Thursday, December 20, 2007

A Conservative Viewpoint
- A Christmas Wish-List For Eastern NC

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

As a child, I couldn’t wait to open my gifts on Christmas morning. I would send my wish- list off to Santa Claus and then wait to discover if my letter really made it to the North Pole. Sure enough, on December 25th most of my wish- list items “magically” appeared under the tree.

Today I have a Christmas wish-list for eastern North Carolina. Unfortunately it’s going to take more than a note to Santa to have this request filled.

In the 1960s there was a region of the country that lagged behind the rest of the nation in income, education, health care, efficient transportation and other infra-structure needs. Parts of Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina (western), Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia were known as Appalachia. Their needs then are consistent with our needs now.

In 1965 Congress passed the Appalachian Redevelopment Act, establishing a commission made up of governors from each state and a state representative. In addition the president appointed a co-chairperson. Counties within these regions needing economic development would be identified. Upon project approval the federal government would provide 50 percent of the funds needed to underwrite the cost, matched equally by the states.

Over the years this program has helped transform economic depression into economic prosperity. Eastern North Carolina needs a similar initiative.

Last January, the U. S. House of Representatives introduced a bill that would establish the Southeast Crescent Authority. Eastern North Carolina and regions of other southern states not eligible for assistance from the Appalachian Regional Commission would qualify for assistance. The intent is to spur economic development by approving grants to states and public non-profit entities. This bill has been referred to a subcommittee for further study and consideration.

Meanwhile our region has pressing needs. Many of our water and sewer facilities are operating at full capacity and some systems are deteriorating. There are areas in our region that couldn’t handle another residential sub-division, let alone commercial and industrial development. Establishing a regional bond authority to address these needs would be a viable solution that would spread the cost only among those impacted. This could be accomplished without raising taxes by re-prioritizing county and town budgets and cutting out the fat and duplicity.

Our region lacks major highways needed to attract business and growth. Highway 17 should be expanded to four lanes from north to south. Highway 70 needs to be four lanes as well, from Raleigh to the ports at Morehead City. One of the major reasons for the disappointing results in the Global Transpark in Kinston can be attributed to a lack of adequate development of this roadway.

Raleigh needs to immediately take action to reverse the number of failing students and dropouts in our public schools by removing the cap from the number of charter schools currently allowed, and establishing a voucher program to bring school choice to those who need it most. Return control of the public schools to local school boards who can better discern their student’s educational needs.

Raleigh must cut the state corporate and individual income tax rates, currently the highest in the Southeast. And Congress needs to extend President Bush’s tax cuts set to expire in 2010. These actions alone will help stimulate business investment.

Once these problems are addressed, diverse economic development will follow. Because of our high water tables, our rivers, our sounds and our closeness to the ocean, environmentally friendly businesses should be encouraged. These businesses would spawn a plethora of support enterprises like banking and shipping, as well as providing a huge shot in the arm to residential and commercial building.

Envision a research development area similar to the Research Triangle that would run from Elizabeth City to Rocky Mount, to Greenville and Morehead City. Building upon our base of existing colleges and the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University, we can become a leader in education and a reservoir for economic opportunity and development. Good paying jobs will surface, driving wages in all sectors upward. Individuals should no longer need two or three jobs just to make ends meet. The region’s unemployment numbers will fall and eastern North Carolina will become a destination for more than tourists and retirees.

A child’s Christmas fantasy, you say? It can’t happen here, you quip? I disagree. Eastern North Carolinians are hard- working, God- fearing people who only seek opportunity to improve their futures. Perhaps Santa can’t provide it, but someone can.

In the holiday film classic “It’s A Wonderful Life,” Jimmy Stewart played the role of George Bailey, president of the Bailey Savings and Loan. He believed in the people of Bedford Falls and risked his bank to help his friends and neighbors in need. Eastern North Carolina needs visionaries like George Bailey in government today.

First let me applaud Bob's support for Charter Schools and vouchers. These competitors for education dollars will do miracles for increasing the effectiveness of our overall education system. I also love the image that comes from the movie, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” Christmas is a great time for people to come together. However . . . .

Bob, I think your "conservative" credentials are looking rather shaky. Are you encouraging the development of say, a "Randy Parton Theatre" for Eastern North Carolina? That was a recent "development" of the North East Partnership, our current local redevelopment agency. You might check out how that is working before you recommend another redevelopment agency!

I also oppose your suggestion of widening highways before we are connected to the outside world with freeways. I believe we can benefit greatly from freeways and would love you to support those. Here is why:

Widening an existing highway to four lanes is at most a temporary very expensive local solution and poor at that. Region after region has discovered that unless you connect a town or region with freeways (limited access highways that do not allow driveways to slow traffic and kill people) first, development will lag. The widened roads rapidly get congested near towns and the speed limits lowered, driving off long distance traffic and growth. Unfortunately our local governments in Eastern North Carolina have fought freeways again and again. The small business owners and government officials simply do not understand the dynamics. They oppose the freeways that would bring people here and demand that we widen existing highways instead with whatever money we can get access to.

Freeways use on-off ramps so people can move quickly to where they want to go. They bring people to us from long distances away. They keep trucks and through traffic off local streets minimizing the need to widen them. Building a freeway near a town never causes businesses to move on to the freeway, since they can't. Making a highway four lanes usually results in businesses relocating and leaving the downtown area, harming the community, not helping.

I am not a fan of government "development" commissions as they usually do more damage than improvement, wasting tax dollars in the process. However the incredible success of the Interstate Highway system should be lesson for our region. Connect us to other areas with freeways and it will drive growth. The current work on U.S. 17 should be done as freeways parallel to the existing roads and not widening of the existing roads. We even need to get the state to rework some of our existing four lane highways into freeways to make sure they do not degrade with development and driveways. The "expressway" sections between Willamston and Edenton would be a great candidate.

I concur with infrastructure upgrades like these. I even concur with water and sewer system upgrades. However much of so called "development" is disasters like the Randy Parton Theatre. How are you going to keep these from happening? Government redevelopment agencies traditionally oppose the tremendous help to the poor of cost effective retailers like Walmart. Studies have proven that every poor family in the area of a Walmart benefits annually in the amount of $500 to $1000 in cost savings (even if they don't shop there) due to the reduced prices forced by the competition. Show me a poor family that can't use an extra $500 a year! Yet governments all over our area are fighting Walmart at every turn. Government should never be in the business of determining what businesses succeed or fail. They don't have a clue!

Sort of like their lack of understanding why we need freeways and not widening of existing highways.


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