains, being whipped, begging, kneeling and helpless,” North Carolina artist Stephen Hayes, who designed the monument, told the StarNews. “This project is important to me because, as a creator, I get to change that narrative — by giving Black soldiers a sense of honor and pride.”

Last month, a similar monument was unveiled in Franklin, Tenn.: a statue titled “March to Freedom,” depicting one USCT soldier. It stands directly across the street from a Confederate statue.

The soldier stands with one foot on a decaying tree stump that signifies the end of the “tree of sorrow,” to which Black people were tied for sale or even hanged from as punishment, according to sculptor Joe Frank Howard. A pair of broken shackles lies partly buried in dirt, signifying that the Black soldiers were “never to be chained again.”

The statue’s organizers see it as a response, not just to the Confederacy, but to the white supremacists who rallied in Charlottesville in 2017.

And in Culpeper County, Va., a new granite obelisk commemorating Black Civil War veterans was dedicated last week.

“(They were) people who wanted freedom, willing to fight for it, be persistent in their dreams, to endure and to sacrifice for their families, Howard Lambert of the Freedom Foundation Virginia said. “This is the story of America.”

These are all fitting memorials to American patriots who fought for their freedom and to keep the nation together. Yet we fear, based on previous similar memorials, that some will object to their presence — destructively.

A memorial for teenage lynching victim Emmett Till in Mississippi has been vandalized so often — riddled with bullet holes and even thrown into a nearby river — that officials have been forced to wrap it in bulletproof glass and add security cameras and alarms.

In September, a 65-year-old woman was arrested after police say she defaced a memorial in Glendale, Calif., dedicated to Korean women forced into sex slavery during World War II.

And a statue honoring George Floyd in New York City’s Union Square Park has been vandalized numerous times.

Without a doubt, the vandals represent a small, disturbed segment of the population, not the whole. A few statues honoring Confederate soldiers have suffered similar treatment, including “Silent Sam,” a Confederate landmark on the UNC-Chapel Hill campus that was toppled by a group of protesters in 2018 and subsequently removed.

There should be a clear moral distinction between statues erected to honor those who fought against the United States and for slavery and statues that honor those who fought on behalf of the United States and for freedom — as well as those that memorialize victims of blind and violent racism.

Still, vandalism is not the answer. Creating new monuments — or removal — are much more satisfying responses.

America has made progress against the white supremacy that was once so pervasive as to be considered normal. But, as current conversations, some laced with bad faith, make clear, we’ve got much further to go.

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Greensboro News & Record. Nov. 14, 2021.

Editorial: The bipartisan infrastructure deal

The passage of President Biden’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan, after months of wrangling and tough negotiating, is good news for everyone — or certainly should be.

Our infrastructure has required attention for some time now, as we were first warned decades ago, when roads began failing and bridges began falling.

And now, thanks to Biden’s deal, which he plans to sign into law on Monday, we’ll finally receive structural repairs and improvements that will put us on a better platform to grow our economy and compete with other nations.

Here are some highlights of the bill’s provisions:

$110 billion to repair 173,000 total miles of America’s highways and major roads and 45,000 bridges that are in poor condition.

$39 billion to expand transportation systems, improve accessibility for people with disabilities and buy zero-emission and low-emission buses.

$7.5 billion for electric vehicle charging stations and $5 billion for the purchase of electric school buses and hybrids, reducing reliance on school buses that run on diesel fuel.

$65 billion for broadband access to improve internet service for rural areas, low-income families and tribal communities.

$65 billion to improve the reliability and resiliency of the power grid — while boosting carbon-capture technologies and more environmentally friendly electricity sources like clean hydrogen.

$55 billion for water and wastewater infrastructure — including $15 billion to replace lead pipes and $10 billion to address water contamination from known pollutants.

Many of the provisions have climate change mitigations baked in. This is entirely reasonable, as we witness more and more extreme weather events that affect the American people in adverse ways.

The deal is expected to bring billions in investments to North Carolina, both our urban and rural areas.

“The jobs created by this legislation are jobs that cannot be outsourced. They will be performed here in the United States of America,” Rep. Deborah Ross of N.C.’s 2nd Congressional District said during a news conference Monday in Raleigh. “It will boost all of our workers, from the folks who pave the roads to the scientists and engineers who are designing 21st century transportation networks, water and sewer systems and cutting-edge electrical grids.”

We’ll likely see about $400 million for highways and $90 million for bridges, Transportation Secretary Eric Boyette said.

And the broadband access will especially help with both education and commerce in our state’s rural areas. “Broadband isn’t a luxury,” Rep. David Price of N.C.’s 4th District said. “Broadband expansion has to be, for this century, what rural electrification was for our parents and grandparents in the last century.”

Even though the deal received bipartisan support — 19 Senate Republicans and 13 House Republicans voted for it — its passage won’t please everyone. Some Republican firebrands have been portraying it in hyperbolic terms as an undesirable victory for their political foe, President Biden. The word “traitor” has been tossed at their fellow Republicans more than once.

Among the critics are North Carolina native son and former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who, during an interview last week, said that the 13 House Republicans who backed the bill should be removed from their committee assignments.

That’s just wrong. Whomever Meadows is loyal to, it’s not the North Carolinians who will benefit from these investments.

Many of the Republicans who worked with Democrats to pass the bill are more moderate in their approach to legislation, hoping to serve the country as a whole — especially in the face of a rising China — rather than exhibit fealty to the candidate who lost the last presidential election. They include Reps. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Fred Upton of Michigan (the recipient of crude death threats following his vote); as well as Sens. Bill Cassidy of Louisiana; Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky (who said he was “delighted” by the deal); Lindsey Graham of South Carolina; Rob Portman of Ohio; Mitt Romney of Utah; and our own Richard Burr and Thom Tillis. Cooler, calmer heads prevailed, demonstrating why we should elect more.

It is a victory for Biden. It’s also a victory for his vision of bipartisanship. Best of all, it’s a victory for the American people as we compete to be the world’s marketplace, strive to provide our children with a world-class education and set the stage for a prosperous and peaceful future.

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