Hmmm, billboards. Raleigh folks are passing around some reminder pix from pre-Raleigh sign ordinance days — this beauty was taken on Wake Forest Road. [And came my way from Will Allen, chair of my neighborhood Citizens Advisory Council.]
Word on the prospects for a 1/2-cent sales tax for transit in the Triangle after the Regional Transportation Alliance breakfast meeting this morning:
* Durham and Orange counties are looking seriously at asking voters this fall to approve a different sales tax increase — the 1/4-cent tax hike authorized by the legislature to support schools or other needs.
* Durham and Orange may wind up asking voters to approve a package — the 1/4-cent tax for schools and the 1/2-cent tax for transit. This, according to Michael Page, chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners and Bernadette Pelissier, chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. Both said the question of what will be on the ballot this fall is yet to be decided.
* Wake County's commissioners will not let the voters consider either tax increase this year. The 1/2-cent tax for transit may get to the ballot in May or November of 2012, or it may get there in May of 2013 — or later. This according to Wake Commissioner Tony Gurley, who spoke in place of Wake Commissioners Chair Paul Coble.
Why Coble didn't represent the county wasn't clear. Gurley said the RTA asked him to speak a few weeks ago after failing to get up with Coble. And of course Coble is adamantly opposed to tax increases for anything, but that goes about double for transit.
Gurley said the Wake Commissioners won't block a vote on the transit tax forever, but will need to see "some degree of economic recovery in the area" before they'll let the 1/2-cent question go to the ballot in Wake.
Page and Pelissier made it clear they'd rather the three counties move together in concert, but if Wake won't go, Durham and Orange may go without them. Page said polling by Durham County indicated majority support for the transit tax hike, though it was less than for the tax hike for education.
In the background: The question of the temporary 1-cent sales tax surcharge at the state level, which expires at the end of June unless the General Assembly extends it. Gov. Bev Perdue, in her budget, asked for an extension — but for just 3/4-cent, not the whole 1-cent.
Republicans are in charge in the General Assembly, however, and they're vowing so far to kill the sales tax surcharge and cut budgets — including school and transportation budgets — accordingly. If they do, that could open the door to public acceptance of the need to levy 1/4-cent or 1/2-cent or 3/4ths of a cent in the Triangle to offset what the state's not provided any more. Imo.
As one Democratic legislator said to me recently, another day, another outrage from the Republicans in control of the General Assembly. This time it's a bill — Senate Bill 183 — written for (and no doubt by) the billboard industry. The idea is to override local sign ordinances that, in Raleigh anyway (and Durham too), have stopped the proliferation of visual billboard blight.
SB-183's chief sponsor is Sen. Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican who is the Senate Majority Leader. In other words, this is not some inconsequential bill. (Among the co-sponsors: Sen. Clark Jenkins, D-Edgecombe, who's been the Democrats' top guy on highway bills for years.)
Some folks in Raleigh have set up a No on SB 183 website. City Councilor Thomas Crowder is also sounding the alarm in messages to his constituents.
(Update: Naturally, there is also a Facebook group.)
I am greatly saddened to have learned today that a bill has been introduced in the NC Senate to allow billboards (including electronic digital billboards) in Raleigh again after decades of having some of the most beautiful urban highways and state maintained thoroughfares in the U.S. To make matters even worse the bill will allow the decimation of our tree lined beltline and other road buffers in order to display them.
I ask for your immediate help by letting the NC Legislature understand that trampling over the quality of life rights of local citizens and municipalities for the sole benefit of the billboard industry is reaching way too far. I ask that you and your neighbors write the entire Wake County Delegation requesting they fight hard to kill this legislation on your behalf and write Governor Purdue asking her to VETO this bill, if it is in fact passed by the Legislature. Also, please write “Letters To The Editor” at the News and Observer letting the entire State Legislature know of your outrage in this bill and your adamant support for keeping our scenic view-sheds “green” and pristine. We do not want our roads and highways to emulate other states. Let’s Keep Raleigh and North Carolina Beautiful!
Here are some highlights outlined by the North Carolina American Planning Association of what the bill will allow:
1) Allow digital and tri-vision billboards every 1,500 feet on each side of any interstate or primary highway system route under certain conditions (such as that the copy stays fixed for at least 8 seconds).
2) Allow by right conversion of any existing regular billboards to digital billboards, even if they are a locally nonconforming use.
3) Increase cut zone distance from 250' to 400'.
4) Override local tree cutting ordinances on state/federal roads.
The bill would also provide some tree replanting money.
To view the full bill language, visit
Companion legislation in the House is expected shortly. Both pieces of legislation could move quickly.
Please speak up now and loudly! Here are e-mail addresses for the Governor, Wake Delegation, and The News and Observer. Please ask your friends throughout the City, Triangle and State to do the same!
For the Durham angle, see this story:
This just in from the Governor's office: She's put the kibosh on the Republican bill attempting to nullify President Obama's health care reforms (the Affordable Care Act).
[Update: Progressive coalition likes this. Statement is copied after the one from the Gov. Also, you can't veto a bill nowadays and not make a video record of it — also below.]
From Perdue's press secretary —
This afternoon, just before 2 p.m., Gov. Perdue vetoed House Bill 2, "Protect Health Care Freedom."
In signing the veto, the governor made the following statement:
"I'm vetoing HB 2 for three reasons: first of all, House Bill 2 actually is contradictory to the federal constitution. A state can't pass a law that is out of obeyance with federal laws, and this House Bill 2 clearly is.
"Secondly, there are 27 other states that are engaged in this process. It's extraneous to North Carolina. This issue will reach the Supreme Court in a timely manner without North Carolina spending money and energy on it. It's superfluous.
"And third and most importantly, the attorney general and solicitor general have talked to me and the leadership of the General Assembly and explained clearly that there are some unintended consequences of House Bill 2 that dramatically affect our medicaid program, potentially hurting the childrens' health insurance program, attacking our process of requiring uninsured motorists to have insurance, attacking college students for having insurance. And finally the whole issue of unintended consequences — today none of us know what this will mean in two weeks, two months or two years.
"This is an ill-conceived piece of legislation that's not good for the people of North Carolina. Therefore I veto it."
HB-2 was among the bills of "dubious constitutionality" — I was being generous — that I described in a column this week.
And from the N.C. Justice Center:
Statement: Health Care Advocates Laud Perdue's Veto as "Refreshing"
NC Health Access Coalition says the veto shows Gov. Perdue is "focused on a better future for North Carolinians" instead of "engaging in political games"
RALEIGH (March 5, 2011) — In a statement issued this afternoon, the NC Health Access Coalition lauded Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto of an ill-conceived anti-health care bill.
The statement reads:
"For those concerned about jobs and affordable health insurance, Governor Perdue’s action in vetoing House Bill 2 is refreshing.
Instead of engaging in political games about “repealing” federal laws, the Governor’s eyes are firmly focused on a better future for North Carolinians. The Governor’s vision is of a North Carolina where insurance companies can no longer deny people health coverage because of pre-existing health conditions, where tax credits and a newly competitive market make insurance affordable and cost less, and where small businesses can finally get the same deals on health coverage plans that large companies enjoy."
"Pope is Poison," was the theme of the NC HEAT leaflets. "Our aim is to hit Pope where he can feel it — in his wallet."
So today a small group of students — NC HEAT members — picketed the Maxway store on Poole Road in Southeast Raleigh, attempting to dissuade customers from buying there if they don't like what Art Pope's been doing with the profits. (Including helping to install Ron Margiotta as Wake school board chair.)
In the first 45 minutes, organizer Elena Everett said, the protesters succeeded with eight drivers who were heading for the parking lot but turned around instead.
Who's Art Pope? Well, that's the problem, said Mimi Pomeroy, a parent who drove up from Apex to join the students' protest. No doubt, she said and I agreed, few of the people who buy at Maxway have any idea:
* that it's part of the Variety Wholesalers Inc. chain;
* that the chain, consisting of more than 400 stores, is a family business controlled by Art Pope;
* that Art Pope is the enormously wealthy backer of all things right-wing Republican in Wake County and North Carolina — including the Wake County school board majority, the majority on the Wake County Board of Commissioners, and of late both houses of the N.C. General Assembly.
They should also understand that Variety Wholesalers specializes in selling cheap (in all senses of the word) goods made in third-world countries to Americans living in low-income communities.
Most of the students on hand were part of the NC HEAT forum with Superintendent Tony Tata Thursday night, a very interesting session if you haven't heard about it.
Pomeroy was new to the cast of characters, and we chatted for a bit. She was disappointed, rightly so, that the Democratic Party didn't get behind the protest, especially since we both remembered that the "Party" — I put the word in quotes for good reason — announced prior to last fall's elections that they'd be going after Pope's stores themselves. Yeah, right. (Come to find out, it's still on the NCDP website.)
Democratic Party turnout beyond the NC HEAT group? Zero. (One, counting Pomeroy, who said she forwarded the information she received about the protest to the Wake Democratic Party.)
Maybe next time?
I captured a bit of the Q & A on my cellphone camera (see below). It's Tata talking about "living diversity," and specifically about being called back from Bosnia to Fort Bragg, where he'd trained as a paratrooper, in 1995. He was given command of a racially riven unit, he said, after a soldier in it — part of a white-supremacist cell — murdered two black people in Fayetteville as "initiation."
Tata goes on to say that he was picked for the command because of his commitment to diversity, both racial and gender, in the military. (The military, he frequently observes, is THE most successful institution in America when it comes to putting people of different backgrounds together.)
Cleaning up the racial mess at Bragg was a formative experience for him, Tata said. So was living through his first two years at West Point, when the older cadets in the class of '79 — the last all-male class and the "last bastion of maleness" at the Academy, or so they thought — did everything they could to make life miserable for the women in the class below them. It pretty obviously pissed him off.
The event last night was sponsored by the pro-diversity youth group, NC HEAT (Heroes Emerging Among Teens), along with a parents group affiliated with the YWCA of Raleigh. It was a free-wheeling session for the audience of 125 or more. The questioners, including many students, didn't hold back. Tata seemed to enjoy the fact that they didn't.
Tata denied, in response to one questioner's statement, that he ever said a "neighborhood schools" plan was his priority. To another question, he answered that, "Of course, we don't want high-poverty schools," which would be the almost inevitable result of a neighborhood-schools plan. "But I would put it a different way," he continued. "We don't want any schools with high concentrations of low-achieving students."
Raising achievement levels for all students is his priority, Tata said several times. He acknowledged that it won't help low-achieving students to be corralled in a school where most of the other students are low-achieving too.
Someone asked if he was concerned that the new Walnut Creek Elementary School in Southeast Raleigh will open next year with a high-poverty student body — the estimate is that 81 percent of its students will qualify for the free and reduced lunch program.
"I am concerned," Tata said. He's also concerned that Walnut Creek's student body is expected to be in excess of 50 percent low-achievers (kids not scoring at or above grade levels). Tata said he's working to see that the school is staffed with the best possible teachers and an outstanding principal (the school board is offering a salary bonus to get one to take the job).
When he worked in the DC school system, Tata said, most of his time was spent in the high-poverty schools of East Anacostia, where F&R-eligible levels were all 90 percent or more. It was hard to get good staff to work there. "I know full well the challenges of high-poverty schools," Tata said. "They tend to chew up human capital."
Bottom line of the evening: Tata says he's working to make student achievement the main pillar of his new assignment plan. He's not embracing the Alves framework (the Wake Ed. Partnership-Chamber of Commerce plan), exactly, and in fact says his plan will be the product of a staff task force, not the Chamber's product. But to the extent that they're guided by the Alves plan at all, it offered very specific standards for measuring its other "pillars" — proximity, stability and choice. But its fourth pillar, student achievement, was left pretty loosey-goosey, with only an admonition that a school with fewer than 70 percent of students at or above grade level would need immediate attention.
In this regard, Amelia Lumpkin, a Davidson College student (Enloe HS, class of '09), asked a very good question. Since the early years (grades 1-3) are so critical to a child's future success, she said, it's important that student achievement levels be high in every elementary school — no concentrations of low-achieving kids are acceptable there any more than they are in middle schools or high schools.
But how do you measure, Lumpkin asked, the achievement levels of kids when they're still in kindergarten awaiting assignment to an elementary school? (What she didn't say, but might've, is that it's much easier to measure poverty levels in a community and assign kids in groups to avoid high-poverty concentrations.)
Tata said there are some methods for testing kindergarten students, but they aren't great. "We do OK at it now," he said. "We have to do better."
And how, someone else asked, do you get great teachers like the ones I have at Leesville High School in North Raleigh to go teach in schools with low-income kids who need them the most?
"Therein lies the hard work of the student assignment team," Tata said. He predicted his group will have "something that looks like something" of a plan in five to six weeks.
Here's that video —
At 403,892, Raleigh is the state's second largest city, behind Charlotte (731,424), but it's also the fastest growing: Raleigh's population is up 46 percent since 2000, while Charlotte gained 35 percent ... according to official U.S. Census data released today.
So it isn't just your imagination that Raleigh's roads — essentially unchanged in a decade — are twice as crowded as they used to be.
Wake County, by the way, will soon overtake Mecklenburg as North Carolina's biggest. Wake's population was pegged at 900,993, slightly behind Meck's 919,628. But Wake grew 43 percent over the decade vs. Meck's 32 percent.
Durham ranks as the state's fifth largest city (after Greensboro and Winston-Salem), pop: 228,330, up 22 percent over the decade.