Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Don Beason responds..from Joyce Fitzpatrick who says she's representing him (at least in a PR way).


It is true that I made a loan to Dr. Black seven years ago. In spring, 2007 I provided testimony about this matter to a Federal Grand Jury in Wake County.

I recognize that making the loan was a serious error in judgment and I deeply regret it.

I apologize to my clients, to my fellow lobbyists, to members of the General Assembly and most of all to the citizens of North Carolina.

I am truly sorry.

Donald R. Beason
July 31, 2007

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

http://www.perdue2008.com/ up and running? Well yes and no. I was just messing around after my story was done and typed in the address and it took me directly to the official Lieutenant Governor's website. I thought that would be a little interesting if perdue2008 was registered to her campaign or someone on it.

So we looked it up and the website is owned by a man named Nathan Tabor from Kernersville. It says he owned it since May 2005 and owns it until May 2008.

What's interesting is Perdue is a Democrat and Tabor is a consevative political activist who ran for Congress at one time.

I'm working to call him to see what the deal is but kind of interesting! Is he looking to make a buck and sell the site?

UPDATE: I talked to Tabor and he says he does own it. He says he owns 2000 sites and many include Republicans and Democrats. It's part of his business ACT Media. He basically buys up the sites and offers them back at a price. He compared it to land development. He also says he does all sorts of of consulting as part of his firm.
Gang laws or not? When you first hear there are anti-gang proposals you would think it's a no brainer right? Not so much.

First, most might think there's already laws referring to gangs. Nope. It's not recognized in laws, only in sentencing guidelines. The Street Gang Prevention Act recognizes gangs as illegal for the first time. It also goes after the "Kingpens" of these gangs who are recruiting members.

The original bill went after kids as young as 12 but has since been changed to 16 when there was an outcry about the possibility of young juveniles facing adult sentences and crimes.

Anywho, it has been slow to move forward and today we learned a little bit more why. After a news conference by mayors, police, and lawmakers in support of the bill, Rep. Alma Adams and several groups stepped in to have a news conference as well. NC NAACP Prez William Barber was there as well.

They are against the bill for several reasons. They are worried it targets blacks and hispanics. They also want to study the issue and find ways to battle the problem at a younger age before these kids are entering gangs.

So what's next? The House and Senate both have versions. The House version gets a hearing in a committee tomorrow. There's a Saturday deadline to get bill through committees in both chambers Saturday. The bill will likely stall unless that deadline is removed.

I'm off until Monday for a little R&R...so enjoy the next few days and see you on Monday!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Lottery update...the following came from lottery headquarters minutes ago...

"RALEIGH- The North Carolina Education Lottery (NCEL) today made its final transfer for the first complete fiscal year bringing the total of the Education Lottery Fund since inception to $375.3 million. The amount of $69.4 million transferred for sales in the last quarter brings the Fiscal Year 2006-2007 total to $313,018,542. This represents a 35% return to education from gross sales of $889.3 million for the fiscal year.

“We think this is enormous that in our first 15 months of operations the NCEL has raised over $375 million of new money for North Carolina’s students,” said Tom Shaheen, NCEL executive director. “We have been hearing stories all across the state about school systems that are using the money for school construction and serving at-risk four year olds.”

According to the Department of Public Instruction, the fund has been used for approximately 70 school renovation projects that include fire alarm system installation, security surveillance system upgrades, roof replacements and more. It also has funded an estimated 2,525 class size reduction teacher positions. Over 18,000 four year olds are served by More at Four, the award-winning academic pre-kindergarten program.

The North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority estimates it will hand out 30,000 Education Lottery Scholarships for college students for the 2007-2008 year. The scholarships go to students who qualify for the federal Pell Grant and can only be used at North Carolina public and private universities and community colleges.

The NCEL made the electronic transfer to the Office of State Budget and Management (OSBM) to be disbursed to the beneficiary programs. The Department of Public Instruction will manage the distribution of the funds for all the beneficiary programs except the college scholarships, which will be handled by the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority.

Since inception (March 30, 2006) through July 23, 2007, the NCEL has raised over $1.163 billion total gross sales."
School boards with taxing authority? A House Education Committee took up a bill today that allows local school boards to tax property. County Commissions would still be able to tax property as well.

The bill states that the school boards must be elected and county commissioners must also give the school boards permission to tax.

The School Board's Association and Home Builder's Association both spoke in support of the bill. Rep. Rick Glazier says they distribute the funds so they should be able to raise the money. He also says that means board members should face the scrutiny since they make the decisions.

There were no opponents who spoke, but Rep. Daughtridge says that's because no one knew this bill was coming up and say people are trying to push this through at the last minute.

The chairman took no questions and said there was no time to take up the bill so he simply referred the bill to Finance.

Stay tuned!

Friday, July 20, 2007

Busy day in politics for a Friday! The biggest probably centers around a war of words between Gov. Easley and lawmakers.

Easley is mad they don't have a budget. He issued an executive order (using Leandro as legal standing) to give $114 mill to schools for More at 4, reducing class size, etc. Here's a sampling of what he said.

"Currently we're only a month or so away from schools opening and lawmakers need to be on the same real time as schools are."

"Current negotiations, working sheets and discussions we've had with the General Assembly make it clear to me that at least at the moment any budget they were to pass is not something I would be able to sign.""

"I think a lot of the legislators over there are scared of the realtors and they've got to decide, do they want to stand by the realtors or stand by the people they represent." (referring to Senate's refusal to agree to a land transfer tax as part of a deal to take up the county's portion of Medicaid).

Upon hearing the news conference by Easley here's some of Rep. Mickey Michaux responses.

"I heard the comment about wasted time and if he thinks staying here until 11 p.m., 12 a.m. at night and working on weekends is wasting time then I really don't know what wasting time is."

"Iguess folks get antsy when they think things aren't going their way, but we are taking the responsible position -- we are thoroughly going over the budget"

They all hope to get along next week and get a budget signed into law though.

By the way...Rep. Beverly Earle has filed to run for mayor in Charlotte. If she somehow won..wow would that neck of the woods have lost just about all their experience in the GA with a Mr. Black gone now too.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Some interesting tidbits about the state's water infrastructure system. The NYC steam pipe explosion complete with asbestos got us thinking abou water pipes in North Carolina. The Greensboro water break where a car fell in the sinkhole got us thinking as well.

Many of you may know there's a coalition of sorts working to get some big time bonds on the ballot this fall. State leaders often talk about the need for new infrastructure, but piping for water systems in nearly every city is getting extremely old and causing many of the problems-structurally, financially, and health wise as well.

I talked at great length with Patrick Woodie over at the NC Rural Center. This is one of their headline issues and have done plenty of research on the need for water and sewer infrastructure. Anywho, he claims big water main breaks will continue. He also says there's a lot of concrete asbestos piping in this state as well.

But my favorite quote is this below and sorry it took so many words to get to this but here's the hookline for this entry..

"Not too long ago, Asheville was replacing some pipe in the Woodfin area of Asheville and actually discovered wooden pipe still in the ground," Woodie said. "Hollowed out logs that were used for water pipe."

Pipe they were still using! Call me naive but that's just wild to think about. Good thing no one got any splinters.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

George Tatum is out at the DMV...we're still waiting to get any reaction beyond the confirmation that it has happened. The spokespeople at DMV and DOT are quiet and say all the "officials" are unavailable.

Here's what our friends at the AP are saying..

"Division of Motor Vehicles Commissioner
George Tatum has resigned amid allegations he sought special
treatment for a friend to get a vintage title for a replica truck.
A Department of Transportation spokesman confirmed Tatum's
departure but gave no further details, calling it a personnel
A D-O-T spokesman says Transportation Secretary Lyndo Tippett is
also unavailable.
D-M-V records show that Tatum's administrative assistant sent an
e-mail to staff indicating that Tatum's friend, Robert Kinlaw of
Fayetteville, needed help getting a title for a 1937 Ford truck.
Tatum denies helping Kinlaw get the vintage title, which saves
the owner hundreds of dollars in taxes and makes the car more
Kinlaw was denied an antique title after his truck was inspected
in Nash County, but he later received a title after taking the
truck to a Fayetteville inspector.
The S-B-I is already looking into the case at Tippett's request."

Here's an interesting fact I looked at today for my story on the state of lobbying in North Carolina. According to the Secretary of State's office there are 827 lobbyists registered in North Carolina. There are 170 lawmakers. I'm no math major but my calculations put that at nearly 4.9 lobbyists for every lawmaker. There's a joke in there about the .9 lobbyist right? Okay roughly 5 lobbyists per lawmaker.

Can you say competition for their time!

Monday, July 16, 2007

Jim Black makes headlines again today. This time in court papers filed he wants six more weeks before he starts eating prison food. In the documents his attorneys say the Feds need more time to find him a bed. That's not surprising, in fact, many of us were surprised when the judge ordered him to prison by July 30th. It typically takes the Feds around 60 days to find an open bed. He'll likely end up in Butner or South Carolina.

It was also surprising the judge said he was to be in prison by the end of the month because we knew he had to be sentenced in state court as well. We now know that will happen sometime the week of July 30th. That means he can't go to the Pen until after that date as well. Well, I should say wouldn't instead of can't. The courts often work together on these sorts of things.

I'm out of office most of the day tracking down a number of other things so I'll catch up on more later...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A little follow up on Jim Black... During an interview for Political Connections, Black's replacement Rep. Tricia Ann Cotham said she wants to keep her seat and will run in 2008. She also said she believes her consituents have already moved on from Jim Black. She told us the fact she's young and very different from Speaker Black that her district is already beyond the Black scandal.

We also did an interesting interview with Joe Sinsheimer. He says he plans to keep the heat on any potential scandals over the next few months.

Finally, my co-workers in Charlotte say they talked with Black this morning and he plans to be in state court next week. He didn't say specifically for sentencing but that would a logical guess.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Response to Black's sentencing is coming in...here's a few excerpts from a few. More on my experience later in the afternoon. Still waiting for a response from the Gov.

From Speaker Hackney's office
“Jim Black was a valuable servant to this state for many years, but the sort of crimes he has admitted to can never be excused for a public official. This prison sentence sends a strong message to all of us that neither the public nor the courts will tolerate dishonesty by their elected representatives. We have already put measures in place to restore confidence in our House of Representatives. I hope we are on our way to regaining the public’s trust.”

From Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Daves
"Today is a regrettable day in the history of North Carolina. However, today is a also a day of vindication for the citizens of our state. Today, we take back our democracy and send a message to our elected officials that their job is to represent the people. The day of Democrat Jim Black’s power and “pay-to-play” tactics has come to an end.

Despite his attorney’s continued protestations in court today that Jim Black is “not a corrupt man,” we know quite differently. Mr. Black is just another example in a bitter legacy of corruption in our state government. But of fellow Democrats to face prison before him, including Meg Scott Phipps, Frank Ballance, and Kevin Geddings, Mr. Black held the most powerful position, wielded the highest amount of influence, and corrupted his office over the longest period of time. Still, Mr. Black expected to avoid prison time by offering his services as an optometrist in a free clinic. I sincerely wish that the former Speaker had his change of heart and dedicated himself to serving the people of North Carolina before he began accepting bribes from lobbyists. But Mr. Black could not serve the people of North Carolina when he was too busy selling our democracy to the highest bidder in deals conducted in public restrooms.

Our worst fears are realized when we discover that our elected representatives are pursuing money and power instead of the interests of the people whom they represent. When the breed of corruption of which Jim Black is guilty takes place, voters are tempted to lose faith in our system of government and the resulting apathy can become a cancer on our democracy. The North Carolina Republican Party is committed to the highest ethical standards in our state government. Unfortunately, again and again the Democrat leadership in the General Assembly has failed to play by the rules. We must hold accountable those legislators guilty of corrupting our democracy and we must restore honesty and integrity to our state government. We will not tolerate crooked politicians in North Carolina."

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Former federal prosecutor Kieran Shanahan believes Jim Black will get all 10 years in prison. He thinks the fact prosecutors say Black was uncooperative and untruthful will hurt him and the judge will throw the book at him.

Sentencing is at 9:00 now instead of 10:00. It appears Judge Boyle disregarded Black's attempt to delay the sentencing. Keep in mind, Black will not go to prison tomorrow. It will likely take about 60 days to find him a spot. He could go to either Butner or a prison in South Carolina.

Shanahan also doesn't think the Judge will be amused by Black's offer to offer a free eye clinic on house arrest instead of prison.

On another note, two releases from the current Speaker's office. Rep. Larry Womble from Winston-Salem was taken by ambulence shortly before session Monday. Here's the latest from the Speaker's office on behalf of Rep. Woble.

"Several people have inquired today about Rep. Womble’s illness. Thank you for your kind interest. He has been discharged from the hospital in Raleigh and is currently in Winston-Salem, where he is scheduling follow-up treatment. He will not be in session today. We will provide more information as it becomes available. Thank you again for your concern about Rep. Womble."

Also, the realtors have been fairly successful in their pricey, all out campaign to fight any land transfer tax. It's no secret the House wants in part of a plan for the state to take over Medicaid for the county.

To help counter the realtor's efforts, the Speaker's office sent out this piece by the NC Association of County Commissioners.

Land transfer tax working well in six N.C. counties Legislation to give all North Carolina counties authority to levy a land transfer tax is meeting resistance, but six counties have levied the tax for years, using the proceeds primarily for capital projects. This legislative session, efforts to extend land transfer authority to all 100 counties, a measure supported by the League and the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, is meeting opposition, especially from the N.C. Association of Realtors® (NCAR).
That association launched a campaign, complete with website, TV ads, direct mail and yard signs, against the land transfer tax. They label the tax as harmful to the economy, unreliable, a tax on home equity and regressive.
Since the 1980s, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Pasquotank and Perquimans counties have had the authority to impose a land transfer tax — an excise tax on property conveyance. Washington County also has the authority from the General Assembly, but has not received approval by referendum for the tax.
According to the N.C. Association of County Commissioners, four of those six counties rank among the state’s 20 fastest-growing counties. Camden ranks second in increase in growth, and Currituck ranks third.
Currituck Manager Don Scanlon said that residents in his county have supported the land transfer tax as a way that growth can partially pay for itself. He added that local builders know that good infrastructure — water and sewer, schools — help market the land and create demand for property.
Describing how Currituck uses land transfer tax proceeds, Scanlon said: “In a word: Schools. Currituck County is recognized as the 17th fastest growing county in the country and like most other communities, this growth challenges our ability to provide public education. If not for the land transfer tax, we would fall further behind in our school capital needs and would have had to raise our property tax.
“We have been able to build a middle school and renovate two elementary schools without incurring any debt thanks in large part by a good working relationship between our commissioners and the board of education, good planning and effective budgeting of the land transfer tax.”
Nags Head Commissioner Bob Oakes, a realtor, finds the tax a benefit to his community. “Dare County and all its municipalities have benefited tremendously from the 1-percent land transfer tax. I don’t think anyone could suggest that this tax has slowed growth and development in Dare. Collecting the tax at closing makes it fairly easy to administer, and that’s the time when the money is on the table. Relatively wealthy counties like Dare and Currituck have had this tool to pay for infrastructure needs for many years, and it’s a shame that less fortunate counties across the state don’t have the opportunity to use this income stream to help pay for the costs of growth, and infrastructure repair and replacement. I hope the legislature can summon the courage to allow this tool to be used across North Carolina to meet pressing municipal and county needs.”
Oakes wrote to N.C. Rep. Tim Spear about infrastructure funding: “I wanted to express my opinion on the need for a source of funding, both short and long term, for the repair and replacement of municipal infrastructure. Towns like Columbia and Creswell across the state have aging infrastructure systems. They need a short-term source, like a bond issue, and a long-term source for capital repairs, like a transfer tax.
“As a realtor, I know I’m swimming against the stream on the 1-percent land transfer tax. But I know the counties and towns need a funding stream for capital projects, and I’ve seen the good it has done in Dare County. I don’t understand why Tyrrell and Hyde shouldn’t have a similar source of funds. I like three conditions: a cap of 1 percent, a split between county and municipalities and its use for capital /infrastructure projects. I hope you’ll consider supporting a bond issue and a 1-percent transfer tax for capital needs.”
Chowan County Manager Cliff Copeland has not observed any negative effect of the tax on the real estate industry in that county. “Chowan County was the third county in the state to adopt the transfer tax. The monies are dedicated for capital outlay purposes. Transfers within the town of Edenton are divided 50 percent – 50 percent. I believe all the real estate agents in the county will confirm that the transfer tax has not impacted real estate sales in a negative manner, but in fact has facilitated sales through improved infrastructure, schools, etc. The real estate industry realizes that we need the infrastructure because without it sales will decline.”
The tax is providing much needed revenues even when the real estate market takes a downturn. Randy Keaton, Pasquotank County manager, reported that the county’s collection is down 32 percent this year because of the downturn in the housing market, but they still expect to receive as much as they did in 2004-05.
Said Keaton: “We are one of the fortunate counties that have had the land transfer tax. I will be glad to provide any information about the success of the tax in our county, if you need it. It has worked very well here and it has not hurt the real estate industry at all. All of the counties in the Northeast (N.C.) that have the land transfer tax are having problems with too much growth instead of the reverse.”
For Camden County, the tax provides about $550,000 in revenue annually. According to County Manager Randell Woodruff: “The land transfer tax has been a tremendous resource for Camden County. Currently the tax is generating about $550,000 per year that the county uses for capital needs. This is a major revenue producer considering this county’s budget is less than $10 million. Even with a subdivision moratorium in place for 3.5 years, the amount collected increased. We are using a portion of it to cover debt service payments on land the county purchased. If it were not for the land transfer tax, Camden would be in a severely financially strapped position. We use these funds for all sorts of capital needs that otherwise we would not have the ability to provide.”
Schools, a critical part of the infrastructure, have gotten a funding boost from the land transfer tax. Randy Darden, Perquimans County Manager, said, “”We rely heavily on our land transfer funds for our school projects. Our county ranks 95th out of 100 in sales tax receipts, and part of those funds as you may know are earmarked for school capital funding. The land transfer tax makes up for that and also for ADM funds that may be withheld from the counties. We are able to make necessary capital improvements that would otherwise have to come from increased property tax or financed over a period of time.
“We’ve averaged almost 30 percent annual growth the last four years. We are issuing about double the amount of dwelling permits now than we were just a few years ago. Due to our proximity to the Tidewater, Va., metropolitan area and the amount of waterfront property, we are seeing more residential development activity than Perquimans County has ever experienced.
“Land transfer revenues have been and will continue to be integral to our school capital improvements.”
Budget impasse imperils Medicaid relief solution Agreement on the details of the state's takeover of the county Medicaid share hit a disappointing stumbling block this week as the House and Senate worked toward finalizing the state budget. For the last several weeks, a special team of House and Senate negotiators, along with the active participation of Gov. Easley and his staff, has been meeting daily to discuss ways to relieve counties of their Medicaid burden. This team spent countless hours crafting a reasonable solution to this complex problem. In short, their Medicaid relief plan realizes all three priority goals of counties in one fell swoop – county Medicaid relief, additional dollars for infrastructure, and additional revenue authority. They are to be commended for their efforts thus far to bring forward a fair and equitable solution.
This county-friendly plan would have the state assume all county Medicaid costs over three years and allow counties additional revenue authority to meet county infrastructure needs. Counties would give up only a half-cent sales tax, a revenue stream less than the county share of Medicaid. What's more, these local revenues would be phased out only as the state phases in Medicaid relief. For the few counties whose Medicaid relief is less than their countywide half-cent sales tax revenue, the state would hold them harmless. Cities likewise would be held harmless and would receive their anticipated sales tax growth as a part of the hold harmless arrangement.
Additional local-option revenue authority would help counties meet their increasing infrastructure demands. Counties could choose to enact – by a vote of the people – either an additional quarter-cent sales tax or a local 0.4 percent land transfer tax, to help meet capital infrastructure needs.
All members of the House and Senate need to be reminded, today and certainly before Monday, that permanent Medicaid relief is critical for the fiscal health of all counties, and additional revenue authority must be granted to handle the 515 new people moving into North Carolina each day! Collectively counties face nearly $10 billion in school capital and $7 billion in water and sewer needs over the next five years. Many communities are under development moratoria due to inadequate water and sewer capacity.
We understand that a few legislators are balking at the land transfer tax option, given the extensive and moneyed campaign the North Carolina Association of Realtors has been mounting against General Assembly members. It is discouraging that they are targeting individual legislators who are attempting to address the infrastructure needs of their communities in a responsible and equitable manner. Clearly, it is short-sighted to limit infrastructure investment needed to manage the daily influx of new residents.
The continuing resolution approved by the House and Senate this week will keep the 2006-07 budget in place through July 31, giving House and Senate budget negotiators another month to work out the final state budget. It is believed at this point that the final Medicaid solution may be included in the state budget, if legislators are able to reconcile how community infrastructure investments are to be supported.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Interesting topic tonight on Political Connections. This week we take a look at women in politics. There are a record number of female lawmakers this year and they are getting more powerful as well.

Rep. Jennifer Weiss and Ran Coble (did a recent analysis on the topic) join us in studio to take a half hour look at the issue.

It airs on News 14 tonight at 6 and again on Sunday at 11am.

Check it out!

By the way, an interesting note from an article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune today. It said Minnesota may lose a congressional seat after the 2010 census. He says they are in competition with Georgia, South Carolina, and you guessed it...North Carolina.

NC got a new seat after the 1990 and 2000 census (after a battle with Utah). It's part of a trend where populations are moving south and west from the midwest and northeast.

A late 2006 study has North Carolina staying at 13 and Georgia picking up one (14) and South Carolina on the border but recent population trends have Minnesota's demographer believing it's close with all these states.

I'm still waiting for our state demographer to call me back!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Lions and tigers and bears oh my! A Senate Committee has their hands full with operators of small zoos and sanctuaries. They are considering a proposed ban on "inherently dangerous" animals. It stems from a 2003 death of a 4th grader from a tiger that was in his aunt's back yard.

It has full approval from DENR and the NC Zoo but does not have the support of the Agri folks. Yep that's created an interesting twist to this story. On top of that, despite months and months and months to come up with this "dangerous" list, several lawmakers on the panel ridiculed the list within minutes and appear to be very skeptical of the law.

20 speaker signed up to speak and all the ones who were allowed to speak were against the bill. These small zoos and sanctuaries believe the changes would put them out of business in time and go much further than preventing the "back yard" tiger cages in our neighborhoods.

The chair, Sen. Hartsell, realized what a controversial mess this was and set up a subcommittee to take up the issue first. He hinted at having another hearing soon.

I think some lawmakers are learning that messing with animal lovers can be just as hard if not harder than a number of lobbyists down there!