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Archive for February, 2012

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry Presents … The Latest “study” on Why We Must Spend $19 mil on Uptown Baseball

First step to sticking the public with the bill for another shiny new sports or tourism related project for Charlotte, preferably uptown?

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, home of Chief Economist and conjurer in residence, John Connaughton.

Hire UNC Charlotte economics professor John Connaughton to conduct one of his economic analysis “studies.” In the last two decades, Connaughton has never given a thumbs down to anything the shiny shoes wanted to build here with public money. His most recent fiasco was his NASCAR museum “study,” which he said used “conservative” numbers at the time.

The study estimated the NASCAR Hall of Fame would generate $62 million annually for the Mecklenburg economy, support 748 new tourism-related jobs and would have a sunny economic picture that included a positive cash flow. That’s not even close to how things turned out. The hall of fame lost $1.4 million the first year and public officials are currently struggling to figure out how to get the thing to at least break even as it goes down in flames.

Left unscathed? John Connaughton, as usual.

But that’s the beauty of being John Connaughton. No one ever holds you accountable for these studies, no matter how badly you screw up your economic predictions.

He’s at it again, with the usual uncritical varnish applied by the Charlotte Observer.

In this study, he claims that Charlotte’s sports teams and special events like golf tournaments support more than 23,000 jobs and are an “economic and tourism engine.” The study was funded by the Charlotte Sports Commission, which wants $6 million to $11 million in public money from the city for a new Knights AAA baseball stadium uptown.

“Jeff Beaver, executive director of the Charlotte Sports Commission, which hired Connaughton, said the study could help show the economic benefits of the Knights and other sports teams,” the Observer reports. It might “make the decision (for an uptown stadium) easier.”

Uh-huh. You never know. Maybe this study is accurate. Or maybe it was cooked up at Hogworts.


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Trying to declare failure a success at the NASCAR HOF

That essentially is new Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority head Tom Murray’s goal. As the UPoR reports:

Murray said his next goal is to improve attendance at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, which lost $1.4 million in its first year. His goal is to have the racing museum break even financially or turn a profit, he said.

Murray said new lower ticket prices for local people have been successful, and that the hall may try to offer discounted tickets to convention attendees in the future. The CRVA has said it has struggled to convince convention attendees to visit the hall.

So essentially, if the NASCAR Hall of Fame breaks even, then Murray can say that all is well, everyone can conveniently stop thinking about much of a policy failure the facility is, and move on to business as usual. Like doing the next deal. I’m sure a lot of people Uptown would like that.

Except that the details of how the HOF might break even matter. The original idea was that the facility would draw a lot of people from out of town — that is to say, it would draw new (additional) tourism dollars to the city. That hasn’t really happened. So now Murray is left to cover the facility’s losses by trying to get a bigger share of the existing tourism pie and locals’ discretionary spending. To the degree he succeeds, it means attracting money that would otherwise be spent on other local entertainment options. To the degree he succeeds, it means other attractions and entertainment options might just fail. As in fail to meet their revenue targets and, maybe in some cases, fail entirely.

Bonus observation: So conventioneers aren’t excited about the NASCAR HOF? So presumably by extension, the HOF isn’t really helping to draw conventions either. That would be a problem, as we raised the hotel/motel tax to help pay for the racing museum, thus making the Charlotte less attractive for conventions.

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Charlotte’s Taxes By Far the Highest in the State. Advantage: Raleigh.

If you live in Charlotte, you pay the highest taxes in the state among big municipalities. By a mile.

It's hip and hot. It's a more affordable place to live and do business. It's Raleigh.

So says a new report by the John Locke Foundation. Among the state’s largest cities, Charlotte ($2,289 per person), Chapel Hill, Wilmington, Asheville, and Mooresville had the highest local government burdens, according to the report. Compare that to Raleigh, where government takes in a mere $1901.31 per person.

It’s just more fuel for Raleigh’s meteoric rise as the premier New South city after Atlanta, a title Charlotte once securely held. Because of numbers like this, national “best places” to live, work and do business surveys that always ranked Charlotte highly a decade ago now tend to default to Raleigh with Charlotte trailing further behind … when it makes these ranking surveys at all. That’s because contrary to local popular opinion, what it costs to live and do business in a place matters.

As I’ve chronicled in this blog and my other work, Raleigh has been quietly eating Charlotte’s lunch for nearly a decade now as the premier southern business and talent relocation destination, something that was unthinkable a decade ago, when Charlotte’s chops as the country’s number two banking center seemed impossible to beat.

Why does Charlotte need all that government bloat? Beats me.

Charlotte had a per capita income of $30,984 through 2010, almost identical to Raleigh’s $30,079. Poverty rates were also nearly identical over the last decade at nearly 15 percent for Charlotte and almost 14 percent for Raleigh according to So what governmental wonders are Charlotteans and Mecklenburgers paying more for? What indispensable local government bloat do we just have to have?

I wish someone would answer that question.

A county to county comparison is worse. Wake County vacuums up a mere $1,887.83 per person, compared to Mecklenburg’s whopping $2,459.99 per person.

Just more evidence of what the next decade will surely prove. The South’s future is bright, and it is in Raleigh.



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The 7lb, 7oz Reason I Haven’t Posted Much Lately

Some of you have noticed I haven’t posted to MeckDeck much lately. That’s because I’ve been a little busy.


I figure we’ve all got to do our part to build the next generation of conservatives to pass our freedom-loving philosophy on to. So here’s my family’s latest contribution to the effort.

His name is Sawyer, and he was born on Valentine’s Day. He weighed 7 lbs, 7 oz. And no, he’s not sleeping through the night yet, which means neither are we.

Our daughter Annika, 4, is over the moon and his brother Gabriel, 2, is still trying to figure all this out.

One of the most important goals in my life was to not leave the planet without someone calling me “Mom.” I think I’ve got that pretty well covered now.

Time for another feeding, and if I’m really lucky — a nap.





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Slightly faster rail doesn’t sell in Harrisburg

Imagine that. The locals don’t like the idea of making Charlotte-Raleigh passenger rail service a little bit faster as it would close six rail crossings in the town, replacing them with three bridges. Residents feel that the move would cut their town effectively in two. Republican 8th Congressional District candidates agree:

Five Republican candidates running for North Carolina’s 8th Congressional District seat agreed on one issue during Tuesday’s debate: The high-speed rail scheduled to cut through Harrisburg should be derailed.

How is this possible in Barack Obama’s brave new world? And I wonder where that sort of Republicans are in other parts of the state sometimes.

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Mecklenburg tax hike not expected this year

So says County Manager Harry Jones. Which comes as no surprise as this is an election year for county commissioners.

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Delta leaving Gatwick

Delta Air Lines has ponied up the cash for a set of slots and will transfer its last flights to London from Gatwick Airport to Heathrow come April. This is not a surprise but it does leave exactly one flight by a big US carrier to Gatwick, London’s second airport. Yup, it’s US Airways flight from Charlotte — all Delta, United, Continental, and American flights to London and US Airways’ Philadelphia – London service use Heathrow.

So when does US Airways bit the bullet and acquire slots at Heathrow for its Charlotte flight?

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Norfolk Southern: The Red Line is DOA, Really It Is. North Meck Voters Hosed.

The folks at Norfolk Southern keep trying to tell the Charlotte Area Transit System and the starry eyed elected officials in this county that the Red Line to Iredell County is dead, but no one will believe them.

First, Norfolk Southern sent letters. There must have been phone calls. So why are local elected officials bizarrely carrying on with discussion of the line as if it will one day be built?

North Meck voters were told by local political leaders for years that Norfolk Southern supported the red line. Turns out that isn't true -- and there will be no red line.

In January, Norfolk Southern, whose property and rail lines the commuter rail project is supposed to share, sent a letter to the NC Department of Transportation spelling out a key problem that the consultants CATS paid millions to to assess the future of the line somehow seem to have missed:

The dual commuter-freight plan is “fundamentally incompatible” with the company’s plans to grow its rail freight business in the state, John V. Edwards, Norfolk Southern’s general director of strategic planning, wrote recently to Paul Morris, deputy director of the N.C. Department of Transportation.

“Current publicity and discussions indicate that Norfolk Southern has agreed to, endorsed, or otherwise has consented to the Red Line project, which is simply not the case,” Edwards wrote. The Observer obtained a copy of the letter this week.

News of that letter ran in the Charlotte Observer in January. For those who have followed this whole saga, it was a shocker. Voters were told the red line was thoroughly assessed by consultants before the vote to create the tax to fund it in 1998. It was assessed again in a broader study by a second set of consultants that fleshed out the transit plan about six years ago. City and county leaders were told everything was peachy keen.

So um, did these multi-million dollar consultants ever actually call Norfolk Southern? How could this have been missed? The (now apparent) lie that Norfolk Southern was on board with the project dates back to 1998, when voters were sold the transit plan. The (now apparent) lie was repeated during the failed 2007 attempt to repeal the transit tax, when voters were again assured that all the promised lines in the spoke plan could and would be built with the revenue from the transit tax (which has subsequently turned out to be another lie).

In fact, Norfolk Southern’s support for the line — the company was supposed to let the train use its property and track — has been used multiple times to justify the creation and fast-tracking of the line, which would supposedly be cheaper to launch since CATS wouldn’t have to assemble land or build new track for the project.

Was any of this ever true? The Red Line has always been priced assuming Norfolk Southern’s support in the transit plan. It was used to get the votes of northern Mecklenburg County voters — and later elected officials on the board that makes CATS decisions — to raise taxes to pay for the transit plan and to keep it intact.

Whatever the case, Norfolk Southern’s insistance that the line is dead apparently wasn’t enough for local elected officials to get it.

So once again, as pointed out by, Norfolk Southern is sending letters.

This time the company spelled things out a little more bluntly, if that is even possible.

Norfolk Southern cannot support the current “Red Line” plan as proposed by NCDOT for use of Norfolk Southern’s property. The “Red Line” plan is fatally flawed and based upon assumptions about the projected freight use of the O Line that are no longer valid. For those reasons, the current proposal is not feasible and does not constitute a starting point for further discussions. The JPA development process, therefore, is premature and will not lead to an accelerated construction schedule.

This should leave local elected officials stumped. I’m not. North Meck voters got hosed.


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Warren Turner gets his job back

Oh what a mess. The N.C. Department of Public Safety has reinstated Warren Turner, paying him back wages, and even threw in $10,000 for his legal fees. This raises several points:

1. It’s really, really hard to fire a state employee, especially in law enforcement, and this is just the latest example.
2. Given the above, why was he fired in the first place? That he wouldn’t go quietly was pretty much a given, so one would expect all the ts to crossed.
3. Will there be any consequences to all this? Probably not. Turner is no longer on city council, so he won’t be able to annoy or harass city staff, which makes the higher ups in city government happy. Turner also will be assigned to Gaston County, so has a new boss too. So sounds like a win/win for everyone. Everyone but taxpayers that is.

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The great Panthers lie

Common wisdom is that the Carolina Panthers are a young, up-and-coming team. This is a “truth” that the team like to claim and the tame local media is all too happy to present. There’s only one problem: It’s simply not true.

This past season, the highest-paid opening day starting line-up in the league. That’s something you’d expect of a veteran team, not an organization in the middle of a rebuilding job. And as we’ve previously noted, the Panther’s offense very much is a veteran bunch.

The NFL has a salary cap, and the Panthers as of now will have to make some significant moves to meet it. And yes, we’re one of only four teams over the cap and we’re over by about $10 million. And the Panthers still have a number of significant players from last year’s team that are either restricted or unrestricted free agents:

Jeremy Shockey, TE
Geoff Hangartner, OG
Dan Connor, MLB
Derek Anderson, QB
Legedu Naanee, WR
Antwan Applewhite, OLB
Jordan Senn, OLB
Mackenzy Bernadeau, OG
Geoff Schwartz, OT

Which is to say that the Panthers will have to spend more money to bring these players back and/or find replacements.

It all makes for an ugly combination — little available money + significant needs = a very narrow window for success. The Panthers almost certainly will have less talent in 2012 than they do now. They will have a hard time affording to resign Jeremy Shockey or Dan Connor. They won’t be able to sign many people for more than league minimum. And whatever players they cut to get down to the salary cap (Thomas Davis? Travelle Wharton? Jason Baker? Jimmy Clausen? Ben Hartsock?) creates more needs to be filled. The replacements would undoubtedly be paid less but they may also be not quite as good.

Could the Panthers make the playoffs next year? Yes, if everything broke their way but it would depend upon avoiding injuries and having their existing players get significantly better, especially on defense. More likely though is that the Panthers end up winning between six and nine games — being on the cusp of respectability and wondering what might of been had the Panthers not tied their money up as they did on questionable contracts this past year (see: Mare, O and Williams, D.) and been consistently unable to turn second, third, and fourth round picks into starters (see: most anyone the Panthers drafted in 2009).

Don’t expect the local media bring any of that up though. Might not endear themselves to the front office. Couldn’t let that happen.

Bonus observation: The new Panthers logo is lame.

Update: Oh look, the UPoR finally realizes that the Panthers are way over the salary cap.

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