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Google Fiber update

The Charlotte Observer provides an update on Google Fiber possibly coming to town. The basics: Google Fiber currently has a team assessing the viability of building a high-speed Internet network in Charlotte. Expect a decision by the the end of the year. If Google decides to come to town, construction would take about two years.

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Court: Cops Cannot Extend Traffic Stops Indefinitely

Got a new story out for Carolina Journal on a recent N.C. Court of Appeals ruling limiting the police’s the circumstances under which the police can call in a drug dog to sniff a car:

RALEIGH — In a significant ruling involving the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, North Carolina’s second highest court has limited the instances in which a police dog can be called in to perform a drug sniff in traffic stop cases.

The N.C. Court of Appeals ruled that police officers making a traffic stop who have completed their initial investigation and found nothing wrong cannot extend the stop without the driver’s consent unless the officers have a “reasonable and articulable suspicion of criminal activity.”

Shortly before midnight on May 28, 2012, officer Jordan Payne of the Winston-Salem Police Department spotted Anthony Cottrell driving a Dodge Intrepid with its headlights off. Payne pulled the car over and asked Cottrell for his driver’s license and registration.

Cottrell did not smell of alcohol or have glassy eyes, was not sweating or fidgeting, and did not make any contradictory statements. The officer ran Cottrell’s documents and determined they were valid. Payne also checked Cottrell’s criminal history and learned that he had a history of “drug charges and various felonies.”

As the officer was returning Cockrell’s documents, he smelled a strange odor coming from the car, like “like a fragrance, cologne-ish,” but “more like an incense than what someone would wear.”

Payne believed the odor was a “cover scent” used to mask the smell of marijuana. Cottrell denied that, claiming it was body oil and showed the officer a small glass bottle with some liquid in it and a roll-on dispenser.

The officer then asked Cottrell for consent to search his car. Cockrell said no. Payne then told Cottrell that he would call for a drug-detection dog to sniff his car. Cottrell said he just wanted to go home. When Payne insisted that he was going to call for a drug dog, Cottrell consented to a search of his car. Payne found in the glove compartment a handgun and a powdery substance later determined to be cocaine. Payne also found in Cottrell’s sock a small plastic bag containing marijuana.

Cottrell was charged with possession of a firearm by a felon, cocaine and marijuana possession, and being a habitual felon. At trial, he moved to suppress the results of the search. After a Superior Court judge ruled against him, Cottrell pleaded guilty to the charges and received a prison sentence of between 76 months and 104 months.

On appeal, Cottrell renewed his challenge to the search, claiming again that it violated the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures, saying the officer had no good reason to continue detaining him once the purpose of the traffic stop was completed.

The Court of Appeals agreed.

“We hold that once Officer Payne told defendant to keep his music down, the officer had completely addressed the original purpose for the stop. Defendant had turned on his headlights, he had been warned about his music, his license and registration were valid, and he had no outstanding warrants,” wrote Judge Martha Geer for the appeals court.

She said Payne needed “defendant’s consent or ‘grounds which provide a reasonable and articulable suspicion in order to justify further delay’ before” he could question Cottrell further.

That did not end the court’s analysis. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that a drug sniff during an otherwise legal traffic stop does not violate the Fourth Amendment. And the N.C. Court of Appeals has ruled that officers can extend a traffic stop for a “de minimis” (minimal) amount of time even without reasonable suspicion or consent to conduct such a drug sniff.

But the appeals court drew a key distinction between those cases and Cottrell’s.

“We do not believe that the de minimis analysis … should be extended to situations when, as here, a drug dog was not already on the scene,” wrote Geer.

Geer based her analysis on the U.S. Supreme Court’s original holding, which drew a distinction between a dog sniff during a routine traffic stop and one occurring during an “unreasonably prolonged traffic stop.” In addition, in a 2012 ruling the N.C. Supreme Court did not apply a de minimis analysis in a case much like Cottrell’s in which a traffic stop was extended by 14 minutes.

The appeals court also rejected the state’s contention that Cottrell’s consented to the search. Generally, such consent is valid if the state is threatening to do something it has the legal right to do. The Court of Appeals noted that the state offered no evidence as to how long it would take for an officer with a drug dog to arrive at the scene and conduct a search, and thus hadn’t demonstrated that it could even conduct the search in such a de minimis period.

“The state has cited no case suggesting that consent may properly be obtained by a threat to perform an act that might or might not be legal depending on how the threatened event hypothetically could unfold. The State has, therefore, failed to prove that defendant’s consent was valid,” wrote Geer.

The appeals court awarded Cottrell a new trial and excluded as evidence the drugs and gun Payne found.

The case is State v. Cottrell, (13-721).

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NASCAR as a parody of itself

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has posted this video on Youtube promoting the NASCAR race Sunday at the track. Hard to imagine how they could have come up with something more directly aimed at the lowest common denominator. Turn the volume down on the device you’re going to view the video on or your head may explode.

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A word about liquor houses

In the wake of the fatal shooting of Rashad Porter, the Charlotte Observer has a lengthy article out highlighting the danger to public safety that local official thinking liquor houses pose. Sample quotes:

The parties at the liquor house on Major Street started about 1:30 a.m, around the same time that clubs and bars across Charlotte prepared to shut down for the night. Bouncers at the front steps patted down people on their way inside, collected cash and gave patrons wristbands. Inside, people swayed to rap and hip-hop music.

“When the club lets out, you go to the after-hours spot,” said Kiesha Johnson, who had been at the uptown club Label earlier on Saturday, then went with friends to Major Street. “…We were having a good time. It was like a club inside.”


“You can have liquor houses that never have problems, but what we see is the volatile nature of these places leads to violent crimes,” said Lt. Dave Robinson, who leads Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department’s Alcohol Beverage Control Unit.


“You can go out and buy a bunch of liquor and beer and open a liquor house tonight,” Robinson said. “It’s kind of like whack-a-mole. You shut one down and another one can open just like that.”

There certainly is a problem here, but it’s not the one that police and alcohol enforcement types would have you believe. There are plenty of people, mainly in their 20s and 30s, that don’t want to call it a night at the arbitrary time that state law sets for last call. Liquor house operators are simply the entrepreneurs that are catering to that clientele. Thus the solution to the issued posed by liquor houses is to stop playing that game of whack-a-mole that cops ultimately can’t win and instead simply allow bars and clubs to stay open later.


The UPoR on the sales tax referendum push

The Charlotte Observer knocks one out of the park — yes, really — questioning the push to increase sales taxes here in Mecklenburg County.

It started when commissioners Chairman Trevor Fuller, Vice Chairman Dumont Clarke and three other Democrats on the Mecklenburg board of commissioners concocted their plan to put the quarter-cent sales tax on the ballot, largely intended for teacher raises, with little input from other stakeholders. The other commissioners learned about the initiative days before the June vote. Organizers had minimal communication with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, the city of Charlotte, the business community, the legislature and the public, even though each group is directly affected by the move. That’s probably not the best way to win crucial early support.


All of this seems to be a bit premature in any case. How can the public judge the validity of having local government pick up a state responsibility before it even knows what the state itself will do? Let’s have legislators approve a teacher-pay plan first, then decide whether it’s wise for Mecklenburg shoppers to augment that pay.

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US Airways adds second CLT- London Heathrow flight

Effective on September 13. Flights times are:

US730 CLT 6:55pm – 7:50am LHR A330-300
US732 CLT 10:30pm – 11:25am LHR A330-200

The returns from London Heathrow (LHR)
US731 LHR 10:05am – 2:00pm CLT A330-300
US733 LHR 2:25pm – 6:20pm CLT A330-200

The addition of this second flight to LHR is not a surprise — the name of the game are airlines in the U.S. working with allies in Europe to funnel passengers over their hubs to destinations on the other size of the Atlantic. In the OneWorld alliance US Airways is now in, that key European ally is British Airways and its big hub is at London Heathrow. The larger aircraft on the earlier flight is not random, as the dawn arrival time in London is much more desirable.

And speaking of European service, the latest on the battle to control the Charlotte – Germany market: US Airways is cutting capacity to Frankfurt this winter. While still daily, the flight will be on an A330-200 instead on the larger A330-300 that’s been used on the route for years. I expect that both US Airways and Lufthansa will continue their flights to Germany through the summer (though without the second summer-seasonal Frankfurt flight US Airways has offered the last few years). The earliest that either airline might drop their CLT- Germany route (if it happens) would be next fall.

A bit of good news is that United is ending its Newark – Stuttgart flight come September 20. The fewer flights there are between the US and southern Germany, the better the odds for Charlotte’s Germany flights, especially Lufthansa to Munich.

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A Questionable Case for Raising Taxes

Column I wrote for the latest issue of Carolina Journal, reprinted in its entirety:

CHARLOTTE — In June, the John Locke Foundation released the fiscal year 2012 edition of By The Numbers, JLF’s annual report on the cost of local government. BTN’s insights are particularly relevant this year, as two of the state’s three largest counties — Mecklenburg and Guilford — have asked voters to raise the local sales tax rate by 0.25 percentage points. The timing is curious, given political and economic developments in the state.

Local sales tax revenue fell dramatically during the Great Recession. In fiscal year 2008, cities and counties across the state collected $2.8 billion in sales tax receipts. Just two years later, local sales tax revenue had fallen by more than 25 percent, to just $2 billion in nominal terms (not adjusted for inflation).

Overall local government revenue collection didn’t fall by one-fourth from the 2008 peak, however. Rather, counties and municipalities raised property tax rates to make up for their reduced sales tax collections. Between 2008 and 2012, local governments increased their property tax take by $1 billion a year. This came despite significant reductions in property values in many communities as the housing bubble burst.

Put another way, in fiscal year 2008, local governments in North Carolina received 56.5 percent of their nonutility revenues from property taxes, with sales tax revenues accounting for 21.7 percent of revenues, while other taxes and fees accounted for the remaining 21.8 percent of revenues.

By comparison, local governments got 64.7 percent — an 8.2 percentage-point increase — of their revenues in fiscal 2012 from property taxes and only 16.3 percent of revenues from sales taxes. And that comes as sales tax revenues grew to $2.2 billion in 2012, roughly 7.5 percent above 2011 collections.

Both Mecklenburg and Guilford counties followed this general trend. In 2008, Guilford County collected $306 million in property taxes and $88 million in sales taxes. The respective 2012 figures are $362 million in property taxes and only $67 million in sales taxes. Mecklenburg County collected $802 million in property taxes and $248 million in sales taxes in 2008. By 2012, property tax receipts were up to $941 million, while sales tax revenue had fallen to $205 million.

Endorsing a tax increase generally is a risky move for politicians. That’s especially true for a property tax increase, as the average homeowner knows exactly how much property tax he pays. By comparison, the average citizen has no idea how much he pays in sales taxes each year, making sales tax increases much more popular alternatives for pols looking to spend more.

Both counties have issues. Guilford voters have rejected increasing the sales tax three times in recent years. Mecklenburg County, meanwhile, already has the state’s third-highest local tax and fee collections, trailing only two coastal counties where the presence of vacation homes distorts the results.

The immediate need for higher tax revenues is suspect for two reasons. First, the North Carolina economy continues to recover. Economic growth and increasing employment boosts spending and, yes, sales tax revenues.

Perhaps more important, a majority of the commissioners in each county claimed the main reason to raise sales taxes was to provide more money for education. The commissions authorized referendums for higher tax rates while the General Assembly was in session, with both chambers proposing significant teacher pay raises, and Gov. Pat McCrory supporting a pay hike.

Such statements of intent aren’t binding, though. Money is fungible, and counties can move money around as they please. Thus, what Mecklenburg and Guilford counties would like to do is tax more to spend more. And that remains a questionable goal, regardless of the state of the economy.


Life lesson #109: Never trade cars with somebody you just met at a grocery store

This would seem obvious unless your name is P.J. Hairston.

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Meanwhile in Salisbury

The bad idea that is a town or city running a broadband service keeps on taking. As Barry Smith of Carolina Journal reports:

One North Carolina city borrowed millions from its water and sewer fund to support its municipal broadband service and paid the price with a downgraded bond rating. This spring, Moody’s downgraded Salisbury’s bond rating, citing debts by its Fibrant broadband service.

Moody’s notes that Salisbury borrowed $7.6 million from its water and sewer fund to support the Fibrant fiberoptic network, resulting in “a narrowed but still acceptable cash position for the water and sewer fund.”

The report also notes that while Salisbury is making 1 percent interest payments on the borrowed funds, it isn’t repaying the principal.

You can read the rest of the article here.

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Final US Airways 737-400 flights announced

On August 19, and with it the withdrawal of the 737 from the US Airways fleet. There’s a deep connection between Charlotte and the 737-400, the largest variant of the second-generation of the 737, as the launch customer for it was none other than Piedmont Airlines. So it’s kind of appropriate that the type is being phased out just as US Airways, which bought Piedmont, is merging with American Airlines.

This means that US Airways proper will be an all Airbus airline except for seven old Boeing 767-200ERs, two dozen Boeing 757s, and 20 Embraer E190s. Of those, the only aircraft remaining that flew in Piedmont colors back in the day will soon be just a couple of the 767s.

With the replacement of the last of the 144-seat 737-400s with 187-seat Airbus A321s, the era of easy capacity increases will also come to an end here in Charlotte. Speaking of which, I’ll post the annual CLT baseline of flights and capacity on Thursday. The bottom line is that seats are up on US Airways while flights are flat despite some notable new routes. Through American Airlines into the equation, and flights are actually down this summer compared to last summer.

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July 2014
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