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The stench plaguing N.C. politics keeps worsening

By Tim White
The Fayetteville Observer

Plenty of bad legislation gets filed in the General Assembly every year. Some of it really stinks. But this one raises malodor to a new level.

Three state senators have filed a bill (S328) that would loosen state standards for garbage trucks. It would revise the current requirement that says the garbage-containing portion of the trucks must be leakproof. Instead, the state “may require design of these containers to be leak-resistant in accordance with industry standards.”

Ah, industry standards. Convenient. Pass a tough law that says industry must conform with whatever standards it sets for itself, instead of what independent regulators say will best protect public health and safety.

This would certainly be more convenient for the waste-disposal industry. It doesn’t take much imagination to see how leak-resistant is a lot cheaper to create than leakproof.

Practically speaking, the garbage-truck legislation means we’ll have leaking garbage trucks on our streets in short order. And that would be more than inconvenient, more than stinky. People throw away some pretty vile stuff – garbage that is rich with poisons and pathogens. Substances you sure don’t want your kids and pets rolling in.

The garbage-truck bill was referred to the Agriculture/Environment/ Natural Resources Committee in mid-March. It should stay there until it decomposes into harmless organic material suitable for garden use.

The tip of the garbage pile

But it should also draw our attention to a larger issue: Too much of the people’s business in Raleigh isn’t about the people at all. It’s about Big Business and making it easier for Big Business to get bigger and more profitable – too often at the expense of the people our lawmakers are really supposed to be serving.

The garbage truck bill is a comparatively small deal. Something like the bills that invite payday lenders back into North Carolina is a really big deal. Payday lending was prohibited in 2006. The industry has been trying for a comeback ever since. And why not? There are big bucks to be made. State Treasurer Janet Cowell, who opposes payday lending, sent a strong letter to lawmakers last week. “Our past experience showed us that payday lending trapped consumers in debt,” she wrote. “Nothing about payday lending has changed since then.” She pointed out that the bill allows a $15 charge on every $100 borrowed. That would make the annual percentage rate on a two-week loan 391 percent. No wonder the payday loan industry has been showering our lawmakers with donations.

Big bucks also are the obvious reason why Internet sweepstakes operators are pumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into campaign contributions here – most notably the $235,000 paid by Oklahoma sweepstakes tycoon Chase Burns to the campaign accounts of Gov. Pat McCrory, legislative leaders and other lawmakers. Is anyone surprised that there’s now a move afoot to restore the full rights of sweepstakes cafe owners, just one session after legislators kicked them out of the state?

I know the courts say campaign contributions are a form of free speech. But isn’t it clear that our system of elected government is deeply damaged by corporate and special interests who raise their bids on politicians until they just can’t say no?

The system stinks. Unfortunately, for too many of our politicians, it smells sweet.

Tim White is the Fayetteville Observer’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at twhite@fayobserver.com.
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