One year ago, the Observers editorial board looked ahead to some critical questions Charlotte and North Carolina would face during a landmark election year. Today, we answer a few of those questions, then ask three more about issues that will shape the quality of life for millions of North Carolinians in the year ahead.
Were poor kids denied pre-K?
Heres the pattern with North Carolinas legislature and pre-kindergarten funding: Republicans lose in court, then ignore the ruling, then lose again, then ignore. Its a bit like the movie Groundhog Day, except Republicans havent woken up.
In August, a three-judge panel of the N.C. Court of Appeals unanimously upheld Judge Howard Manning, who ruled last year that the state could not deny eligible at-risk 4-year-olds admission to the states pre-K program, as Republicans have by cutting funding and adding restrictions for enrollment.
In October, departing Gov. Bev Perdue allocated $20 million to pay for expanding pre-K enrollment, but that money might have to come from Department of Health and Human Services programs that also serve children. Its a mess, and Republicans should drop their pre-K fight and figure out how the state can best fulfill its constitutional duty to the most vulnerable of its children.
Did Charlotte shine for DNC?
The traffic wasnt as bad as many expected, and the violent protests some feared never materialized. Heres what did happen at the Democratic National Convention: Charlotte lived up to the moment. Our police deftly handled protesters, giving them time to shout, room to roam, and a place to sleep at Marshall Park. Visitors left raving about our welcoming residents and better-than-expected restaurant and entertainment options.
Yes, officials cost thousands a chance to see President Obama by prematurely freaking out about the weather and moving his speech indoors. But that was a planning issue, not a Charlotte issue.
Were not sure what the final price tag will be for our city, but for now the convention puts Charlotte in that small club of cities that can pull off big things. Thats a good brand to have when people and businesses look for a place to move.
Did N.C. embrace discrimination?
Sadly, yes. In May, North Carolinians approved Amendment One, which defined marriage as between a man and woman. In doing so, the amendment barred the sanctioning of civil unions, as well. Its discriminatory, plain and simple, and it could result in the loss of some benefits for gays in committed relationships.
The good news: North Carolina is the last state to take such a backward step. In November, voters in three states Maryland, Maine and Washington approved laws legalizing same-sex marriage. A fourth state, Minnesota, rejected an amendment like North Carolinas. The states are the first four in which voters nodded yes to equality.
Maine voters, incidentally, reversed a 2009 vote that rejected gay marriage rights the governor had signed into law. How long will it take North Carolinians to also realize theyve made a mistake?
Can Morrison follow through?
Hes met with lawmakers and leaders, school staffers and parents. Hes listened a lot. Now comes the hard part for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Heath Morrison.
In a strategic plan released in late November, Morrison laid out a worthy eight-point program that called for tailoring education to individual students, creating more public-school choices and connecting better with employees and the public. This month, 22 volunteer task forces will meet to begin shaping how to get there.
There will be bumps, for sure. For starters, Morrison wants to bring in controversial consultant Glenn Singleton to talk about race. That kind of conversation is critical for CMS to move forward, the superintendent says.
Morrison is both energetic and thoughtful, and his enthusiasm is contagious. But for it to result in progress, he must convince a wary community that everyone needs to invest in and will benefit from his vision. We hope he can.
Will N.C. pay eugenics victims?
The shame of North Carolina continues to be a state-sponsored sterilization program for which N.C. lawmakers have refused to compensate living victims. That eugenics program was the longest running and the most aggressive in the nation, running from 1929 to 1974.
Last spring, Gov. Bev Perdue recommended $10 million be put into the state budget to pay $50,000 in compensation for each of 200 verified survivors of the program. House Speaker Thom Tillis, a Republican, embraced the plan and it was approved in the House. Senate leader Phil Berger opposed it, and so did the Republican-dominated Senate. The compensation plan died.
That was disgraceful and wrong. The state is failing to live up to its obligation to at least try to atone for its errors. Gov.-elect Pat McCrory can and should act quickly to rectify that. No more of these victims should die without the states profound apology written in the form of a check.
Will tax code be modernized?
When it comes to changing how North Carolina pays for government, N.C. residents might feel like Charlie Brown, enticed by Lucy to try just one more time to kick that football.
But Gov.-elect Pat McCrory campaigned on it and Republican legislative leaders say theyd be surprised if the legislature didnt get some tax system reforms passed this year.
They should. Legislators and advocates from varying political stripes recognize the current tax system, devised during the Great Depression, is antiquated. Despite higher personal and corporate income tax rates than much of the South, our system is volatile and inadequate. The state faces a $2 billion shortfall this year, and that number will grow steadily without changes.
The details may derail tax reform yet again. Any effective reform, we believe, will require imposing the sales tax on more services, albeit at a lower rate. North Carolina also needs to do a better job of collecting sales tax on Internet sales, though the state will probably need Congress help on that.