The end of litter ‘chain gangs’?

Inmate crews are surprisingly expensive.
Inmate crews are surprisingly expensive. Observer file photo

From an editorial Wednesday in the Fayetteville Observer:

We were disappointed to learn this week that the state House and Senate have agreed on a budget item that does away with those roadside litter cleanups conducted by state prison inmates. The inmate cleaning crews have been a sort of landmark in the state for more than a century, and one of those too-rare examples of our tax dollars at work – real, useful work.

But then we read a little deeper into the story and were surprised to find that the inmate crews are a lot less efficient than they might be – and a lot more expensive. A 2012 study by the state’s Office of State Budget and Management found that a private contractor could clean about 31 shoulder miles of road a day. But of the four prison crews that the office monitored for the study, the best performance was 4.5 miles a day. One of the reasons for that is that the private contractors’ laborers don’t need guards and they can be spread over a far greater distance.

So the 1,200 prisoners who participated in the program will have to find new activities. And the 183 correctional officers who drove and guarded the prisoners will have to find new jobs. Those positions will be eliminated. Given the dangerously sparse staffing at most of our state prisons, we hope those guards will be redeployed, not laid off.

And meanwhile, we’ll be looking for more of those private contractors out there. There’s plenty of work for them to do.

Roy Cooper’s stand

From an editorial Wednesday in the (Raleigh) News & Observer:

Gov. Roy Cooper is taking it to the General Assembly when it comes to insisting on an election this year, with new legislative district maps that will pass muster with courts as constitutionally proper.

That’s more than can be said for current maps that have been rejected by the courts, including to some degree by the U.S. Supreme Court, which saw unconstitutional racial gerrymandering in the maps. But Republican legislative leaders, who made a partisan hash of drawing district lines after the 2010 census – using racial gerrymanders that packed African-American voters into a few districts and thus strengthened Republican control in others – want to delay things as long as they can.

But Cooper, a former lawmaker and a politician of skill, has put GOP lawmakers right where they belong: on the spot. The governor is in effect taking his case to the people and saying to the GOP majority on Jones Street: Do you simply intend to ignore the separation of powers and to thumb your nose at the courts?

Cooper’s pretty clear as to how best to settle the dispute: Let’s have decent lines, and then let’s allow the people to make the final decision. There is no viable GOP answer for that, not that logic will stop the Republican leadership.

A tax worth considering

From an editorial Thursday in the (Durham) Herald-Sun:

An intriguing proposal to expand the taxing authority of North Carolina towns and cities has surfaced in the General Assembly. If the proposal makes it into law, it will be something of a reverse of recent legislative efforts to reduce local control.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Stephen Ross, a Republican from Burlington, would give municipal governments the option to seek a quarter-cent sales tax to pay for infrastructure and economic development projects. The added tax would be similar to local-option sales taxes counties can collect.

Three years ago, the state eliminated the privilege tax, a local business tax that netted large sums for many cities.

Opposing tax increases has become an almost reflexive reaction among much of the public. Still, broadening the portfolio of options open to local governments provides more flexibility to tailor the mix of taxes to local conditions and priorities.

It is an idea worthy of support.