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What the city could do to start rebuilding trust

It’s very simple: drop its attempts to justify the secret vote to raise taxes to fund improvements at privately-owned Bank of America Stadium and for other not-identified-at-the-time economic development projects. Whether the city had the legal right to do what it did is now entirely beside the point.

Openness reduces the potential for corruption. Poorly-designed public policy, like having powerful public officials determine which taxi companies get to pick up fares at the airport or holding no-advanced notice secret votes to raise taxes on politically-disfavored groups to fund in part TBD projects, breeds pay-to-play politics and bribery. As long as the city defends what City Council did on Jan. 14, 2013 and reserves the right to do that sort of thing again, it is de facto saying that city government remains for sale.

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US Airways reduces Brussels and Lisbon service

Before its merger with American Airlines was approved, US Airways announced plans to add daily summer-seasonal service to four additional destinations in Europe this summer: Manchester, England; Brussels, Belgium; Lisbon, Portugal, and Barcelona, Spain. Over the weekend, the airline loaded a revised flight schedule that trims service to Brussels and Lisbon to only four days a week. (Flights from CLT to Brussels operate on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Sundays while for Lisbon it will be Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays.) The reductions don’t come as a great shock. And to be blunt, there’s little reason to expect the combined American/US Airways to offer flights from Charlotte to either destination next summer.

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Meanwhile in Raleigh

The Carolina Hurricanes missed the NHL playoffs. Again. And it’s a team with issues, and those issues start at the top says Raleigh News & Observer columnist Luke DeCock:

Even as the Carolina Hurricanes wrap up a fifth straight season without a playoff appearance Sunday at the Philadelphia Flyers, fans will be happy to know the team is in great shape. Just ask owner Peter Karmanos, who wouldn’t mind your season-ticket deposit if you happen to have it handy.

“I think we have all the pieces in place,” Karmanos said in an increasingly infamous interview with FS Carolinas on Tuesday. “We might have to do some tweaking here and some tweaking there, change some attitudes here, some attitudes there, but all in all, I think we got a good thing going.”

That interview with team broadcaster John Forslund aired during the first intermission of a 4-1 loss to the New York Rangers that eliminated the Hurricanes from playoff contention, was presumably an attempt to placate restless fans. Karmanos only managed to infuriate.

“I need the fans to be even more patient than they have been,” Karmanos said. “Our season-ticket renewals right now aren’t good, and I don’t blame anybody because we’ve missed the playoffs for five years, but when we do go back on the ice next year, we need that fan support.”

Why even more patience is so important is unclear, though, since Karmanos also said the front office and coaching staff are doing a great job – general manager Jim Rutherford’s expected departure was not mentioned – and he doesn’t think reconstruction is necessary: “We’re not in a situation where we have to tear everything down and build over again.”

You can read more of DeCock’s column here.

Why this matters: The Charlotte Checkers are Hurricane’s top minor-league affiliate. And ultimately, if there are problem with the parent club, that extends down into the minor leagues.

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The UPoR on film incentives

For those not following the issue, N.C. State professor Robert Handfield produced a study for the Motion Picture Association of America claiming that state film incentives produced significant benefits for North Carolina. This drew a response from economists Patrick McHugh and Barry Boardman of the Fiscal Research Division, questioning Handfield’s methodology. McHugh and Boardman concluded that film incentives are a big net money loser for the state.

The debate resulted in this editorial in today’s Charlotte Observer questioning the value of film incentives. The last paragraph:

There’s no doubt incentives help attract TV and film productions and jobs. But given McHugh’s and Boardman’s convincing gutting of Handfield’s work, legislators should bring great skepticism this summer. Perhaps an alternative approach could be found that doesn’t cost the state so much. If not, and if that means Claire Danes never visits the Observer again, so be it.


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A new breed of hunters

As the Wilmington Star-News reports, the number of hunters in North Carolina has increased in the last few years after being in decline since at least the early 1900s. A lot of that had to do with the economy, particularly the sad state of the housing industry. (People in the building trades tend to also hunt and fish, and they’ve had a lot of extra time on their hands to do so.) But a portion of the increase comes from urban foodies, who have taken up hunting to get what they consider a more organic dinner:

License sales provide a snapshot of where these new hunters live, and reinforce this shift. New Hanover County permit sales increased nearly nine percent between 2008 and 2013, though numbers held steady over that same period in the less urbanized Pender and Brunswick counties. Mecklenburg County, the state’s most populous, grew by 12.4 percent. Just behind, Wake County saw an 11.3 percent increase.

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The casino bubble

From Business Week:

The Harrah’s casino in Tunica, Miss., features a spa, three pools, a golf course, and a shooting range. But there’s one thing the 18-year-old facility, the largest of 10 casinos in the area, sorely lacks: gamblers. The northern Mississippi casino industry saw gaming revenue shrink to $738 million last year from $1.2 billion in 2006. So Harrah’s parent, Caesars Entertainment (CZR), will shutter the resort on June 2, putting as many as 1,300 employees out of work. “There’s just too much supply in that market,” says John Payne, president of Caesars’s central markets division, which will concentrate on two other casinos it owns in Tunica. “The Harrah’s has not been profitable for a while.”

The closing could be a sign of things to come as the $38 billion U.S. gambling industry bumps up against two unlucky trends, a proliferation of casinos and still-skittish consumers in the wake of the financial crisis. Some 39 states have casino gambling of some kind, up from only two in 1988, and more Las Vegas-style resorts are on the way in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Maryland. “They have saturation problems,” says William Thompson, a professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas who studies the industry. “We have a wave of new casinos coming.”


You can read the rest of the article here.

Takeaway point: Whatever the projected economic impact from the proposed Catawba casino in Kings Mountain is, it’s highly overstated.

H/t: MK

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Heroin use is up. Way up.

As the News & Observer of Raleigh reports:

A few dozen people died of heroin overdoses in North Carolina each year since 2000, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services.

But in 2012, heroin deaths nearly doubled statewide, to 148, while overall deaths from all narcotics and hallucinogenic drugs ticked up only slightly. WakeMed hospitals throughout Wake County admitted 50 people for heroin overdoses in 2013, more than twice the annual average of the previous five years, said spokeswoman Kristin Kelly.

At the same time, police say the amount of heroin they’ve found in drug arrests has soared.

In Durham, police seized about 4 pounds of heroin last year, more than five times as much as in 2010, said spokeswoman Kammie Michael. In Raleigh, heroin seizures went from less than a pound in 2010 to nearly 24 pounds last year, said spokesman Jim Sughrue.

And which North Carolina county has the most heroin deaths in 2013? Yup, Mecklenburg with 14.

What’s behind the increase in heroin use? Essentially, OxyContin and the like got expensive:

“Some of these prescription medicines sell for $40 a pill,” says Robert Childs, executive director of the N.C. Harm Reduction Coalition, a statewide public health and drug policy reform organization based in Durham. “That’s on the extreme end. Most cost less. But if you can get a bag of heroin for $5 to $20 instead of paying up to $25 or $80, it’s really a simple choice to users.”

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The Great Cannon Corruption Hunt, Round 2

The UPoR now turns its attention to the case of whether Patrick Cannon may have corrupted how liquor permits are handled in the county. The jumping off point is what is now the Sheraton Charlotte hotel and the question of how it got and retained its liquor license. To cut to the chase: A person associated with the hotel claimed he had connections to speed up the licensing process. And Patrick Cannon’s company runs the parking for the hotel. That matters, because the hotel changed owners and thus needed a new set alcohol permits. Is there any evidence of actual corruption? Not really. Is there any evidence that the state’s liquor laws are a complex mess? Plenty, but we already new that.


The new CLT press reality

Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned… or a major metropolitan newspaper that didn’t uncover a corruption scandal before someone big got arrested. So now the Charlotte Observer is out to atone for not nailing Patrick Cannon before the FBI did, which means that anything that even to the slightest degree suggests self-dealing makes the paper in a very big way.

Which brings us to Tuesday’s curious piece on the city’s selection of taxi cab companies that would be allowed to pick up fares at the airport. Could this have possibly set off the FBI targeting Cannon? Maybe. The timeline would be about right, but there’s little that actually ties the taxi cab affair to the now former mayor — a rather inept con allegedly trying to collect bribe money for Cannon to determine who gets taxi rights at the airport is far from a smoking gun. He could easily have just been collecting money for himself, while pretending to be collecting money for Cannon. (I kind of doubt Cannon is that clumsy.)

More than anything else, what this shows is how unfortunate a piece of public policy the airport’s taxi policy is. By reducing the number of cab companies that can serve the airport from 12 to three, the city was creating a process that could easily be corrupted. At best, it’s likely to favor well-run and well-connected cab companies. Upset the wrong person for whatever reason and your company might not be able to pick up fares at the airport much longer. And even if the selection process weren’t per se corrupt, a lot of tax cab operators were and are angry about what happened, and have little faith in the outcome. Such lake of confidence is in and of itself a problem.

Bonus observation
: If this is the airport rumor that Sen. Bob Rucho claims helped push the drive to take the airport out from city control, then perhaps he should have put less effort into protecting Jerry Ore and more time into making sure local governments don’t engage in such crony capitalism.


NCAA gets what it deserves

That’s the title of a column by Andrew Cline, editorial page editor of the New Hampshire Union Leader and a Carolina Journal alum, in USA Today on new challenges to the NCAA refusing to pay “student-athletes.”. A highlight:

These legal challenges did not arise suddenly. They grew from years of frustration among athletes subjected to absurdly restrictive contracts. As the NCAA grew wealthier showcasing the talents of its “amateur” athletes, its definition of “amateur” tightened. Under the guise of safeguarding its “student-athletes,” it made certain that virtually any financial gain from an athlete’s abilities, likeness or name would go to the NCAA.

This dedication to amateurism is supposed to ensure that athletes compete purely for “the love of the game” rather than for profit. Profit, you see, is bad — except when the NCAA, its member institutions and its coaches enjoy it.

You can read the rest of Drew’s excellent piece here.

April 2014
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