Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Tillis: Toll roads likely in NC's future

Actual new news is rare the first day of a legislative session, but I think this qualifies. For those seeking broader coverage of the first day, try here.

In his first speech today to House members, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis said North Carolina needs "new ways to fund improvement to our aging infrastructure."

He moved from that into a discussion of public-private partnerships, and other privatization models to lower the cost of general government. He did not give specifics but, presumably, some of that dovetails with Gov. Bev Perdue's plan to privatize the state's IT functions.

But in a press conference later in the day, Tillis confirmed that, when it comes to new ways to fund infrastructure, he was talking about toll roads.

"I think we have to look at tolling. ..." he said. "And any other things that exist out there."

Time will tell, but it sounds like he's nodding toward the private toll road model (or public-private partnership, or the concession model, if you prefer those terms) used in Texas, and discussed repeatedly in Georgia and Pennsylvania. Basically, private companies pitch road projects to the state and, if chosen, build them and charge drivers a toll.

The point is, someone other than the state puts up the construction capital, but you have to build profit into the toll; not just enough money to build and maintain the road.

Change of Power: GOP takes the House

Pictures from the first day of the 2011 session in the N.C. House of Representatives.






From top to bottom, Speaker of the House Thom Tillis just before his election, Speaker Pro Tem Dale Folwell a moment after his election, the House's only female freshman representative, Rayne Brown, being sworn in, and immediate former Speaker Joe Hackney, House Clerk Denise Weeks and Tillis.

Update: That third picture, of Rep. Brown, ran in The Winston-Salem Journal. And just to be clear - unless otherwise noted, I took all the pictures published on this blog.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

2011: Tea leaves say, "read The Indy."

I tell you, North Carolina, I'm excited about this legislative session starting tomorrow.














Legislative building in Campeche, Mexico, Jan. 2011.

The GOP has taken over the N.C. legislature, and it seems to me there's been a good public dialogue between the highest-ranking elected officials. More so, I would say, than I was used to in Georgia leading up to a session.

Here Republican leaders in the House and Senate have said what they want on a wide range of issues. The governor has publicly addressed nearly all of those issues, and the two sides don't seem far off on budget philosophy.

But you just know it's not going to be that easy. Some things we probably know, but trust little as certain about a legislative body.

So these predictions for The Independent Weekly come with no guarantees, and a caution that there are better people to tell you about North Carolina state government than me, but I'm learning fast.

I'll be stringing for The Indy this session, as well as The Winston-Salem Journal, which I also wrote for part time during last years "short" session.

The picture above? From my honeymoon. For the record, those lights change colors.

Perdue softening on temporary taxes

I thought I detected a softening yesterday from the governor's office on the temporary tax increases North Carolina put in place two years ago to help balance the budget.

Those taxes – an extra penny sales tax and income tax surcharges on people making more than $100,000 a year — raise more than a billion a year. They're set to expire June 30, and Gov. Perdue said last month she wouldn't include them in her budget.

But yesterday one of her press officers said the governor would "prefer" not to extend the sales tax. And today The News & Observer spoke to Gov. Perdue herself:
While Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue has ruled out a tax rate increase, she said Tuesday that she is still giving some thought to proposing in her budget the extension of the $1.3 billion in temporary taxes passed by the legislature in 2009.

Perdue has in recent months given mixed signals about her willingness to propose extending the temporary tax increases, which is strongly opposed by the new Republican legislature.

But at a news conference Tuesday, Perdue said she might be willing to consider it, if the alternative is massive cuts to public education.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

New codes would increase energy efficiency, but at the cost of safety?

Back in December the N.C. Building Code Council approved new energy efficiency guidelines, which still have several steps to go before they get final approval. The council is also considering other code changes meant to offset the additional construction costs that come with increasing efficiency.

The N.C. Home Builders Association pushed for these offsets, and Gov. Bev Perdue backed the concept to protect the industry as it recovers from the housing bust. But some of these offsets look like red flags.

For example: Fewer apartment buildings would have to have fire sprinkler systems.

If all this passes as is, there would be a moderate increase in mandated efficiency — 15 percent instead of the 30 percent environmentalists pushed for. But several builders I spoke to said they already build past that standard. And, as a tradeoff, companies that build only to the minimum code would be set free from a number of safety and other standards.

My full story on this ran in The Triad Business Journal, though you'll need to subscribe to read it. The issue is something to watch, to be sure. To me, the story isn't the new energy standards. It's what gets compromised away to help builders pay for those new standards, and how it affects public safety, particularly in low-end construction.

Legis preview: Govt. getting smaller

I'm back in the United States and a married man for 12 days now.

A piece written before I left ran today in The Winston-Salem Journal. There's not a lot of new news in it, but if you need a primer on the coming legislative session, which starts Wednesday, it will do.

Also, incoming Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger will have a press conference tomorrow afternoon, so look for coverage of that to start popping up some time after the 3 p.m. start.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

honeymooning

I keep the personal announcements to a minimum here, but some moments deserve an exception: I got married this afternoon.

We'll be traveling for the next 10 days. If you run across any full-time statehouse reporting gigs, or a newspaper job of any kind in the Raleigh area, hold on to it until Jan. 23, please.

Bev Perdue: Double EduGator

In an example of the over-writing typical of entities with an inflated sense of worth, The University of Florida put out a news release today honoring two-degree graduate, N.C. Gov. Bev Perdue:
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s a long, arduous journey from the University of Florida campus and Norman Hall (home of UF’s College of Education) to the North Carolina Executive Mansion, the governor’s official residence in Raleigh, N.C. Especially for a woman. But Beverly (call me “Bev”) Perdue, holder of two UF education degrees, traveled that road over the past three-plus decades before her election in 2008 as the Tar Heel state’s first woman governor. ...

Beverly Eaves Perdue is a “double EduGator” with two education degrees from UF. She earned a master’s degree in community college administration in 1974 and a doctorate in educational administration two years later. She also has a bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Kentucky.

Perdue, a genuine coal miner’s daughter from Southwest Virginia, says she figured she was heading for a career in academics while pursuing her doctorate. But fate led her down a different path.
It goes on like that for some time.

I don't know what to say. Except that one day, maybe in a decade or two, the University of Georgia's going to put Florida back in its place.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rucho, Hartsell to chair Senate finance

State Sen. Bob Rucho is already heading the Senate's redistricting effort. Looks like he's going to be a busy and influential man this session.

From Senate President Pro Tem to be Phil Berger's office:
Raleigh, N.C. – Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger (R-Rockingham) announced today that upon convening the 2011-2012 session of the General Assembly he will name Sen. Bob Rucho (R-Mecklenburg) and Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus) as Co-Chairmen of the Senate Finance Committee. The Finance Committee oversees the state’s tax system and controls the way in which state government collects revenue.