Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The News & Observer, Raleigh, North Carolina, on the state budget:
All you need to know about the state Senate's budget proposal is that its authors don't want you to know much.
The $21.47 billion spending plan is crammed with new policies and administrative changes. The nonspending elements should be considered by themselves with a reasonable period of public hearings and comment. By stuffing them into the budget, Republicans get to slam it through under one cover.
And slam is the plan. After budget deliberations that went on for weeks behind closed doors, Senate leader Phil Berger revealed the plan's highlights on Monday. Then lawmakers, lobbyists, media and others crowded into small subcommittee meeting rooms - the crowd sometimes spilling into hallways - to hear the details. Berger expects a final Senate vote by Thursday.
The proposed spending plan calls for the continued strangulation of the state budget, offering a meager 2 percent spending increase when the state should be trying to restore spending cut during the Great Recession and suppressed despite the recovery. It gives a pay boost to most teachers but cuts their resources by eliminating more than 8,500 teacher assistant jobs. It offers no across-the-board increase for state employees. It proposes further cuts in the University of North Carolina system.
The budget also offers a slew of policy changes. It would take Medicaid administration away for the state Department of Health and Human Services and turn management of the $13 billion program over to an agency not subject to the state personnel law and led by politically appointed managers who would select private health insurance companies to run the program. It's a formula for patient neglect and private company profiteering that could be influenced by campaign contributions.
The budget also includes another round of personal and corporate income tax cuts despite a lack of evidence that the cuts are spurring the state economy. A U.S. Department of Commerce analysis shows that North Carolina's growth rate slowed to 1.4 percent last year, down from 2.3 percent in 2013. It was also below the national rate of 2.2 percent and the growth rates of South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.
Berger has compounded the hazards of this secretive and sweeping spending plan by pushing for a quick vote with less than two weeks before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1 ...
The forces pushing it are not conservative. They're radical. Despite their control of the Senate majority, they know many elements of this budget would not be supported by the majority of North Carolinians.
The only hope now is that the House insists on a more deliberative process that allows for wider public evaluation and comment, a process that could derail some of the extreme Senate proposals and offer more investment in North Carolina.
News and Record, Greensboro, North Carolina, on shark attacks:
Beaches were open and swimming was allowed at Oak Island on North Carolina's coast Monday, despite two shark attacks there late Sunday afternoon.
"Oak Island is still a safe place," Oak Island Town Manager Tim Hollomon said Sunday evening. "We're monitoring the situation. This is highly unusual."
It was more than unusual. What happened was a horrifying, shocking series of events that actually began Thursday when a 13-year-old girl was bitten on the foot at Ocean Isle Beach, just 20 miles from Oak Island.
The Sunday attacks, separated by less than 90 minutes and two miles, were more serious. A 12-year-old girl from Asheboro lost part of an arm and sustained a severe leg injury. A 16-year-old boy from Colorado lost an arm. Both had been in waist-deep water not far from shore.
They were air-lifted to a Wilmington hospital and were reported to be in good condition Monday. Much credit goes to first-responders on the beach.
Yet, town authorities didn't order swimmers out of the water until after the second attack. While it's difficult to get word all along the beach, once they knew a very dangerous shark was in the area, they might have tried.
In contrast, trails and campsites in the vicinity of a bear attack in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park June 6 are still closed pending confirmation that an animal killed last week was the culprit. An Ohio teenager, who was pulled from a hammock, is recovering from his injuries. While bear and shark attacks are equally rare, park rangers don't claim that anyone is ever "safe" from possible harm.
North Carolina beaches, like the North Carolina mountains, are wonderful places to visit. Coastal economies depend on the tourist season, which has just begun with the end of the school year. It's understandable that town officials want to give assurances that visitors can enjoy a safe, happy vacation.
But two serious attacks in one location, only three days after an attack nearby, remind us that the ocean is a hostile environment — and dangers lurk even in shallow water. A sizable shark, fast and powerful, can approach unseen in an instant and do tremendous damage to a helpless victim ...
The beach is still a beautiful, restful attraction for vacationers, whether they venture into the ocean or not. Some did at Oak Island Monday. The mountains have their own allure, and bears are part of the wilderness appeal.
The chances of violent encounters are slight, but not nil. The truth is, we don't want a world without sharks or bears.
The abundant caution in response to the bear attack is commendable. Beachgoers have to make their own judgments.
Charlotte Observer on ride-shares:
The ride-sharing giant Uber gets regular applause for its innovative digital approach to getting people where they want to go. But Uber is going old-school in getting what it wants from state legislatures, including ours.
A bill in the N.C. Senate would give ride-sharing companies, including Uber and Lyft, an ideal business environment. They would accept just enough regulation to satisfy lawmakers, while their competition - traditional taxi companies - would continue to be fiercely regulated in the N.C. cities they operate.
How did Uber manage to pull this off? They wrote big chunks of the legislation.
"Uber has come up with a model that 30 states are looking at right now," Durham Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Democrat, told members of the Senate Finance Committee, according to the (Raleigh) News & Observer. "What we are doing in North Carolina is based upon that national model, and we have adopted substantial portions of that national model."
It's hardly unprecedented for industry lobbyists to pitch business-friendly legislation to lawmakers. But the public trusts its representatives to do more than a cut-and-paste job.
Unfortunately, that's what the bill largely seems to be.
SB 541 would require that ride-share companies obtain a state permit for a minuscule $5,000 a year - the amount suggested by the ride-shares - and provide basic commercial liability insurance for their drivers. The bill also would require background checks on ride-share drivers, but it would leave that task up to the ride-share companies instead of requiring the stricter background checks often done by government.
The latter provision has been important to Uber, which has resisted efforts in several states to subject its drivers to the higher-level background checks required of taxi drivers.
But that's not even the best part of SB 541 for ride-shares. The bill also forbids cities from "requiring licenses or regulating" ride-share companies, and airports can't impose fees or limit the operation of ride-shares, as they do with taxis.
Uber and Lyft fans say this is as it should be. Ride-sharing, they say, is a new age business model that shouldn't be subject to the same stodgy rules as taxis. But Uber and its brethren are transportation companies. They arrange for rides, then charge for them, then pay their drivers part of the revenue - just like taxi companies (some of which also have apps, by the way) ...
Interestingly, lawmakers don't believe taxi operators deserve the same free-market approach. Cities can continue to regulate taxis - as they would be smart to do. But such an arrangement creates an uneven playing field in the vehicle-for-hire industry...