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North Carolina editorial roundup

The Associated Press

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Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

Dec. 2

Charlotte (N.C.) Observer on a chance for governor, legislators to be heroes on teacher pay:

You've heard the outcry over teacher pay in North Carolina. But do you recognize just how much worse North Carolina has been than every other state in the nation over the past decade?

North Carolina ranks dead last - 51st - in what has happened with teacher pay in recent years, and we're not even close to 50th. Average teacher pay in the state dropped nearly 16 percent from 2002 to 2012 when adjusted for inflation.

That all puts North Carolina 46th overall for teacher pay, $9,500 behind the national average and ahead of only New Mexico, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Mississippi and South Dakota.

Clearly it's time to act, and the Republicans who control state government recognize that. Legislative leaders say they want to do something, and Gov. Pat McCrory told the Observer editorial board last week that he's willing to spend political capital to get it done. ...

Some have alleged that Republicans' newfound desire to raise teacher pay is just a political calculation in an election year. We don't really know or care whether it is or isn't. All that matters is that the legislature and governor agree on a sustained commitment to getting N.C. teacher pay where it needs to be. And remember: Democrats were in charge for most of that decade when North Carolina was tumbling down the rankings.

The question is whether the governor and legislators will make meaningful progress. The public needs to keep the pressure on them to do so.

There are legitimate questions around what a pay raise plan should look like. The biggest is whether the legislature can give teachers a raise without giving the same raise to all state employees. That is purely a political question, and the answer is yes.

McCrory must figure out the answers and persuade members of both parties to get on board in the short session that starts May 14. He has a blueprint: In 1997, N.C. teacher pay ranked 42nd. Gov. Jim Hunt, a Democrat, crusaded on raising it to the national average over four years. Republican House Speaker Harold Brubaker joined him, and large bipartisan majorities pushed North Carolina's ranking up dramatically.

McCrory and this legislature should do the same. It's past time.




Dec. 1

Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer on teen smoking down, but a new concern has arrived:

We missed the Great American Smokeout two weeks ago, but we saw some reassuring data in its wake: Tobacco use among America's children - high school and middle school - is steadily declining.

From 2011 to 2012, high school cigarette use dropped from 15.8 percent to 14 percent. Middle school tobacco use dropped from 7.5 percent to 6.7 percent.

No state breakdown was available, but in the last year surveyed, North Carolina's high school smoking rate was around the national average.

There's still something to worry about, though: "Electronic" cigarette use among teenagers is on the rise. In the 2011-2012 survey of high school students, it nearly doubled, from 1.5 percent to 2.8 percent. Those smokeless cigarettes are trendy. At least they spare the user real smoke, but by vaporizing a nicotine-laden solution that the "smoker" inhales, they nevertheless are addicting the users. It's an addiction that's among the hardest to kick - ask any smoker who's tried.

The overall declines in teen smoking are gratifying and proof that anti-smoking efforts are paying off. But the rise in electronic-cigarette use tells us this is not the time to stop those programs.




Dec. 2

Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal on justification for DHHS contracts lacking:

Secretary Aldona Wos and her N.C. Department of Health and Human Services are making up the rules as they go along regarding the hiring of political friends at very high salaries.

The latest questions on DHHS hiring come from a News & Observer report that Wos awarded at least six contracts for individual services without providing a written justification for those hires. The paper reports that such explanations are state policy.

A lot of money is involved here. Former State Auditor Les Merritt's contract is worth up to $312,000 a year. And Joe Hauck, who is on leave from the company owned by Wos's husband, has a contract worth up to $310,000 a year. Two other contracts total up to $439,800 for the year, another paid $118,753 for five months and another $18,000 for two months.

The report on the missing justification memo follows other hiring controversies at DHHS, namely the hiring of two 20-something former campaign workers for Gov. Pat McCrory at high salaries despite their lack of any relevant work experience and the payment of a sizable separation allowance for a DHHS employee who worked for approximately one month.

When the Raleigh newspaper questioned the absence of justification memos for the contracts, a DHHS attorney said they weren't necessary because Wos made the hires. But that explanation only reinforces the impression that DHHS is making up the rules on the fly, because the attorney did not provide the newspaper with any administrative rule verifying that statement. The agency's purchasing manual does not include any such exception, either, and the state's chief purchasing officer says a justification memo is required of all such contracts.

We all get frustrated, at times, with the paperwork required in government, but policies like the one Wos ignored serve an important purpose. They establish that before someone hands out an expensive service contract with a public agency, at taxpayer cost, that the contract be justified in writing.

Wos isn't spending her own money here. She's spending public money and she should follow the rules for doing so.



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