Thursday, May 29, 2008

Column for May 29, 2008

I am tired of paying for others to have a place to live

Recently, there was a news story about a robbery in Selma. On May 4th, I saw that an arrest was made in a break-in case at a Selma Housing Authority apartment. The break-in was committed by another resident of the apartment complex, just a few doors down. This is not the thing that amazes me. What does amaze me, however, is that the thief stole over $4800 in jewelry, electronics, and clothes. I got to thinking about just how much stuff that is. Nearly five grand can buy a heap big amount of bling, Circuit City merchandise, and a few trips to The Gap.

My question is first and foremost, what is someone who can afford stuff worth stealing and worth almost five thousand dollars doing in government subsidized housing? Why are we as tax payers shelling out money to pay for cheap housing for someone who can afford to buy lifestyle items? Sure, everyone needs clothes. But if I am having to live at taxpayer expense, I had better be buying my clothes at Cheap Thrills thrift store in uptown Selma rather than at any new store. I had better not have several televisions, a stereo, video game system, cell phone, VCR, DVD player, all the latest movies, and spend money on such if I am willing to suckle off the government in order to have a place to live.

There should be constant means testing for any government assistance. Someone being handicapped and unable to work is one thing. If someone is able to work and does not, that is something else. If this crime victim is working and underemployed, then that is hardly the fault of the taxpayers of this town, county, state, or nation. Therefore, if he or she can afford to spend money on such items while living in housing that we are subsidizing or owned such items before getting into such housing, then there is something wrong with the system.

I was standing in line at a grocery store not long ago. Ahead of me was a woman checking out, paying with WIC (the Women, Infant, and Children government program) vouchers. She was dressed in a business suit. She had a cell phone with Bluetooth wireless headset. She also had just purchased one of the best toasters and cookware sets in the Wal-Mart store. They were already in her basket, paid for. Then she bought the most expensive juices in the store and baby formula with WIC vouchers. I get real tired of paying for others to eat. Sure, I can afford all that I have, and have money to spare. I was buying some stuff I wanted rather than needed, in addition to some stuff I had need of, and I can afford to do so. That is my prerogative. What irritates me is that someone who had on nice clothes, nice jewelry, bought better kitchen appliances than I own, and can afford a cell phone plan with wireless headset is suckling off the government at the expense of the taxpayers. Multiply this by millions of sucklers and we as a nation are being milked for money to pay for the lifestyle choices of others.

Recently in this very column, I dealt with the voting record of Congressman Bob Etheridge. I just read that he has voted in support of "The American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevent Act of 2008". This bill is designed to help prop up home values and keep foreclosures from happening. Basically, those who bought more house than they could afford or were stupid enough to get and keep an adjustable rate mortgage are in danger of losing their homes. Of course some well meaning, pandering liberals want the government to illegally step in and take up the slack at the expense of the general population. People are indeed losing their homes because of economic conditions and their own bad choices in life. However, it is hardly the responsibility of the populace to bail someone out of their problems.

Why should those who can not afford to pay a regular, private mortgage company be given the opportunity to refinance with a government backed loan, instead? Why should a governmental bureaucracy be allowed to bail out those who can not afford to pay a loan with yet another loan at tax payer risk and expense? If people can not afford their homes, then they need to find other homes that they can afford, even if that means renting an apartment or other meager accommodations. I have been there and lived that myself. When I could not afford to either purchase a house or continue paying the high Raleigh rent rates, I rented a broken down, old trailer in the country here in Johnston County for over five years until I could afford to buy.

I have worked hard to afford the things I have now and I am sure that most of you readers have, as well. I have been dirt poor, earning below the poverty level for years. I have had economic hardships in my lifetime, but refused to look to the government for help. Rather, I worked harder to get out of poverty and live comfortably. I wish that more people in this nation had the same resolve and that law makers would require it of those who are allegedly in need before they gladly fork over our tax dollars under the guise of compassion when they are actually enabling the behavior at our expense.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Column for May 22, 2008

It is not just people in the proposed ETJ that oppose its expansion

Some nights I would rather just stay at home. That is how I felt when debating whether I wanted to attend the last several Selma Town Council meetings. I knew that this last one, which would have the public hearing on the proposed expansion to two miles of the Extra Territorial Jurisdiction for planning and zoning, would be a long meeting. From what I read in the paper, it was. Since I am not sitting on the Council, though I once felt an obligation to attend meetings regularly as a citizen, I am less inclined to do so, especially with all the activities going on in my own busy life the past six months.

Since I am on the Planning Board, I got a chance to see the proposed ETJ expansion map. From what was explained by Stan Farmer on his next to last day on the job, as well as the consultant hired to work on the plan, the town's planning lines up pretty will with what Johnston County has zoned for the ETJ. On that aspect, my recommendation as a member of the Planning Board was that if the town was to go ahead with the ETJ expansion, that we simply take the territory as it is and zone it according to the closest comparable zoning that is in our town code. That was a "no brainer" to me. When asked to put that into a motion, I declined. The reason that I declined was that I was not at all in support of the concept of an ETJ expansion, much less the existence of an ETJ to begin with. Since I am morally opposed to an ETJ on several grounds, I verbalized that I would not make any formal motion that would support the adoption of said jurisdiction. When the motion was made by someone else and the votes cast, I was the only negative vote.

I was reading the comments by some of the citizens of the proposed ETJ and I am inclined to agree with some of what was said. I am only commenting upon what I have read in this very publication. First and foremost, in my estimation, the sole reason for an ETJ is so that the town can control the area just outside of its borders so that it can be consistent with the region inside its borders. The reason for this is for the purpose of expanding the town limits via annexation.

Annexation has been a hotbed of conversation and action in Selma. The folks who expressed a concern about future annexation as a result of this action have a good case for their suspicions. I had expressed this very concern at the Planning Board meeting last month. The reason of "every other town in the county is doing it" is not sufficient reason for Selma or any other town to do so.

I still do not have any earthly idea why Johnston County even has the authority to allow a two mile ETJ. TWO miles, folks. The entire town of Selma is only 3.5 square miles in area. Why should a town that small control such a huge outlaying parcel of land for its own planning purposes? The City of Raleigh had to meet certain population requirements in order to have that much of a planning jurisdiction. It is just plain morally wrong for the towns in a county whose entire population is roughly one third of a city like Raleigh to be entitled to the same size ETJ.

The criticism of the new interim town manager, "when one speaker wanted to know how someone from Louisburg could possibly know anything about what was going on in Selma" is a bit unfounded. First, this entire project was started under someone else's tenure. Secondly, Mr. Gobble has just recently started this job, so I do not expect him to know everything about Selma. For that matter, Stan Farmer, for all the praise he received, never lived in Selma. At least the town manager that the Town Council fired a couple of years ago, Jeff White, had a house right in town, was a Selma citizen, and a voter during his tenure. That is not to slam Stan Farmer's work. Actually, he and I got along well. It is simply to make a point.

The bottom line is that the entire existence of an ETJ is solely for the purposes of lining up and controlling growth outside of a town to prepare that territory to eventually be annexed into the town. Meanwhile, as was noted by one speaker at the public hearing, the residents of the ETJ have zero ability to elect representation within the town who have a measure of control on those without. That is just plain unethical in a representative republic. The only say that anyone from the ETJ has is that residents of the ETJ do have seats on the Planning Board, which are appointed by the Town Council. However, those seats are not directly chosen by the residents themselves, nor are the Planning Board members vested with any binding authority, thus making such representation of no consequence.

The 150 or so people who attended the public hearing and were cynical had every right to be and had experiential evidence to back up their concerns. I, as someone who resides within the town limits, serves on a town board, and cared enough about Selma to run for elected office twice so that I could stand against things like ETJ expansion and annexation, am rather dubious and have said so repeatedly.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Column for May 15, 2008

The new state budget sounds good...or does it?

I was reading with great interest about the proposed budget for the State of North Carolina. Governor Easley recently announced the new state budget. Truthfully, if the figures that I have read are accurate, there are some things I like to see in the least on the surface. Dig a little deeper and you will see the fallacy of the claims being made.

The first thing is that we as a state are looking at proposed surplus a $152 million. Based upon past performance, I wonder how long it will be before our state legislators spend that surplus, just as they have every other one. Instead of applying that surplus towards public debt or other proposed public funding projects, several huge surpluses, some over one billion dollars, have been spent on pork barrel projects or other frivolous spending sprees.

Governor Easley is playing with figures to claim to be providing a pay increase for teachers in North Carolina. Each year we hear about raising the pay of NC teachers to the national average. Here in NC, the average teacher pay is about 6.9% behind the national average. It is an annual mantra we hear in NC, that we must raise the pay of our teachers to match the national average.

Sorry, but by the very definition of an average, there are some higher, some are lower. NC happens to be on the lower side. So what? Teachers, though they often have a difficult and valuable job, only work some nine months out of the year. I don't get three months off every year, nor do the majority of Americans.

Next, the North Carolina average salary takes into account counties such as Martin, Bertie, and other small, poor, rural areas. Obviously, pay in these areas will be lower than say in Charlotte or Raleigh. That just makes sense. To use rural areas with comparatively few students to argue that all teachers should get an increase based upon an average is no different than comparing states like Arkansas against New York for standards of living and pay to form the national average.

The 4% average pay increase proposed for state employees is really a misnomer. It is a numbers ploy. Basically, the 4% is really only a 1.5% increase plus a $1000 bonus. The numbers game is that this should average out to almost 4% for many employees. Again, it is a numbers game and is being falsely represented. Many employees will earn higher, many lower. Ergo, the claim is specious at best.

There are a couple of tax increases set in this budget. What is really onerous about these tax increases is that the proposed budget takes into account the idea that the proposed tax increases will be passed. If the legislature deems it inappropriate to increase taxes, then the proposed budget surplus is moot.

I am absolutely no fan of tobacco use. I know that this region is "tobacco country". I just find there are few things in life more disgusting than cigarette smoking. As much as I find smoking offensive and stupid, I find the concept of freedom something to be protected. Ergo, I am not one to eliminate any and all smoking, much less heavily tax tobacco products. Yet higher taxes on tobacco is exactly what is proposed by the Governor.

The State of North Carolina is often hypocritical in its stances. First, it promotes agriculture here in the state. Farming tobacco is a part of said agriculture. While supporting farmers, the state is at the same time discouraging the use of the very product raised in North Carolina. Further taxation is effectively a further deterrent of consumption. Each pack of cigarettes sold in North Carolina currently nets the state 35 cents in taxes. The proposal is to take that total to 55 cents per pack. The increased taxes on tobacco products will allegedly fund pay increases for school teachers and administrators. When you tax something, you discourage its consumption or often change behavior. Thus, I am dubious as to the validity of this proposal.

On the surface the claim of a $396 million cut in the general fund is a great thing. However, the overall budget is going up by 870 billion dollars. If spending truly is to be cut, then the budget would not increase, especially in an alleged economic slow down. The government is increasing its staffing and budget, yet the economy is supposedly slowing down. Why would the Governor grow the size of bureaucracy when he should be shrinking it?

Another thing that bothers me is that the state is increasing the budget to the UNC college system by $34.6 million. Yet it is Governor Easley himself that is causing the increase in costs to the state collegiate system. It is Governor Easley who is supporting the idea of allowing illegal aliens to attend our college system. This costs the taxpayers money, just as aliens do in our primary education system. We, the people are subsidizing their education, and these costs will only go up. Instead of looking to educate those who do not even belong in this country to begin with, we could be trimming our budget and/or opening such educational slots to legal citizens.

It would seem to me that if we will in deed have a budget surplus, just as I do when I have one, that some bills would be paid off and my cash flow output would be lessened to a degree. Then again, if I spent my money the way the State of North Carolina does, I would spend that surplus on things I do not need and go further into debt for things I should not buy. I would end up bankrupt whereas the state will tax and borrow more money to meet its shortfalls and create false surpluses.

Don't buy the budget claims on the surface level. Read a little bit and do not be fooled by the rhetoric.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Column for May 8, 2008

I am so glad now that the primary election is finally over

The primary election has finally come and gone here in North Carolina and I, for one, am glad it is over. I do believe that this has been one of the most vacuous elections, totally devoid of any substance, that I can remember. The first election that I can remember as a youngster was Gerald Ford versus Jimmy Carter in 1976. I was all of eight years old and it was the first time I started to pay attention to any election. At that time, I remember simply thinking that Carter should be elected because Ford already had a turn at the helm. Though that is not the case in this election, since George W. Bush will be leaving office because of a term limitation, it might as well be the same mindset that elects the next President.

All week long, my telephone has been ringing with recorded messages for and by political figures. I got a call from North Carolina Governor, Michael Easley on behalf of the Hillary Clinton campaign. When getting a call on behalf of Hillary Clinton, I figured that the caller ID would show a number of (666)666-6666. I was surprised to find that the caller ID actually showed a South Carolina phone number. I also got calls from Leo Daughtry, from political pollsters, and some for the campaigns of candidates running for state senate, the Barack Hussein Obama campaign, and who knows who else. My answering machine has a cute female default voice with a generic message, so I hope that their machines had fun talking to my machine.

Since I work for a large media company, I have been able to hear some of our sales scuttlebutt. Normally, we do very little primary election advertising revenue. This year, we have a ton of such ad revenue. I have seen more newspaper, heard more radio, and seen more television ads for Governor, President, State Senator, Lt. Governor, and County Commissioner than I have ever heard, read, or seen in a while.

The crux of most ads have little to do with actual issues. The issues that are stated usually have zero Constitutional relevance or practicality. The promise of suspending the federal gas tax and funding this proposed tax cut by absconding profits from oil companies is one issue that I have heard on some ads. Wow. Does the promise to steal money to cut taxes really appeal to people? Keep in mind that if it is fine for government to steal from a company, it is also fine for them to steal from ordinary citizens, since a corporation is an artificial entity.

I have heard more negative ads this campaign season than I have heard in a long time. There were plenty of accusations about support of amnesty for illegal immigrants by one candidate and a direct response by the other. Many of the non "mud slinging" ads I have heard were rather generic, were pandering to particular classes of people, and totally vacuous.

What has been rather frustrating for me is that I wanted more information on some of the judicial, state, and county office candidates. I looked to some of the usual media outlets for candidate information. I was familiar with these outlets, having participated in and cooperated with them in the past myself. I found very little in the way of candidate information, especially about the issues. I do believe that I have been more frustrated in this election cycle than in any other in terms of searching for candidate information. I even went to the few web sites I could find for some of the candidates. Even those web sites published by the candidates themselves were lacking in content as to what the candidates stood for and why I should vote for them.

I don't know about the rest of you, but I am an issues oriented guy. I do not rely on what party someone belongs to for a measuring stick, though it does tell me to which ideology someone subscribes. I could not care less what the color is of someone's skin or whether the person was born with XX or XY chromosomes. I do care about the character of the individual, the world view of the person, and the stances on the issues. It does not matter to me that Barack Hussein Obama is Black or that Hillary Clinton is a woman. It is their views on the issues that I find repugnant. It is his perspectives on the issues that repel me from voting for John McCain. It is his views on the issues that will cause me to vote against Bob Etheridge. Unfortunately, I could not find the views of some of our candidates and what they believe are the issues at hand.

For these reasons, I do believe that I have been the most unenthusiastic, the most resigned to mediocrity, and the most exasperated that I have been for any major election for which I have had the capacity for remembrance.

One thing I believe for a certainty is that the American public deserves a break when it comes to the exercise of a presidential primary election. We ought not stretch this process out any longer than we already do. This is the first time a North Carolina vote has had any real bearing on a Presidential election in a very long time. However, I would have much rather seen our election happen back on "Super Tuesday", along with the rest of the nation's states, all on the same day. If we can all manage to vote on one day in November, why can we not all manage to vote on one day in this primary process? It would spare us all the seemingly incessant, vacuous pablum with which we have been bombarded.