The Follies

The Follies

- in Fitzsimon File

Time to Bowles for new dollars

The News & Observer reports that UNC President Erskine Bowles has asked McQueen Campbell to step down as head of the N.C. State Board of Trustees after the paper raised questions about his relationship with former Governor Mike Easley and the hiring of Easley’s wife Mary at N.C. State.

Bowles is right to get involved before the scandal damages the reputation of the university any further, but his intervention raises a question not asked enough in Raleigh.

Why has Bowles not spoken out more to protect the university system from the massive budget cuts that will be made by the General Assembly unless lawmakers raise enough new revenue to limit the damage?

University employees are now worried about rumors of a pay cut of as much as 15 percent. Bowles himself told the UNC Board of Governors more furloughs of employees are possible and that budgets reductions of 15 percent would be devastating to UNC campuses.

That was before the latest revenue figures increased the projected shortfall next year to $4.6 billion and before House leaders set spending targets that assume no new revenue, not even the $500 million in the Senate budget.

Bowles is well-respected in the General Assembly and Senate leaders responded to his pleas to protect UNC from the worst budget cuts and slashed public education instead. But the House will have no choice. Unless the budget raises significant revenue, UNC and community colleges and public schools will all be devastated.

If Bowles wants to protect the university system he leads, he needs to speak out not just for fewer budget cuts, but for revenue increases, and the chancellors at individual campuses need to join him.

Saving an easy $10 million

Bowles could also help save $10 million quickly by demanding that lawmakers repeal a 2005 budget provision allowing athletic booster clubs to pay in-state tuition for scholarships for out-of-state athletes.

It amounts to a windfall for the booster clubs at UNC-Chapel Hill and N.C. State and legislation is pending in the House to end it

Bowles has said he opposes the provision, but doesn’t appear to have worked very hard to repeal it. This would be the year.

Ban on secondhand smoke, not smoking

Reaction to the final approval of a long-overdue ban on smoking in bars and restaurants across the state has been mixed, with the folks opposed to the bill still raising issues of property rights and the legacy of tobacco in North Carolina.

Several stories quoted tobacco growers upset about the proposal. One said the passage of the smoking ban made him sick. Another said it was harder and harder to make a profit growing tobacco and that the smoking ban would only make things worse.

But the smoking ban won’t prohibit people from smoking as much as they want. They just can’t smoke inside bars and restaurants where the smoke will affect the health of somebody else.

And left out of most of the stories about disgruntled tobacco farmers is any mention of the $9.6 billion buyout of tobacco growers and allotment holders in 2004 when the federal tobacco program was dismantled.

That money came on top of a separate buyout from the tobacco industry. Anybody struggling to making a living deserves sympathy and support, but tobacco growers at least received significant compensation for the decline in their business.

And even after the buyout and the end of the tobacco program, tobacco companies are still buying tobacco grown in North Carolina, just under different rules. That has nothing to do with the smoking ban or other sensible measures to protect the public health.

The smoking ban is a major public health achievement and good for House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman and health advocates for working so hard to make it happen.

From the fringe

This week’s report from the fringe features the folks on the Pope Civitas Institute who are apoplectic about the expansion of clean election programs that provide public funding for political campaigns to allow people to run for office without relying on special interest money.

Legislation to expand North Carolina’s clean election program to candidates for all Council of State offices except governor and lieutenant governor recently cleared a Senate committee. 

A proposal for publicly financed elections is now before the South Carolina legislature, drawing the wrath of one conservative columnist who relied on the folks at Civitas for some help with the hyperbolic rhetoric.

The writer says that “according to the John W. Pope Civitas Institute, the clean elections movement is being led by groups notorious for their extreme left-wing sympathies.”

One of the funders listed is Theresa-Heinz Kerry, described as the wife of “liberal U.S. Sen. John Kerry.”  You may not have realized that the Kerrys are notorious extreme left-wingers, but now you do.


The N&O reports Friday that the group Americans for the Prosperous is bringing Joe the Plumber to Raleigh next month to speak at a rally to demand that lawmakers reject calls to raise taxes to address the $4.6 billion shortfall.

His real name of course is Joe Wurzelbacher and he made news recently by announcing that he was leaving the Republican Party because it supports too much government spending.

Wurzelbacher told Time magazine that he was against any cuts in defense, Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. As Time points out, along with debt payments, that comes to roughly two-thirds of the federal budget.

He recently told Christianity Today that he has “had some friends that are actually homosexual. And, I mean, they know where I stand, and they know that I wouldn’t have them anywhere near my children.

Thanks Americans for the Prosperous. It sure will be great to have him in town.

About the author

Chris Fitzsimon, Founder and Executive Director of N.C. Policy Watch, writes the Fitzsimon File, delivers a radio commentary broadcast on WRAL-FM and hosts "News and Views," a weekly radio news magazine that airs on multiple stations across North Carolina.