Thursday, August 30, 2007

Column for August 30, 2007

Oxymoron of the week: government efficiency

This November, I want you to pay real close attention to the ballot in the upcoming election. Before you snarl at me like PETA at Michael Vick, it is not what you may be thinking. On the ballot this year will be a referendum or two. We are almost sixty days away from a significant decision for taxpayers.

As some of you may know, the State of North Carolina has approved two options for local governments to use to increase taxes. One is a .4% land transfer fee and the other is a quarter percent increase in sales tax. Voters in each local district will have to approve the taxation in order for it to be considered by a local government. A vote of affirmation would allow the county to pass one or the other but not guarantee that one would be enacted. A negative majority referendum vote would kill the idea completely. No matter how you slice it, we are talking about the potential of higher taxes.

One thing about the sales tax increase that bothers me is that we would fork over that money to be paid to a notoriously thieving system. The state collects sales tax money we pay to retailers. The state takes its portion and then disperses the portions allotted to the local governments. I remember that several years back the state had an unbalanced budget. To help make that budget balance, the state simply decided that they would not parse out the share of the sales tax due local governments.

The incredible thing is that in order to help local governments recover some of the absconded cash, the state allowed local governments to raise local sales taxes even higher. Those taxes again would go right into the hands that stole from local governments to begin with. Why should the state ever be trusted with more of our money? Even if it is just one quarter of a percent increase, I do not trust the system to be honest.

Keep in mind that the state that would be taking this money is the same state that has robbed from the highway trust fund and never replenished it, even after having well over a billion dollar surplus last fiscal year and refused to put the money into the trust fund, return it to the over taxed citizens, or pay the towns the money previously mentioned.

If only we had a nearby harbor and the proposed taxes were on tea! Do we not sent millions, even billions to our state, county, and towns already? Oh, I know, it is for the children, right?

Why drain the equity in someone's home at the time of the sale just for more money for adequately funded schools? I just looked at my home equity for a financial check up, and I would be slapped with an unjust distribution of the equity I worked hard to achieve for the benefit of extra revenue to an already funded school district.

Property taxes, as it is, are inherently unfair. People like myself, who are property owners, pay taxes while those who rent do not. In Selma, that means only 40% of the citizens here pay the freight for our schools.

If you really think you own the land you have, just stop paying your property taxes and you will find that the feudal overlords of government will confiscate that property and sell it to make their cut of your hard earned property value. Now the proposal is to penalize those who sell their hard earned investment.

If the triple tier bus schedule proposed for Clayton could be avoided by mysteriously coming up with money for new buses, then we can certainly find areas in which we can be more frugal with the money we supply government.

I sincerely hope that the citizenry of Johnston and other counties will have the backbone and intelligence to vote NO on both proposals for increased taxation. We already have a huge bond we just approved and a lottery that were supposed to help with school construction. I want accountability and efficiency with that money, not just the milking of us citizens for more of it.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Column for August 23, 2007

Remembering the purpose of government

I have been doing a lot of reading on early American history as of late. I am a part of a small group of men who have formed what is being called "The Patriots' Pub" (on the internet at The purpose of the group is to lay out the foundations of history in this country that led up to the writing of the United States Constitution. This has been a great refresher for me, since this is a period of history that does not seem to be taught in depth any more. There are so many people who have never been taught about the origins of the Constitution, of the nation, about the reasons for independence, and the reasons for the guarantees written into the Constitution.

One thing about being a part of The Patriots' Pub is that we have a ground rule to follow. We do not allow political commentary about history; we only present the facts as we have found and researched them to be. The words of any opinion will be quotes from those men of the time. This does a great service to the presentation and project. The frustrating part is that I can't offer commentary on the parallels between those days and today. When we read the state of affairs, the oppression tactics of the British crown, the taxation, and the control exhibited by a government upon its citizens, I am amazed. It has often been said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

I have had numerous conversations with other people who are even outside of the United States, who have the right sense about the purpose of government. One thing that we all agree upon, whether Christian, agnostic, or otherwise, is the purpose of government. To put things into perspective from several views, in Thomas Paine's pamphlet "Common Sense", published in January of 1776, Paine wrote, "Society is produced by our wants, and government by wickedness; the former promotes our happiness positively by uniting our affections, the latter negatively by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher. Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil." I have been reading some of Paine's writings in preparation for more presentation in my group.

From a Christian perspective, the Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13, "For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to [execute] wrath upon him that doeth evil."

One thing that I totally agree with the deist, Paine, as well as Paul, is that government is supposed to be an entity that serves society and is necessary for the punishment of evil. Lately, I have seen the government at various levels punish those who do right. Whether that punishment is via taxation, unjust laws, or a lack of regard for what is righteous and ordained of God, we have often lost the purpose of government.

I encourage each and every one of you to investigate history. Do some reading of your own, and be a responsible citizen. This may seem like a simple admonition and a boring one, but quite honestly, I am amazed at the lack of knowledge being shared in our schools and possessed by the general populace. I have learned more by reading on my own and sharing with other people than I was ever taught in school. This tells me that there is a difference between going to school and being educated. I was amazed at how much I either forgot or was never taught to begin with. If you have internet or library access, there are plenty of resources available, and therefore no excuse for a lack of knowledge. I make none for wherein I have been lacking and endeavor to remedy that. I hope you will, as well.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Column for August 16, 2007

Because I am an American, THAT'S why!

I take exception to those who come into this nation illegally. When someone comes into my home through the window instead of a doorway, I consider him an intruder and I deal with the uninvited individual. I don't instead offer for him to live in my home, eat my food, get medical help, have an education, and give him cash to send to his family who lives elsewhere. Why? Because I am an American.

I believe in defending the right to free speech. I do not believe in giving my time to those who wish to waste it with the use of their free speech to spew their lunacies that espouse principles that will take away my own freedom. Instead, I believe in counteracting their idiocy with truth. Why? Because I am an American.

I don't believe in pressing 1 for English or in paying for other languages to be printed on government documents that I help pay for. I believe in pursuing the dream of being a fellow countryman in the language that has been used here for four hundred years and that the vast majority of residents use every day. Why? Because I am an American.

I believe in hard work instead of lazily relying upon the rest of society to supply money upon which to exist. I believe in charitable benevolence, but only for those who can not do for themselves rather than those who will not do so for themselves. Why? Because I am an American.

I believe in reading and understanding the history of this nation and the supreme laws upon which it was framed. I believe that if we are to operate under a set of rules, it is wise to be familiar with the rule book. I believe in following the rule book and not making up rules as we go along. I believe that Congress, the Supreme Court, and the President should follow the rule book, too. Why? Because I am an American.

I believe in keeping taxes as low as possible and not take more than is necessary to run the government as lean and efficiently as possible. I believe that individuals know better how to spend their money, raise their children, and contribute in charitable giving than any government bureaucracy. Why? Because I am an American.

I believe in owning guns not just to defend a home, but to help defend a nation. I believe that the reason we have a right to keep and bear arms is to throw off tyranny and repel invasion. I believe in exercising the right to own arms because we can, if for no other reason. I believe that if we are not vigilant in keeping guard on such freedoms that we will lose them. Why? Because I am an American.

I believe that there is a reason behind the verbiage "all enemies foreign and domestic". I believe that there are those who do not hold the same values that the rest of Americans have held since our continent was being settled. I believe that we must first counteract their error with truth and reserve the right I just mentioned as a last resort. I believe that we have many enemies that are domestic. Many were foreign, but have become a domestic problem. Many are and always have been domestic. I believe that they must be resisted so that we can maintain the greatness of this nation. Why? Because I am an American.

I believe that people should let their opinions be made known to their elected representatives. I made sure that our county school board members and county commissioners all got a copy of my last column. I email, fax, and write my Congressmen, state representatives, and state senators about legislation and issues that affect us as citizens and for which I have a passion. I believe that every citizen should shake off their apathy and do the same. Why? Because I am an American.

I believe that if you disagree with the opinions that I just shared that you wrong, don't know what America is all about, and probably are part of the "enemies…domestic". I also believe that you have every right to believe as you do and I will defend your right to believe and say so. Why? Because I am an American.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Column for August 9, 2007

Wiping off my shoes

Have you ever walked down a sidewalk or on a lawn and suddenly you smelled a present left you by a dog? Then you realize it is now on your shoe? I got that same sense upon reading the letter to the editor that was printed in this newspaper from Dr. Anthony Parker, the Superintendent of Schools here in Johnston County.

In his letter, Dr. Parker cited a bunch of statistics about how much money was being spent, was needed, and how many students he expects to enroll in our county schools in the future. He used this opportunity to stump for a tax increase to generate more revenue for schools.

In Johnston County, we just passed a $99 million bond referendum in May to assist in school construction. Next, we supposedly have a lottery to benefit education, hence the inaccurate name, "The North Carolina Education Lottery". Obviously they were both ineffective, a boondoggle, or not good enough for Dr. Parker.

Is it not ironic that right here in Selma, we have a charter school starting this year that takes no state or county money for school facilities? They are only given the exact same amount of money per student that the public schools are allotted. The cost of facilities for charter schools has to be paid out of that money whereas public (government owned and run) schools get that money plus money for facilities.

We are now paying Dr. Parker $209,000 a year to do his job. We pay him to administrate the school system. We do not pay him to perform political lobbying, recommend how to fund schools, or attempt to sway the process that we elect people to perform. He is paid more money than the Governor of this state to run a school system of only 31,000 students compared to the Governor's constituency of 8.8 million people.

We elect people on the County School Board, the County Board of Commissioners, and state legislators to take up such debates and decisions. We did not hire Dr. Parker to attempt influence for a needless tax increase.

We had a $1.5 billion budget surplus in this state just this year. That means that we as taxpayers were overtaxed that much. Instead of spending the surplus on school construction, retiring debt, or refunding the overage, the money was squandered. On top of that, the state still wants to raise taxes and so does Dr. Parker.

When I was in school, we used 20 plus year old textbooks. They often were in disrepair. However, history, mathematics, elementary science, and English do not change, so we squeezed use out of the books. I was talking to a young local teacher recently who told me that she just got brand new textbooks but was informed not to use them for some unknown reason.

When I was in school, we did not use mobile classrooms. We put 35 to 40 children in a room and we did not know that we were overcrowded. We put students in converted closets. We turned a drama stage into a library so that the library could be used for classroom space. We cut some extra-curricular activities and almost cut out the entire sports program at one point. I personally still have a letter from the mayor of that small town thanking me for my input on the matter at a town meeting when I was a mere elementary school student.

Parochial schools in the area turned out a quality education for even less money than the public schools because they were frugal with their money but focused on education instead of facilities and maintaining a highly compensated bureaucracy.

I have been accused of using sophisticated verbiage in my columns and keeping a dictionary handy to write my word craft. No, it is merely a product of a school system that faced the same student population and funding issues but still turned out students with a decent education rather than whining about needing to increase taxes on landowners.

In preparation for this column, I redid some research. According to The Federation for American Immigration Reform, Hispanics made up 57 percent of enrollment growth in North Carolina public schools from 2000 to 2005. Personally, I do not care that these people are Hispanics. I only care whether they are here legally or not. According to the Carolina Journal, roughly 65 percent of North Carolina’s Latino population are illegal immigrants (December, 12 2005 article). That tells me that we have a huge issue with having to pay for the education of children who do not belong in this nation.

Doctor Parker, the problem is not with a lack of money being sent to the federal government, the state, or the county to pay for schools. The problem is that we are mandated to pay for the education, meals, and health care of those who do not belong in this nation, so the problem is with the federal government, under-taxed landowners. The problem is with schools having a bloated administrative staff who are paid more than our chief executive officer of our state. It is a problem with administration, Dr. Parker, not with money. More money does not equate to quality education, and that is what we pay you to provide. If money was the answer, then the Washington, D.C. schools would put out the best students in the world.

When the schools can prove great frugality with the money we already provide, I will consider supporting a tax increase. Until then, I have to go wipe off my shoes.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Column for August 2, 2007

Fairness in enforcement is necessary

When property owners are given a deadline to bring their buildings up to just minimum specifications for safe habitation, the town has an obligation. The obligation is to follow through on its commitment. If not, then some people who are adversely affected can claim unfair treatment while others are constantly given extensions.

Over a year ago, property owners with unsafe buildings were given notice to fix the properties or have them torn down. If they did not comply nor tear down the structure, the town would do it for them. The owners were given almost a year to do something. A process was set in place to comply, to petition for extension, etc. Some did apply for extensions and they were granted across the board for all. Four months extra were given. Then, some owners started working on their properties. To those property owners who showed reasonable effort, more time was granted to complete the work.

There were many owners who did not do anything. Some who did nothing are now complaining that they want more time. Now, the town council has backed down yet again on yet another request and allowed just that.

What bothers me is that some houses are going to be torn down, people are going to lose their properties, and they are going to have a lien against their property to help recover the costs associated with demolition. I have no problem with that concept if the property owners are going to do nothing about properties. However, I am troubled that there is a double standard in place here.

If the town is going to "get tough" on these properties, extension after extension after extension is not going to help the cause. I just read that the town has granted yet another extension to a property owner one month after the extended deadline had passed. Now, the owner has a two week time line just to get a plan from a general contractor. That could mean that the process with this one property, over which there have already been many breaks granted, could drag out indefinitely.

I am all for private property rights. However, I am also all for equal protection and treatment under the law. This action by the town to clean up blighted properties that do not even meet the minimum standards for human occupancy have nothing to do with race, creed, sex, religion, or social status. It has to do with meeting minimum criteria for basic sanitation and safety.

With property rights comes responsibility. One can not constantly ignore the responsibility and claim the rights. If someone does not take care of a property, it becomes a haven for drug users and transients (as the property in question repeatedly has), it lowers the value of the surrounding properties, and affects the neighborhood, then action needs to be taken. Some property owners, apparently, have to be dragged kicking and screaming to their responsibilities. When notified of the responsibility, some have shirked it and a good "head slap" is needed, which in effect, is what the owner of the condemned house in question has gotten. I merely say that he should have the same treatment as the others who have or will be losing their properties and not have indefinite exceptions unfairly made for one person who has dragged his feet but squawked the whole way.

Has this whole condemnation policy worked? Since I am on the Planning Board for the Town of Selma, I do get to see properties come up for planning review. Four old houses that were condemned and previously given an extension will finally be town down and nice new duplex homes will be erected in their place. This will help the tax base for the town, attract a higher quality tenant, improve the neighborhood, and hopefully profit the owners.

Two other duplexes were reviewed at the planning board meeting a week ago Monday. These are going to be built in established neighborhoods that have previously been blighted by the same old, substandard housing. These buildings can only help the neighborhood and the town in the same way.

As much as I would prefer to see these buildings be single family homes that local folks would own instead of rent as tenants, it is a small start towards change in the standard of living in Selma. It is a slow process, for certain, but worth it in the long run.