Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Column for June 23, 2011

I have had some interesting discussions lately on the purpose of government, the origins of government, and the rule of law. In this country, we are thankfully guaranteed a republican form of government as opposed to a democracy. That federal guarantee flows down to the states, counties, and municipalities, since we have representatives that we engage on our behalf from within the public (res publica, meaning roughly “public matter”, the root of the word, republic).

It is a public matter what happens in our government, and we should take note of things that are contrary to the public good. It has been said that “you get what you pay for”. That is not always axiomatic. It is a surety, however, that we pay for what we get. Keeping an eye on what we pay for is indeed a public matter.

Occasionally we contend with sheer hubris on the part of our hirelings in government. Here is a case in point. You may have read about the Town of Smithfield’s dismissal of their town manager. The town manager serves at the pleasure of the town council and when it is right to do so, they should indeed remove their hireling from his job. Ostensibly, the removal was for unapproved hefty pay raises for a number of Smithfield town employees. The town council did not give the assent to these pay raises; the town manager agreed to give them without seeking their approval. To be sure the town manager did not act solely on his own and he was not the only one who knew that unauthorized pay raises were being given. Not only has the town manager been fired but the town clerk has left her position in disgrace. The Smithfield town attorney has put in many hours of legal work and advice, and that has cost the town many more thousands of dollars.

In a down economy where every level of government has to cut spending (a lesson that North Carolina Governor Beverly Perdue had to learn the hard way), it was a travesty to see a town have a scandal like that, the public trust betrayed, and needless cost incurred in hard financial times. The government does not exist to provide employment for people. Rather it exists to serve and protect the people of the town. It is the creation of the townsfolk. The townsfolk of Smithfield did not get what they were paying for but they sure are paying for what they got.

The other day I interacted with a public educator who complained about last week’s vote by the North Carolina General Assembly to override the governor’s veto of the budget. The budget made necessary cuts to education spending. Since it is the biggest budget item, it has to be on the chopping block like everything else on which the state spends our money. We were spending far too much money in many areas, including education. We had a lot of extra staff that were not necessary and were funded by temporary revenue sources. Cutting the extra is not wrong, it is the responsible thing to do. We the taxpayers, via our elected representatives, demanded that our schools be run more efficiently and responsibly.

If any teachers or staff members will lose their jobs, I sympathize. My wife has been out of work for over two years and I have been unemployed before, too. Our household budget is tighter than it has been in years. But I also understand the public good versus the individual good. As I told this one educator for the record, I have worked for the federal government, the state, and a municipality in my career, so yes, I understand government work and public sector employment. It is both because of this and being a taxpayer that I have little tolerance for whining by public employees. Instead of decrying having to pay more for health care benefits and perhaps a slight pay cut, their attitude has to be one of gratitude that they still have jobs. I personally know too many people out of work who wish they had such employment.

Again, it is not the job of government to supply employment, it is to serve the public. As is the case with our public schools and for the taxpayers in the Town of Smithfield, the public did not get what they paid for, but are certainly paying for what they got from government.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Column for June 16, 2011

This past weekend, I had the pleasure of taking a camping and whitewater rafting trip with a pack of Cub Scouts in the North Carolina mountains. Since we were in Swain and Jackson counties, we visited the area’s famous “Road to Nowhere” (or “Tunnel to Nowhere”, depending upon whom you ask). It is a classic example of government stupidity. I did some research on the tunnel and road project and unfortunately found that this is not an isolated case. If you are on the internet, use a search engine to look for “road to nowhere” and “tunnel to nowhere”. You will be amazed at what you find.

In this case, the US Government took a great deal of land from residents with the promise of building a new road. The Tennessee Valley Authority was going to take the land (including a regularly used road) to build a man made lake. The new road was supposed to link residents to the town of Fontana and some family burial grounds stranded by the TVA project. This began in the 1930’s and stretched through the 1940’s. After building only six miles of road, including a tunnel through 1200 feet of rock, the road project was abandoned by 1969. That left the other promised 26 miles of road undone. Forty years later, instead of finishing the promised road, the federal government just gave Swain County $52 million to settle the issue.

There are several things I take away from this debacle. First, that the government is, in general, inefficient at keeping its promises and really has little regard for the personal inconvenience it inflicts upon its citizenry. I’ll have more on that later. Second, if you have a dispute with the government, it can take a half century to resolve the problem, and in a manner generally unacceptable to those most severely affected. Third, the government is actually capable of abandoning projects and spending.

Depending upon your source, it is said that the Bryson City “road to nowhere” (which literally just stops at a horse trail on the side of a mountain. I walked through the tunnel and on the road to its terminal point) was discontinued because of funding. If the government can stop paying for a project that it can not afford, why can we not do the same with entitlement programs? Why can we not stop wasteful spending? When we hired too many staff members in government, schools, and/or obsolete, duplicate programs, why can we not stop spending on them, just like the road to nowhere?

To put an exclamation point on my perspective, just this afternoon I was sitting in stopped traffic on the Durham Freeway because all traffic was blocked in all directions around Durham and the RDU Airport because President Obama was giving essentially a campaign speech. When it was time for him to leave town, law enforcement closed down traffic, essentially shutting down the area for the movement of one person and his “yes men”.

The ironic thing is that the business he visited in Durham is Cree, Inc. Cree is a company that manufactures energy efficient lighting and employs about 5,000 people. He was supposed to talk about American job growth. This business has half of it employees in China and yet benefited from a $39 million advanced energy manufacturing tax credit through the last stimulus spending package. They have also received nearly two million dollars of direct taxpayer funding for research and development. OK, if tax breaks yield business development, why don’t we just lower taxes across the board? It worked for George Bush, Ronald Reagan, and John Kennedy.

I wonder just how much this major traffic inconvenience cost the US taxpayer. I am sure it was in the millions of dollars considering the employees who could not show up to work and were not paid because of the security, the cost of flying Air Force One and ground transportation into Durham, the cost of security at all levels of government, and the loss of advertising revenue on broadcast outlets that covered the speech.

If we can drop a promised construction project that would have given great benefit to a lot of people in a poor section of the country who lost their ancestral homeland to eminent domain, why can we not stop spending millions of dollars for a sitting politician to give campaign speeches at taxpayer expense? This is especially ironic and painful when I consider the fact that President Obama gave a speech on job creation and business recovery when he, probably more than anyone else, is directly responsible for the lack thereof.

We have proven that we can stop spending. Why, oh why can we not stop spending in areas that just plain make sense?

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Column for June 9, 2011

I don’t want to pay your electricity bill. I am sure that you don’t want to pay mine, either. In Selma, our electricity bills contain a lot of taxes. Anything above what we would normally pay by purchasing electricity through Progress Energy is in effect, a tax. The rate we are charged per kilowatt hour in Selma is significantly higher than Progress Energy would normally charge residential retail customers. I have done the math. That is why I kind of like the new “prepaid electricity” concept that Selma is moving towards.

With the majority of Selma residents being renters rather than homeowners, we have a higher than average possible transient population. This can lead to people skipping out on their utility bills. To combat this, the town instituted a hefty deposit requirement for new utility customers. I understand the concept, but also know that a lot of people cannot handle the $450 or so deposit. I know that when I bought my house in town, I would not have been able to fork out for that sort of deposit after all the money I paid just to be able to move in. I realize that the town has a different policy towards actual homeowners but, I am just saying it is difficult for many.

When people leave bills hanging and a deposit does not cover the cost, we, the remaining customers and townsfolk, pay for it one way or another. That is just the simple economics of it. The same principle works for auto or health insurance and private utility companies. We all pay for claims and losses in the end.

The pay as you go principle works well for a lot of people. I have a prepaid cell phone for my wife and we are happy with it for the little bit of use it gets. We can put as much or as little money on our account as we wish, depending upon our usage and budget. For a lot of people, this may be the way to go with electricity bills.

It is bad enough that our trash collection will be going up, which shows up on our utility bills. It is good to see that at least the town is considering ways to alleviate the heavy burden of paying utility bills all at once. Quite honestly, there have been a few times where it was a struggle for us to meet the entire bill. Money is tighter than it used to be for us, but I still make a comfortable living.

If you are like me, you struggled with getting two utility bills in the same month last month. I see that the due date is now different, and I am hoping it will not be permanent. Good grief, that would throw my entire monthly budget into chaos, since for almost nine years I have been budgeting to have my utility bill paid in the middle of the month and my mortgage payment at the end of the month. I am sure that others will have the same frustration. My utility bill can run as high as $400 a month and I don’t know about you, but a $400 swing across two weeks will take some getting used to.

The beautiful part of the prepaid or pay-as-you-go plan is that people can put money on an account ahead of time and their usage draws against that account. For those who can’t afford a whopping bill, are renters, are temporary residents, or frequently delinquent in paying their bills, this may be a great solution.

I have long said that if I am willing to complain about something, I had better be equally willing to compliment. I am complimenting the Town of Selma for the innovation. I am sure that the town would get a lot more compliments from everybody if they would change the rate we are paying on our residential electrical service. The town charges about 13 cents per kilowatt hour whereas Progress Energy direct residential customers pay 9.15 (or 10.15 depending upon the season) per kilowatt hour. Multiply that times the number of kilowatt hours you use and you will be amazed at how fast those extra three or four pennies adds up. One month that made about $100 difference in my bill. That extra $100 is what should be considered extra taxation.

If the town is going to be an electric company, I applaud the effort to be more flexible for its customers. Still, it would be better if we would just get out of Electricities all together, sell off our electrical grid, and let the private sector deliver the same service for less money.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Stephen LaRoque

Just for the public record, prior to writing my column, I wrote Stephen LaRoque to thank him for his stance.

On 5/27/2011 4:30 PM, Troy LaPlante wrote:
Thank you for showing enough courage to stand up against William Barber and the NAACP. Racism is wrong, regardless of from whom it comes. Barber is a race pimp who constantly incites racist views in order to keep his job. Nothing will satisfy him on any topic as long as he can find a way to come up with an angle that enables him to stir up racism.

I am not from your district (I am from Johnston County), but I am proud of you for having the spine to take a stand. I wish that there were more like you in the NC Legislature.

http://www.wral.com/news/state/nccapitol/story/9653960/ is the story I read about you and I have shared it all over my web presence.

Column for June 2, 2011

I have a new hero. I am not familiar with all of his stances, but Stephen LaRoque, a member of the North Carolina State Legislator from the Kinston area, showed what I thought was courage and conviction. I have remarked in the past about how I consider the “Reverend” William Barber, the state President of the NAACP, to be nothing but a race pimp that exploits his own people for money and power.

The NAACP was recently planning a protest against proposed state budget cuts and proclaimed, "Tea Party extremists seized the Republican Party and declared war on African Americans, poor people and other minorities." I find this patently absurd. The budget cuts have nothing to do with race or financial class. Then again, maybe they do. It is because of the alleged poor that we have so much entitlement spending. It is because of minorities that illegally immigrate from other countries that we end up giving away tons of money in welfare, health care, child care, food assistance programs, and have an ever increasing cost of educating their children.

I applaud the courage of Stephen LaRoque for not taking allegations like that without fighting back. He wrote the NAACP and told them, "I have no interest in receiving anything from a racist such as William Barber. He and the NC NAACP represent everything that is wrong with race relations in our state and country. You should be ashamed of yourself for continuing to promote racism but that is the modern day legacy of the NAACP as a racist organization led by racist individuals who are cowards."

Groups like the NAACP have made themselves irrelevant. In particular, the NAACP has become nothing but a group of self-serving troublemakers. They have no real interest in ending racism. If they did, they would not find racism where it does not exist. In Wake County, the desire to return to community based schools has nothing to do with race; it is a matter of common sense and fiscal responsibility. Cutting state budget over spending has nothing to do with race; it is a matter of common sense and fiscal responsibility. When the NAACP “stirs the pot” and cry racism where none exists, it is obvious that it is just another effort to create perpetual anger and animosity so that people like William Barber (along with Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Benjamin Jealous) can still have a job. If there was no massive perceived racism, there would be no need for the NAACP and race pimps.

Don’t get me wrong, there is racism still alive and well. When I first moved to the South, I ran across racism quite a bit, much to my astonishment. See, where I grew up, everybody was White, for the most part. People were mostly of French, Polish, Italian, or Anglo extraction in that area. My best friend while growing up (and we still are good buddies) was a Pole with a long last name that ended in “ski”. I won’t type the whole name so I don’t flip out my spell checker. The only Black kid in school had a last name of White (I am not joking, really) and was adopted by White parents. We told jokes about everybody, including ourselves. I grew up in a very French family and we told Frenchman jokes all the time. We had Black jokes, Jewish jokes, Polish jokes, and well, you get the idea. We all had a sense of humor and were equal opportunity offenders.

Coming from New England, I had always heard about racism in The South. I sure ran across it in a major way after moving here. And for certain, racism is not just one way. There are racists and racism in every ethnic group. I got a lot of racism from Black folks and I saw a lot of White folks exercise their racist attitudes and actions, as well. Regardless from which direction it came, it was wrong. I can honestly say that I understand it, but do not excuse it.

Just because the “Reverend” William Barber (who should spend more time preaching the gospel of Christ rather than the gospel of social justice that he peddles) is Black, that does not mean that he can not be just as racist as any Klansman. They just wear different style robes.

Personally, I am sick and tired of claims of racism where none exist. To me, it is only common sense to stop spending money we don’t have, to have children attend public schools local to them, and that not every decision made by men has racist undertones. But then again, if everyone thought that way, the NAACP would be out of business.