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Archive for June, 2012

Bruton Smith: NASCAR needs to be dumbed down

By adding mandatory cautions or breaks in races. So reports ESPN’s Terry Blount. The money quote:

Someone once said we’re in show business. Well, if we’re in show business, let’s deliver that show. Right now we’re not delivering it. Other sports have mandatory timeouts and TV timeouts. All that stuff creates things in those sports. We need to be creative in this sport.

Translation: Our fans have the attention span of a gnat and their intelligence level isn’t much higher. To entertain them, we need to dumb down our sport some more by adding more restarts. Why? Because they create drama. And crashes. And crashes are good for ratings.

If this doesn’t play into all of the worst stereotypes of racing in general and NASCAR in particular, I don’t know what does.

Bonus observation: If NASCAR wants to improve its product, it could start by making races shorter. Sometimes less is more.

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Guess who’s missing the DNC

At last count, at least 14 Democratic congressional candidates. The Washington Examiner has an editorial about the Democrats who aren’t coming, writing that:

Whatever excuses they offer, these incumbent Democrats are making a decision that often presages a party’s failure. In 2008, five incumbent Republican senators with competitive races skipped their party convention in Saint Paul, Minn. Four of them lost in that year’s Republican bloodbath as John McCain lost the presidential contest to Obama. Our searches for noteworthy Republican incumbents who stayed away from the then-popular George W. Bush’s renomination in 2004 turned up only Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who was not facing re-election and (more importantly) had a hurricane running through his state the week it was held.

Interesting, to says the least.

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Government productivity and spending constraints

That’s the subject of JLF President John Hood’s column today. A highlight:

In government, however, the incentive to pursue productivity isn’t as strong. State agencies and departments can’t lose market share to competitors if they fail to innovate. Even in cases where state-assisted institutions do compete with the private sector – public universities, for example – the large share of their budgets derived from direct appropriations rather than user fees gives them an artificial advantage and weakens their incentives to promote productivity.

That’s one reason why formal fiscal constraints such as balanced-budget rules, referendum requirements, and spending caps are essential to achieving better returns on taxpayer investment. In the absence of true market competition, they force public-sector managers to find new ways to deliver services at a lower unit cost.

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Medicaid eating the state budget

Scott Mooneyham of the Capitol Press Association has a new column out on the state budget. It’s which well worth reading. A key observation:

The trend of rising Medicaid costs, related to escalating health care costs that have been growing at three times higher than the rate of inflation, is nothing new.

If you look at the state’s general operating budget as a pie, the state’s public schools receive the same share of that pie today – 38 percent – as they did in 2000. The Medicaid budget today represents 15 percent of the pie, compared to 10 percent in 2000.

Thoughtful politicians of both political persuasions may disagree about what to do but understand that this trend is unsustainable.

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Taxpayers win, Curt Walton, Anthony Foxx lose

The most improbable outcome of Monday’s Charlotte City Council deliberations on a new capital plan. A nice outcome (for now) indeed for residents of the city with the state’s highest combined city/county combined tax burden.

I wonder how much Mayor Anthony Foxx will regret his decision to veto a $657 million capital plan, setting in motion a vote to push the matter off for likely two years. The veto announces him to be an ineffective leader, incapable of brokering a compromise. He couldn’t deliver for key constituencies. It also labels him as more of a taxer-and-spender than most council members serving at large. And the politics of trying to get a larger spending plan through council in the future are, all other things being equal, worse than they are today. In 2012, Mecklenburg County’s property tax rate reduction offers a political fig leaf for raising city taxes. Not sure that that will exist two years from now, leaving council members having to vote for an increase in the combined tax burden for city residents to fund whatever they decide upon.

Bonus observation: I talked to a pol a while back who described Charlotte’s current mayor as an eager politician but not necessarily a crafty one. So perhaps it’s best to think of him as a Kitt than a Foxx.

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Charlotte DNC organizers: We’re incompetent

Hard to put any better spin on the decision this late in the game by the DNC to move their Monday night festival thing from Charlotte Motor Speedway back to uptown Charlotte. From the UPoR:

“It really is about creating an experience that people feel like they have a taste of the convention,” said Dan Murrey, DNC host committee executive director. “And just given the accessibility to uptown versus the speedway, the connection to the convention, and the caucus meetings, we took a step back, consulted very thoroughly with our partners in the city, and made the decision this is going to be … more in line with our original goals of the event.”

Weren’t all those consideration obvious five months when the decision was made to have the festival at the speedway? Why yes, I do believe they were.

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Streetcar thoughts

Looping back around to the budget debate happening currently in Charlotte, which is increasingly focused on the city’s proposed streetcar line.

When the City Manager Curt Walton’s proposed $926 million capital plan was first rejected, Mayor Anthony Foxx’s response was:

The decision shocked Democratic Mayor Anthony Foxx, who supported the plan. He said the vote was “perhaps the most irresponsible decision in council history,” given that council members offered no alternative after a three-month process.

Foxx later said: “We have just become Washington, folks. Frankly, it’s disgusting.”

The “most irresponsible decision in council history”? Hardly. You could argue for something like Cityfair but to limit things to the recent past, here a couple of items that qualify as extraordinarily irresponsible.

• Approving the NASCAR Hall of Fame with attendance projects that literally were made up.
• The city’s streetcar line. Two largely unrelated problems on this one really: the line itself and the fact that this is a city of Charlotte effort and not part of CATS.

The Charlotte Observer yesterday had an editorial arguing that this wasn’t the time to extend the streetcar line. Highlights:

Streetcar advocates say those neighborhoods could see the same benefits brought by Charlotte’s light rail, which has exceeded ridership expectations and sparked development in South End. But there are critical differences between light rail and streetcar. The latter would operate on regular streets, stopping for red lights and traffic congestion. It wouldn’t be faster than a bus. It would merely be a very expensive, but very pretty, bus. What the city is buying is an aesthetic.

The question for council members: Will that coolness factor change ridership enough to convince developers to build along the streetcar’s route? Streetcar supporters point to Portland, Ore., where a four-mile streetcar line brought a reported $3.5 billion worth of new construction. But an analysis this month from the Libertarian Cato Institute found that development mostly sprouted in places where Portland gave developers hundreds of millions of dollars in additional subsidies. According to the report: “Almost no development took place on portions of the streetcar route where developers received no additional subsidies.”

Strong points indeed. The Observer though again doesn’t take the next step and say that the streetcar line is a bad idea in general. Presumably its editorial board thinks it’s a bad idea now in part because we don’t have the hundred of millions of dollars sitting around to throw at developers so they’ll build along our streetcar line.

I’d just call the streetcar a poor use of scarce resources and something that necessarily imposes additional tax burdens on residents who are already heavily taxed.

The other problem is that the streetcar line is a city project and not part of CATS. So we have a dedicated sales tax for transit and a transit line (the streetcar) that isn’t funded by the transit tax. Indeed, the streetcar is at best only a partial substitute for bus service along its route and certainly will compete for riders. And the city has no way to pay for the streetcar except through existing revenue sources, the largest source of which are property taxes.

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Walmart and housing prices

A common reason people give in opposing the construction of new Walmarts is that they supposedly lower housing prices nearby. This complaint is wrong. New research by Devin G. Pope of University of Chicago’ Booth School of Business and Brigham Young University economist Jaren C. Pope shows that for 159 new Walmarts opened between 2000 and 2006, they on average actually increase housing prices by between 2 and 3 percent for houses located within 0.5 miles of the store and by 1 to 2 percent for houses located between 0.5 and 1 mile.”

Their paper is available here (pdf file). Warning: lots of stats are used.

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Charlotte unemployment rate goes up

Unemployment in the Charlotte metro went up to 9.5 percent in May, up from 9.1 percent in April, with the unemployment rate in Mecklenburg County at 9.6 percent in May.

That’s bad enough. What’s worse is we’re also seeing the labor force shrink — in other words, some people have stopped looking because things are so bad.

The Charlotte Observer had a quite decent story in their Saturday print edition on the latest numbers, but the online version (see link above) contains none of that. A highlight:

Compared to May 2011, unemployment rates have decreased in 88 counties. But compared to pre-recession levels, May’s jobless rates — as high as 16.9 percent in Scotland County — are still alarming, [John] Quinterno says.

In May 2008, the Charlotte metro region’s unemployment rate was 5.7 percent, he said — almost 4 percentage points lower than the latest figures.

“This recession has gone on so long, people have lost the perspective of what a healthy labor market looks like,” he said.

Exactly. We have as a society become so accustomed to economic suffering, that we’re accepting it as the new normal. Which is quite scary and, to me as a social scientist, quite fascinating.

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Now polling in North Carolina

NBC News on the presidential election. And no, I don’t use a falsetto when answering survey calls.

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