Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Charlotte Observer on the expansion of state lottery
It was 10 years ago this Sunday that the North Carolina Senate created a state lottery despite the opposition of all 21 Republican members.
How quickly sentiment changes. Now Senate Republicans want to dramatically expand the games their party once opposed.
In August 2005, Senate leader Marc Basnight, a Democrat, announced there would be no more substantive votes before the legislative session ended. Then two Republicans left Raleigh, giving Basnight the crack he needed. He rushed senators into session. They voted 24-24, and then-Lt. Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, broke the tie.
Republicans howled over the trickery. They had argued that gambling is immoral, and that the lottery profits might supplant money spent on education rather than add to it.
One of those who said he was blindsided by the move? None other than Sen. Harry Brown. He opposed the lottery, but was on his honeymoon when the vote was cast. Now Brown is among those leading an effort to create more state-sponsored gambling and spend more to market it.
The day the lottery passed, the Observer editorial board wrote this: "Once North Carolina's lottery gets under way, the state will find, as all others have, that public interest declines in time and so will revenues. To boost them, the state will have to become a carnival barker, aggressively enticing citizens to make sucker bets in order to keep the cash flowing. It won't be a pretty sight."
And here we are. The carnival barkers are out, and it's not pretty. The Senate included in its budget an increase of about 50 percent for lottery advertising. North Carolinians are now able to play the games while they pump gas. And the Senate backs an array of new options, including letting people play instant winner (instant loser?) games on their computers and smartphones. Video gaming terminals could pop up across the state in restaurants, bars and other public places. While legislators have worked to rid the state of the video sweepstakes industry, they are OK with the state sponsoring a video lottery industry.
It's bad public policy. The original plan called for 50 percent of lottery revenues to be spent on prizes and 35 percent on education. The reality now is 62 percent on prizes and 26 percent on education. And the Republicans of 2005 were right: The money for education supplants other funding rather than augmenting it.
Republican Rep. Skip Stam rightly calls the lottery push "a deceitful way to raise taxes." And studies show it will be paid by those least able to afford it. Per capita spending on the lottery is generally highest in North Carolina's poorest counties. (In Halifax County, one of the state's poorest, lottery sales last year amounted to $468 for each man, woman and child.)
After cutting taxes left and right, legislators find themselves without enough money to pay for teacher assistants and other basics. Unwilling to craft a fair, visionary tax code, they instead grasp for straws, like encouraging ever-more payments from the mathematically challenged.
Winston Salem-Journal on the state crime lab backlog
It's understandably frustrating for everyone involved: The prosecutors. The defense attorneys. The accused. And the family of the victim. They're all waiting on evidence from the State Crime Lab, which remains backlogged.
Nearly two years after an Ardmore woman, Shelia Pace Gooden, was shot to death, only one-third of the physical evidence that Winston-Salem police seized in their investigation has been sent to the State Crime Lab, the Journal's Michael Hewlett reported last week, and not enough of that has been examined.
Three men, Anthony Vinh Nguyen, Daniel Aaron Benson and Steven George Assimos, were charged with first-degree murder, first-degree kidnapping, first-degree burglary and robbery with a dangerous weapon. Nguyen is facing the death penalty.
Analysis is held up because of the backlog at the crime lab.
"At this rate it will take, as a minimum, another year-and-a-half to complete the process," David Botchin, an attorney representing Nguyen, wrote in a July 29 letter to Jennifer Martin, the chief assistant district attorney who is one of two prosecutors in the case, the Journal reported.
Much of the problem has to do with state crime lab policy aimed at easing backlog: It sets limits on the amount of evidence that law-enforcement agencies are allowed to send at one time. For homicides, it's 10 pieces of evidence in each discipline for the first submission and five items for subsequent submissions.
Noelle Talley, a spokeswoman for the crime lab, told the Journal in emails that the case is complex. Some of the 40 pieces of evidence submitted include multiple items, she said. She indicated that the lab is making progress on that evidence, and wrote that none of the evidence was submitted until October 2014 ...
But considering the lengthy delay, the DA's office should soon let the defense attorneys for all three defendants examine the physical evidence in one viewing, despite the time that will take to ensure that the chain of custody is protected.
The real problem is the continuing backlog in the crime lab.
Crime lab representatives have made the case that they're dealing with a rising tide of demand. They've said that they have inadequate staff and resources and crushing caseloads. They say they've lost well-qualified scientists to higher paying jobs elsewhere.
Attorney General Roy Cooper should explore ideas for restructuring analyst caseloads to speed and ease the process.
And most important, the legislature needs to give the crime lab adequate money to hire enough good analysts to relieve this backlog. Justice is waiting.
The Daily Reflector, Greenville, North Carolina on state budget delay
Got an extra $1.13 million lying around? The state legislature must think so.
That's what its delay in passing a two-year budget has cost taxpayers as of Thursday, The Associated Press reported last week.
The state budget was supposed to have taken effect on July 1. Instead, lawmakers have approved two temporary spending extensions, the latest until the end of August. Each additional month the legislature meets costs, on average, an extra $840,000, compared to the cost of running operations when the annual session is adjourned. That's about $42,000 per weekday, according to the General Assembly's financial services office. The money goes for part-time workers, utility bills, janitorial supplies — and the $104 per diem collected by each of the 170 legislators. (The amount doesn't include the week after July 4, during which, with an incomplete budget, the legislature took a break.)
And it's not just a matter of money — the delay also creates a great inconvenience for state agencies and organizations, especially public schools, which begin without knowing whether they'll be able to pay all their teaching assistants — many of whom also drive school buses — through the year, another in a long line of degradations practiced on our teaching professionals.
Going through Aug. 31 would result in $504,000 in additional expenses. If the final budget isn't approved until then, it would mark the latest a two-year spending plan has been finalized since 2001.
In the vast scheme of things, the $1.13 million is chicken feed — it has to reconcile the House's $22.1 billion budget and the Senate's $21.5 billion. But it's still a waste of money that could be better spent elsewhere.
The GOP defense has been that the Democrats passed budgets in late July and August when they were in charge. But on average, two-year spending budgets created under Democratic domain were enacted around July 26, according to the AP — except for the five times since 1995 the Democrats finished the process on time.
And saying "they did it, too" is cold comfort coming from a party that claimed it would do better.
"It's better that we get a good product even if it takes a little longer, than to do a rush job on something that we can't be proud of," House Speaker Tim Moore told The Associated Press.
But even with the extra deliberation, we're not so sure the legislature is going to come up with something they should be proud of. The hallmark of the Senate's tax-reform ideology has been to reduce resources for public schools and economic development.
There must be a better way. Instead of pushing a questionable referendum on the state constitution that could seriously curtail the state's ability to do business in the future, legislative leaders should set a mandatory ending date for its sessions. That would mandate flexibility at the bargaining table.