NC Politics in the News (Sept. 30)

September 30, 2008

Pardon Our Dust

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1.  Gas still runs short in N.C.
John Hinton, Winston Salem Journal
September 30, 2008
North Carolina has received some gas deliveries, but they weren’t enough to resupply many gas-starved stations throughout the state. Spotty shortages remained yesterday in some areas as many stations had only regular gas to sell to their customers.
Carol Gifford, a spokeswoman for AAA Carolinas in Charlotte, said that gas deliveries have helped improve the situation.
“We are getting gas by the day,” Gifford said. “Retailers are getting less than their full allocation.
When they get deliveries, it is sold out within a few hours because there is such a pent-up demand.”
Gifford said that shortages persist in Boone, Hendersonville and Sylva.
“We are not sure how panic buying is figuring into this,” Gifford said.
Officials have urged drivers not to top off their tanks to avoid panic buying, but some drivers said they feel they have a reason to be worried.
Drivers paid an average of $3.89 a gallon Monday in North Carolina and $3.80 in South Carolina.
Three stations in Boone — Pantry convenience store on Blowing Rock Road, Zippi’s Amoco Food Mart on N.C. 105 and the Kangaroo Express on West King Street — have enough gas for their customers, employees said.
But they were unsure how long the supply would last. In Charlotte, drivers were again confronted by closed gas stations and lines where fuel is available.
Tom Crosby, a spokesman for AAA Carolinas, said that a shipment that came Friday “was well short of solving the shortage,” The Charlotte Observer reported. Gasoline moves from the Gulf region at a rate of 100 to 120 miles a day.
“It’s going to take time,” he said.
Colonial Pipeline Co. announced yesterday that it has returned to normal capacity levels for gasoline deliveries, which were disrupted by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike. The company supplies much of the gas to North Carolina.
It will take up two weeks before Gulf Coast refineries, which were damaged by the storms, return to full production, said Healy Bumgardner, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Energy in Washington.
Keith Deberry, an employee at the Four Brothers Food Store on West Fifth Street in Winston-Salem, said that his station only had unleaded regular gas available.
“They are the only ones without a bag over it,” Deberry said.
The Kangaroo Express convenience store on South Stratford Road ran out of gas last week, said Marshall, a store employee. The store took the gas prices down from its sign. Other stations in the city also ran out of gas.
The customers “were not truly shocked because they kind of expected it,” Marshall said.
Exprezit Convenience Store on Old Walkertown Road in Winston-Salem also only had unleaded regular yesterday after it ran out of gas last Tuesday, said Brandi Jackson, a store employee.
The store’s customers are not pleased about the station’s limited supply. Jackson said that store’s employees “have no idea” when they will receive their next gas delivery.
2.  Budget Cuts
Gary D. Robertson, The Associated Press
September 25, 2008
Gov. Mike Easley has informed state agencies that their budgets will be reduced by 2 percent this fiscal year to help shield the state from a souring economy and declining revenues. Easley directed the state budget office to require the cost savings. Agencies can choose how to find those savings. The unused money will be set aside in case other budget holes need to be filled, or it could be returned to the agencies if the economy improves by the end of December. Tax collections are already as much as $70 million below projections, according to a recent report by the General Assembly’s top economist. Easley believes the precaution is necessary, administration officials said. “The governor is committed to ensuring that the next administration has sufficient reserves to manage this potential situation,” state budget director Charlie Perusse said in a memo to department leaders dated Sept. 18.
The budget approved by the Legislature for the fiscal year starting July 1 was more than $21 billion, but at least half of that spending probably won’t be affected because the directive doesn’t apply to public education, Medicaid and student financial aid. So cost savings probably will be closer to $200 million. The reductions will begin Oct. 1 in the amount of money distributed to the identified agencies, Easley budget adviser Dan Gerlach said Thursday. “The agencies prefer that if you want to hold back money, do it sooner rather than later” in the fiscal year, Gerlach said. Rep. Mickey Michaux, D-Durham, D-Durham and senior co-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he believes departments won’t have too much trouble finding those levels of reductions. “Two percent is not going to hurt agencies,” Michaux said. “They’ve always been able to fund that much and he’s given them the free rein to do that.”
3. Bridge Plans
The Associated Press
September 25, 2008
Plans to replace the aging Bonner Bridge advanced Wednesday as the North Carolina Department of Transportation said it has completed a final environmental impact statement. The department and the Federal Highway Administration signed the statement describing the potential social, economic and environmental effects of its planned replacement for the 2.5-mile-long bridge. The bridge, which connects the northern Outer Banks and Hatteras Island, was built in 1963. Planning for a replacement began in 1990, but progress has been slowed by environmental challenges and disagreements over the route for the new bridge. The DOT and the Federal Highway Administration plan to agree on the final document needed to complete the planning phase by the end of the year, the transportation department said in a statement Wednesday. The bridge carries about 61,000 vehicles per week during the peak summer tourist season to Hatteras Island, where the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge are located. North Carolina’s transportation department said last year it would rebuild the bridge in phases. The process involves building a short bridge that is parallel to the existing one across the inlet. After that, a series of small bridges and beach rebuilding will be done on the road south of the inlet. The project is estimated to cost between $1.1 billion and $1.4 billion. Construction is expected to start next spring and finish in 2014.
4.  Turnpike Money
Bruce Siceloff, News & Observer
September 26, 2008
David Joyner hopes people on Wall Street and in Washington calm down before he tries in the next few weeks to borrow $1 billion from them. Joyner, the executive director of the N.C. Turnpike Authority, needs to get the money in October so he can break ground in December on the 18.8-mile Triangle Expressway in Research Triangle Park and western Wake County. Like many people, Joyner watched helplessly from the sidelines this week as national leaders in Washington grappled with terms of a bailout aimed at stabilizing the fractured financial markets on Wall Street. “We’re hoping things will get settled in the next few days so we can see some stability in the markets, and people will start selling municipal bonds again,” Joyner said.
In mid-October, the turnpike authority plans to ask the U.S. Department of Transportation for a loan of about $400 million. If the loan comes through, the authority will try to sell about $600 million in bonds on Wall Street in late October. With this borrowed money in hand, the turnpike authority can build the state’s first modern toll road. Traffic could be running on part of the road by the end of 2010. The authority will collect tolls electronically to repay the loans. The General Assembly has pledged a yearly subsidy of $25 million to cover an expected gap between toll collections and the total cost of repaying the loans and operating and maintaining the TriEx. Joyner expressed optimism about the federal loan. There’s no way to predict, he said, whether Wall Street will be ready in late October to buy turnpike bonds at an affordable interest rate. “The whole country is holding its breath to see what’s going on,” Joyner said. “I think it’s going to work out.”
5.  Beach Development
Gareth McGrath, Wilmington Star-News
September 26, 2008
Coastal regulators moved Friday to allow new structures on nourished beaches to be built closer to the ocean. While officials acknowledge that the move is a policy shift, they stress that the exception includes enough safeguards, such as limits on building size and financial commitments from coastal communities for future nourishment projects, to prevent the state from effectively sanctioning a “gold rush” of people and property into harm’s way. “It’s allowing structures to go back if towns are willing to make that commitment,” said Jim Gregson, head of the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, noting that most new construction would just be “infill” where beachfront structures once were anyway.
The N.C. Coastal Resources Commission, which manages development in the state’s 20 coastal counties, historically has prevented structures from creeping toward the ocean along beaches that periodically receive a fresh injection of sand – no matter how stable the beach in front of the homes looked. The idea was that the oceanfront setback requirements should be based on what the beach looked like before the new sand was added. Some beach towns complained that the rule severely limited both new construction and the replacement of homes along wide swaths of their nourished beachfront that are healthy and stable. But environmentalists had argued that the existing rule for nourished beaches has worked.
But CRC members, who unanimously approved the new rule Friday, seemed satisfied that enough safeguards were in place to prevent a headlong rush of new structures vulnerable to the sea. They include a 2,500-square-foot limit on new beachfront homes and a requirement they not be closer to the surf than neighboring structures. Lots also would still have to meet the setback requirement of at least 60 feet from the first line of stable vegetation along the beach.
6.  Economic Development
Jim Morill, The Charlotte Observer
September 24, 2008
Republican Pat McCrory and Democrat Beverly Perdue agreed Tuesday that economic development will be a top priority of the next governor. The two gubernatorial hopefuls spoke to more than 230 people at the N.C. Economic Developers Association conference at the Concord Convention Center. “As mayor and as governor, a major priority will be jobs, jobs, jobs,” said McCrory, the mayor of Charlotte. “The number one goal of the governor is to sell the state.” McCrory outlined a 10-point plan for development, including new and traditional energy initiatives, a 50-year transportation plan and stopping what he called the “ridiculous internal competition” between regions. Perdue, the current lieutenant governor, said she would push for development in all 100 counties. She touted her role in keeping the state’s military bases open said North Carolina should be on the forefront of developing a “green” economy with wind and solar power. And a one-time opponent oil drilling off the N.C. coast, she said, “Yes, there’s a real role for off-shore drilling in the future.”
7.  High-Tech Goods
Charlotte Business Journal
September 23, 2008
North Carolina’s exportation of high-tech goods dropped 3 in 2007 from the previous year, according to technology industry group AeA. Exports of goods such as communications equipment and semiconductors made up 14 percent of the state’s total exports last year, AeA said. North Carolina ranked 17th among the states in high-tech exporting last year with $3.3 billion in exports. The Tar Heel State’s largest technology trading partner was Canada, which imported $776 million worth of technological equipment from North Carolina. China was second, with $401 million in such imports. Mexico ranked third, with $190 million. Nationally, exports of U.S. high-tech goods fell 3 percent in 2007 to $214 billion.