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Archive for March, 2012

Charlotte now truly Detroit on the Catawba

And Charlotte City Manager Curt Walton admits it:

Walton’s worry is that Charlotte would become similar to an older Rust Belt city, with a small sliver of the population paying the bills. That is a symptom of a growing gap between rich and poor, he believes, and will make it difficult for the city to continue a high quality of life.

“If we don’t invest now, will we see a markedly declining Charlotte in five years? In my opinion, probably not,” Walton said. “However, if we don’t invest soon, and in innovative ways, will we see decline in 10 years? Again in my opinion, yes.”

The problem here? First and foremost, Charlotte residents already face the highest cost of local government among the state’s municipalities with populations of 25,000 and above (measured as combined city and county tax and fee collections per capita, water and sewer charges excluded). This willingness of the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to tax to build stuff so that they will come has obviously not succeeded. Walton’s solution? Double down, tax more, so we can build more stuff so hopefully they will come now.

If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, then Walton’s proposal certainly qualifies.

The alternative? As JLF President John Hood said in the same article:

History suggests that you can’t overcome a fundamental cost disadvantage. It’s a very common phenomenon of people moving out. The solution is to work on the cost side. How can you make it less expensive?

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New polling out

Public Policy Polling has a new poll out on the Democratic primary race for Governor. It is, as they note, “about as low key an election for a major office as you could ever imagine” with the percentage of undecided voters actually increasing over the past month. For now, former U.S. Rep. Bob Etheridge leads (26 percent), followed by Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton (15 percent), Bruce Blackmon (5 percent), Gary Dunn (4 percent), Rep. Bill Faison (3 percent), and Gardenia Henley (2 percent). Support for Etheridge and Dalton is highly regionalized.

There’s no reason to expect those numbers to change much until the candidates start spending money on TV time, which might happen two or three weeks before the May 8 primary. The question is whether the ads will change the competitive landscape. In particular, will Bill Faison, a Chapel Hill trial attorney, be willing and able to write a big enough check to get himself known and liked enough to force a runoff. He certainly has a lot of ground to make up…

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Bobcats quote of the year

For its absurdity if nothing else. Bobcats team captain Corey Maggette:

We’ve got guys who can score. We just haven’t been making shots.

The Bobcats currently are last in the NBA in points per game and field goal percentage.

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Gluton-free silliness

Gluton-free products are all the rage. For the life of me, I don’t understand why. Someone close to me has celiac disease so I am quite aware what a gluton-free diet involves. Among the last things I would want to do is voluntarily restrict myself to such a diet.

Wheat flour makes baking much simpler, which is exactly why it’s so commonly used. Without it, bakers have to resort to a mix of other types of flours to try to achieve similar results. This is both expensive and the results often leave much to be desired. As Peter Reinhart, a baking expert and cookbook author who works for Johnson & Wales University, said to the Charlotte Observer:

It’s certainly not a weight-loss thing if you’re eating most of the products out there now. If they’re not loaded with sugar, they’re loaded with starches that convert into body fat.

Yup. Some of the most disgustingly sweet things I’ve ever had were gluton-free.

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The real big new question

When do people elsewhere realize that unemployment is significantly higher than the national average in Charlotte and the banking sector, upon which the city is over reliant, is crippled and stop moving here?

Bonus observation
: A guess that answers what Mary Newsom is doing now that she’s no longer at the Charlotte Observer.

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Thom Tillis talks to Technician

With the the Technician being the N.C. State newspaper, which covered the House Speaker’s talk on campus. On the proposed state constitutional amendment to prohibit gay marriages, Tillis said it’s a generational issue and that “If it passes, I think it will be repealed within 20 years.” Can’t argue with that.

More generally, politicians have time horizons that are only slightly longer than that of the typical teenager. Pols just don’t think much past the next election. For now, the political calculus behind the amendment is simple enough: older people vote at higher rates than younger people do. Older folks are also more likely to be in favor of the proposed amendment. The GOP is chasing those votes and also rewarding one of its core constituencies.

The problem for the GOP is that those older voters will die off. Today’s younger people, whether currently politically active or not, are more likely to not have a problem with gay marriage. Basic marketing says that its hard to change brand loyalty once established — and to the degree that this is turning younger citizens away from the Republican Party and towards the Democrats, it represents a real long-term problem for the GOP.

So when will the GOP realize that they are the frog in a pot of water that is very slowly being heated to a boil?

Bonus observation: The Heartland Institute’s Eli Lehrer had an interesting column out recently on “What Conservatives Give Up When We Turn Our Back on Gay Americans.”

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No Defense for the Offense

John Locke Foundation oberst John Hood has a column out on Tara Servatius’ resignation and the current state of political dialogue in general. Definitely worth a read. Highlights:

I know it has become a cliché to make the following point, but some clichés are simply popular distillations of important truths. We should be able to disagree without being disagreeable. We should be able to debate political topics without making everything relentlessly and poisonously personal. And we should be able to laugh at ourselves, and among ourselves, even when discussing serious topics.

There is a bright line between levity and offense, however, and the image in question crossed it. Its use was an offense for which there was no defense.

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Lynx extension costs more

Told ya. Current cost estimate of the 9.4 mile Blue Line extension: $1.16 billion. Project cost in 2007 of an 11 mile extension along the route: $700 million. Funny how that happens.

And how affordable is the project for CATS? “We have to manage it very closely,” [CATS head Carolyn] Flowers told City Council Monday night. “We are balanced on the head of a pin.” Which, again, would be the point we made here back in 2007.

Bonus observation: Even $1.16 billion isn’t the complete cost. The city’s putting in a far chunk for drainage and sidewalks along North Tryon. Get some cost overruns during construction and we could end up doubling that 2007 cost projection.

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Panthers’ in or near Cap Hell

NFL’s new contract year started earlier this month, leaving teams free to release players and sign free agents. The moves the Panthers have made so far have been both predictable and in line with being very salary cap limited.

Among the free agents the Panthers have brought in, even those with somewhat impressive sounding contract numbers — like Mike Tolbert for $8.4 million over four years — are extremely 2012 cap friendly. In fact, all the contracts seem to feature veteran minimum money for 2012 followed by big salary increases in the following years for those with multi-year deals. This sorts of deals, plus the 2011 spending spree, effectively means that the Panthers will be up against the salary cap again next year, again making significant free agent signings difficult to pull off.

Contract numbers from Rotoworld:

• Geoff Hangartner: 2012: $825,000, 2013: $1.575 million, 2014: $2.45 million

• Haruki Nakamura: “Signed a three-year, $4.8 million contract. The deal contains $1.3 million guaranteed, including a $1 million signing bonus. Another $700,000 is available through salary escalators in the final year. 2012: $700,000, 2013: $1.3 million, 2014: $1.8 million”

• Mike Pollak: 2012: $700,000 plus a $65,000 signing bonus

• Mike Tolbert: “The deal contains $2.7 million guaranteed — a $2 million signing bonus and all of Tolbert’s 2012 base salary. Another $1.6 million is available through incentives. Tolbert is eligible for annual $25,000 workout bonuses throughout the contract’s life. 2012: $700,000, 2013: $1 million (+ $1.5 million option bonus), 2014: $2.3 million, 2015: $2.4 million.”

Bonus observation: Thought the Panthers were suppose to be a build-through-the-draft organization. Or at least that’s Marty Hurney’s spin of the moment. If that were truly the case, why all free agent signings recently? Could it have something to do with the Panthers recent inability to develop players they drafted? Not that the Panthers would ever actually admit that…

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The real story on local tax collections

Says here that the number of Mecklenburg County residents that are behind on paying their property taxes has gone down. This is taken as a sign the local economy is recovering. That’s true as far as it goes but it really downplays how big a hole we have to climb out of to get back to pre-Great Recession levels.

A more complete story is told by looking at local tax and fee collections for Mecklenburg County and Charlotte. Sales tax collections peaked in fiscal year 2008 and were actually lower in FY2011 than than in FY2010. Both governments now are much more dependent on property taxes than they were before the recession.

So when can we talk about a recovery? When sales tax revenues get back up towards even their 2009 levels. And we’ve got a ways to go to get their, especially given the still-high unemployment in the Charlotte region.

Mecklenburg County:

Revenue type 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
Property tax $861,880,837 $851,800,857 $832,401,824 $801,974,017 $749,969,779
Sales tax $178,706,264 $186,765,701 $199,787,001 $247,551,123 $244,421,759
All sources $1,144,611,186 $1,142,929,313 $1,147,152,993 $1,194,042,515 $1,137,180,310
Percent property tax 75.3% 74.5% 72.6% 67.2% 65.9%

Charlotte:

Revenue type 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007
Property tax $363,248,000 $359,429,000 $344,248,000 $333,032,000 $313,436,000
Sales tax $122,932,000 $130,585,000 $138,057,000 $158,997,000 $149,180,000
All sources $741,949,000 $719,539,000 $763,350,000 $812,227,000 $821,898,000
Percent property tax 49.0% 50.0% 45.1% 41.0% 38.1%

Notes: All data is from the State Treasurer’s office and is not adjusted for inflation (nominal). Airport and CMUD revenues are not included in the above. Fiscal years begin July 1. FY2011, for example, went from July 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011. The methodology used is the same as in the John Locke Foundation’s annual By The Numbers report.

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