Thursday, April 29, 2010

Column for April 29, 2010

Since there is an upcoming election in just over a week, I am sure you have seen the campaign signs all around Johnston County. One of the races is for school board. I already have my two candidates picked out and those are the only two for which I shall cast a ballot. I know I can vote for 3, but there are two people I know and trust to be worthy of my vote. One of which is my best friend.

There is one campaign sign that totally irks me when I see it. The slogan for the candidate reads, "It's ALL about the kids!" No, in fact it is not about the kids at all. It is about the education of children. There is a huge difference betwixt the two. It is not just a matter of semantics. It is a matter of world view. My world view is that it is the parents' responsibility to be about the business of children. It is the school system's responsibility to perform scholastic education as directed by the school board. When we confuse the two concepts, schools become an expensive, overstaffed babysitting service with little discipline. When the focus is upon imparting education, then it is realized that discipline and fiscal responsibility actually matter and taxpayers are the ones footing the bills.

North Carolina is facing a $1.2 billion budget gap this year. Some years we have had that much of a surplus and the state legislature went on a spending spree instead of paying down debt with the surplus. Now we are paying for that sort of irresponsibility yet again. With that much of a budget gap, we have to make large cuts in our state spending, just as we would do in our home budget. I have an email on my computer from the governor's office about proposed cuts in spending. Unfortunately, it also has a lot of spending increases outlined for the state.

In a time when the state is in a financial bind, you would think that government workers would be happy to even have a job. That does not seem to be the case with The North Carolina Association of Educators, though. That labor union has published a propaganda flyer (also on my computer for my viewing pleasure) that is pushing for restoration of funding from cuts made last year. In a year when the state is $1.2 billion dollars short in proposed spending, I have a hard time with agreeing to increase school spending by $225 million. Obviously schools have gotten along just fine without that $225 million.

The flyer goes on to opine the .5% pay cuts that teachers and government employees took last year. A half of a percent! That is nothing compared to the possibility of having no job at all. Show some gratitude, NCAE. Then the special interest group went on to rail about getting teacher pay up to the national average. Something to remember about the national average is that it takes into account very expensive regions and accordingly higher salaries. This is North Carolina, not New York City.

Governor Beverly Perdue is already promising to pay back that salary reduction. Sorry, but I do not agree with that concept at all. Where I work, if times get hard and we lay off employees, we suck it up and keep moving onward, doing our jobs. If we have to take a pay cut or reduction in an increase, then we deal with it and don't expect to get paid back for that. Instead, we realize that times are hard financially and are grateful to even have a job.

My wife lost her job a year ago January. We dealt with the loss of income. She would gladly have taken a .5% decrease in pay to keep her job at the time. Now that we have a seven-year-old, a nine-month-old, and one more on the way, we are actually glad that she gets to stay at home.

Private and parochial schools learned a long time ago that they could not operate on bloated staff count and had to run lean on budgets. Still, they tend to turn out a decent quality education. The schools I attended were public schools, controlled by the town. Local taxpayers and school board officials made sure that the schools ran on a tight budget but still cranked out a quality education for the area children.

Money is not always the answer to giving a quality education. School systems need to run lean, spending wisely the money that is forcibly taken from taxpayers whether they have children in school or not. Government in general has to start doing the same.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Column for April 22, 2010

My lovely bride and I had the pleasure of being chaperons for our boy's first grade class field trip to the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro last week. It was a beautiful day for such an excursion. Two days later I led a field trip of my own. I took my boy, nephew, future brother-in-law, and his son to the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores and Fort Macon. Yes, I was feeling the burn on Saturday, too.

The zoo trip was free for our son because of a funding grant, but we had to pay $9 each for admission. Normally the entrance fee for adults is $10, but since we were part of a group, we got a whole dollar discount each. The aquarium entrance fee was $34 for all 5 of us. That amounted to about a dollar a minute. The aquarium is smaller than I am used to, but is still a nice little fish zoo. The land animal zoo in Asheboro, by contrast, is a lot larger and more expansive than I am used to.

Here is the rub in all of this. If had known how all of this worked in terms of finances, we could have bought a $50 family membership and gotten in as often as we want, at no extra charge at either attraction. I did not know this until we were already at the aquarium and I sighed at the cost of admission for us all. I was told that if I wanted to pay another $16, I could get a family membership. Since I have no idea if we will visit the zoo or another aquarium in the next year or not, I passed on it. I wish I could have applied my zoo admission to the aquarium admission for a membership, though.

So why am I annoyed other than that? I look at the zoo and aquarium the same way I do at toll roads. I am already paying for the existence of the road, zoo, or aquarium with my tax dollars. If I choose to use the very thing for which I am helping to pay, I am charged for it yet again. That amounts to double taxation. Granted, the second taxation is voluntary, but usage fees or admission charges are nothing more than a tax to enjoy the public facilities for which we already pay.

I realize that it is expensive to keep animals, maintain grounds, keep fish alive in gigantic tanks, etc. That is part and parcel of having a zoo or aquarium. Fort Macon, on the other hand, I am sure does not cost nearly as much to run, even though it is a state park, has a nice new building, and park rangers on staff. Admission to Fort Macon is free, and it is one of my favorite day trip destinations.

I joined the Friends of Fort Macon organization. There are similar such groups for libraries, zoos, aquariums, animal shelters, and the like. Their purpose is generally for preservation, fund raising, and enhancement efforts. I am fine with that concept. I love private organizations and donation efforts for the public benefit and for those who are enthusiastic about preservation and about being benefactors.

I do believe that a zoo, aquariums, historic sites, and state parks are definitely worth having and serve the public good. I would prefer, however, that they be free for all North Carolina taxpayers. At one time, I was able to go to the aquarium at Manteo without an admission charge. I wish that were the case still. I don't like paying for the same service twice, whether it is for a zoo, and aquarium, or public highway.

I feel that same way about public education, which is why I support school voucher programs. If you send your child to private school, you are taxed for public schools and have to pay tuition for a private school. How about services at your local county courthouse? How many services do we pay for twice? If you pay high gas taxes and income taxes like we do in North Carolina then have to pay a toll as is planned for sections of I-540 in Raleigh, people are paying twice for the same stretch of road.

Maybe if we did not spend money on all sorts of entitlement programs and cut out wasteful spending, we could actually afford to have public attractions that do not cost North Carolina residents twice.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Column for April 15, 2010

One can not scream "Iceberg, dead ahead!" loudly or often enough. Not only is April 15th a day we dread as income tax deadline day, the passengers on the Titanic sure wish they had heard the words shouted earlier on the night of April 14th. In the wee hours of the 15th, the "unsinkable" Titanic made its way to the bottom of the sea.

Here in America, I have been shouting "Iceberg!" for years. I have done it on the internet, on radio, in this column, and in conversation. The iceberg population has grown significantly. More and more icebergs lately bear the sign "property rights abridgment". Whether at the local or national level, I yell the iceberg warning when I can.

I posed this question on my page a few days ago. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 3:17 "where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty." And what about where there is no liberty or liberty is diminished?

This morning I was doing my regular news hound thing and ran across a few articles about new attacks on property rights. Liberty is being attacked yet again under the guise of environmental concerns.

Just in case you have not caught on to the scheme, socialists, so called progressives, and control freaks that love governmental control over the citizenry have flocked to the environmentalist movement. Under the guise of protecting our allegedly fragile environment, we often get punitive, liberty killing, and costly regulation.

I believe in being a good steward of our planet. I believe God gave man dominion over it and therefore we should not totally disregard protecting it. However, in His infinite wisdom, God also gave unto us the entire earth for our use. There is a balance betwixt the two concepts and I believe the balance is to bend further towards the latter rather than the former.

The latest abridgment comes in the form of "cap and trade" legislation. This is a boondoggle of a concept and it is based upon false science. It was major news recently that the data upon which the climate change believers relied was falsified, yet this did not stop Al Gore from giving speeches defending his fallacy. Nor has this truth stopped cap and trade legislation.

The insidious part of the legislation about which I comment is that it contains provisions that require you to submit to a warrantless search of your real property, should you choose to sell it. This is another method of government control to be able to condemn personal property or fixtures that will be out of compliance with guidelines set up by an un-elected bureaucrat such as the Secretary of Energy. This would effectively make a Cabinet member one of the most powerful men in America, probably second behind the President himself.

Can you imagine an inspector coming to your house that has just been listed for sale and told that you have to comply with a long list of energy expensive, efficiency improvements that some pencil pushing pinhead in Washington, D.C. regulates by mere decree? That is a lot of authority to grant someone and a whole lot of liberty that is being taken away from property owners.

My home was built in 1950. I know that there are appliances, fixtures, windows, and insulation that could probably be replaced with more efficient ones. Little bit by bit, I have been upgrading my home as I am able to afford to do so. However, should I choose to sell it, I should not be required by some desk jockey in big government to make changes to the house before I can even think about selling it. If someone wants to buy my modest little home as is, that is their business and my business alone.

Should this legislation be passed, we will have Energy Department inspectors requiring new appliances, water heaters, etc. all over the nation. Of course we have to bankroll these inspectors and their efforts. Basically we will pay people to take away our freedoms. The legislation has already passed the House of Representatives and is likely to be rammed through the Senate this year.

This is why we need to throw people like Congressman Bob Etheridge out of office and restore sanity to our government. Keep this in mind when voting in the upcoming primary and in the November election.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Column for April 8, 2010

"If you can find it in the Yellow Pages, government should not be doing it." I have heard that saying many times and I am very much in agreement with that sentiment. Whether it is landscaping, trash pick up, water supply, or electricity delivery, if I can find it in the Yellow Pages, then perhaps it is worth investigating termination of government services and leaving such services to the private sector. That is unless our own governmental bodies can perform such services more efficiently and cheaply than private industry can.

For instance, if Selma wants flowers planted around our downtown (oops, perhaps I should call it "Uptown", but the "rose by any other name" principle applies) and town employees can do so efficiently and cost effectively as opposed to hiring a landscape crew, then I am all for it.

However, I am not as concerned about pansies in downtown as I am about our electricity bills. Last November, one mayoral candidate ran on a platform that included lowering electricity rates in town. Though I agree with that sentiment, short of selling off the town's electricity system, laying off employees, and letting Progress Energy sell us our electricity, it ain't gonna happen. But I am all for that very idea.

I have absolutely nothing against town employees working a job they are paid to perform. This is not personal; it is a matter of efficient government and personal finance. The town electrical workers do a good job at what they do. I remember when the last hurricane hit this area several years ago and I sat under my carport when a transformer blew out just a couple of houses over. We got to watch some town electrical workers quickly and efficiently replace the dead equipment during the eye of the storm, restoring electricity within a few hours.

My wife and I stared in amazement at our latest town electricity bill. It was the highest we have ever had in over seven years of living here in the booming metropolis we call Selma. For a fairly mild month and only a 29-day billing cycle, we were stunned. So I did a little research to see if things would have been cheaper if we got our electricity directly from Progress Energy instead of the town.
I have heard for several years that our electricity rates were not appreciably higher than those of Progress Energy were. In effect, the town is a wholesale customer through Electricities. State law allows municipalities to purchase power wholesale and retail to its constituents. The town buys low and sells high. I have no problem with a business making a profit, but when a town gouges its citizens, I tend to get irate.

I went to the Progress Energy web site and downloaded the current electricity rate. They currently charge $6.75 per month base rate plus 9.557 cents per kilowatt-hour. Selma customers pay $7.50 base rate plus about 13 cents per kilowatt-hour. I did the math and that equates to approximately $100 on my bill this month. Therefore, I paid an extra $100 in TAXES this month to the Town of Selma. Yes, I said taxes, not electricity bill payments. If it is above the normal cost that I can purchase through the local power provider and the town gets the revenue, then this is a tax, not a payment for product or service.

The good thing I can say is that the town has finally dropped the line item for a fuel recovery surcharge. Basically we had an extra charge for a long time that was called a fee when it was really a rate hike without formally calling for a rate hike or having to publicize a rate hike. Whether that surcharge was dropped or the rate was changed to accommodate the increase, I don't care, as long as the bill is more honest in presentation. We do, however, continue to have a sales tax. So we pay extra on our electricity rates and then get taxed on that overage, making it even more insulting. It is a tax on a tax.

Whenever Progress Energy proposes a rate hike for residential customers, they have to get that hike approved through the state utilities regulation authorities. When they decide to hike rates on wholesale customers, such as the Town of Selma and every other Electricities member municipality, I am told that no such approval is necessary. I got that straight from a former Selma Town Manager. That means that we are subject to much more capricious energy prices than retail customers are.

I have long questioned the value of owning our own public utility. When I lived in Smithfield prior to buying my house in Selma, I was outside of their town's municipal grid and fortunately could pay lower electricity rates. Since I now live smack in the middle of Selma, I am captive to higher rates.

I firmly believe that we as a town should investigate the savings we could have by eliminating personnel costs, operations, vehicles, facilities, and the like by not owning our own public utility. I am willing to wager that we could operate the town for a year on the proceeds of a sale of the town's power grid to Progress Energy. I am all for it and my tax bill will go down $100 a month. Of course that $100 differential is not deductible on my income tax return as local taxation, but it should be.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Column for April 1, 2010

In every day life, I try to use good manners. I was taught to keep my elbows off the table at dinner, not to chew with my mouth open, say "please" and "thank you", as well as to use respectful terms like sir and ma'am. I try to instill these same values into my seven-year-old son. This is quite an undertaking with a hard headed yung'un, but I keep at it. If you don't believe me, try coming to supper at my house sometime and hear me get on my boy's case.

There is a huge difference between being polite and being politically correct. While I strive to be polite, I certainly do not strive to be politically correct. Political correctness is nothing more than brain washing to indoctrinate people into ideas such as equality of outcome rather than equality of opportunity and of being obsequiously compliant.

In December, I wrote that I was dismayed that my first grader came home and informed his mother and me that we could no longer refer to a waitress or waiter at a restaurant as such but rather had to use the gender neutral term "server". Today I heard three more such paradigm shifting, brain washing, gender bending examples of political correctness.

My seven-year-old informed us that he and other classmates were corrected at school today over simple, everyday colloquialisms that are more than proper. My understanding is that the discussion of a career day was at hand. (Career day? In first grade? Why? Since when does a child at that age have any clue about a career path? But I digress from the topic at hand and now return you to my normally scheduled column already in progress.) When asked what career he would like to dress as, my son said "an Army man". A guidance counselor (so I am told. A guidance counselor? Really? In elementary school? You have got to be kidding me. But again I digress and return to my normally scheduled column already in progress) informed my son that she would prefer that he used the term "Army soldier". Thus the primary connotation of someone in the Army being a male has been destroyed and thereby opening the entire world of military life to all women, regardless of the task, merely by the change of a term. To quote our Registrar of Deeds, Craig Olive, "That's hog wash".

I was also told that other children were chastised for using terms such as "mailman" and "fireman". Apparently the terms firefighter and mail carrier are more correct. I will concede that there are many people in the fire service who believe that a fireman is a person who stokes a boiler and the proper term is firefighter. When I joined the fire service many years ago, that point was made many times by the far more experienced pyro-gladiators. However, this was not a matter of gender bending, it was a matter of terminology. As a matter of fact, I recall the chief of that department informing us that the requirement to join that department would be that one would have to stand three or so feet away from the wall and be able to "make water" upon it. For further reference, I can only point you to the Bible in 1 Samuel 25:22 as one of six examples of which I write. The Bible was certainly not politically correct, nor was it gender sensitive when it came to a lot of things. I have read 26 different translations and paraphrases of that particular verse and some modern translations are fairly politically correct, but on that one it is hard to beat Ye Olde King James version.

If the purpose of political correctness is to take away the alleged offensiveness of normal speech, then I guess I can no longer refer to the Mexican ditch digger as such. I guess that I would have to now call him an "undocumented manual turf extraction technician". Sorry, but I am not going to go the distance on that one. In high school we nicknamed a teacher who spent summers digging graves for a cemetery "Digger". As much as he disliked the nickname, I doubt he would have preferred manual turf extraction technician any better.

Don't let the indoctrination whisk away you or your family. At the dinner table this evening while having this discussion, I told my boy that when monkeys flew out of my posterior, then I would give in and exclusively refer to waitresses as servers, Army men as Army soldiers, and my mailman as a mail carrier. I may use those terms from time to time in normal conversation, however I will never give in towards discounting the other terms of use. Yes, I am just that obstinate. I prefer freedom and common sense over politically correct fertilizer.