An N.C. surplus? Tell it to drivers

Remember the $896 million of “surplus” revenue that N.C. Republican leaders say belongs back in the pockets of taxpayers? We’d bet that North Carolinians wouldn’t mind if at least some of that money went toward fixing the roads and unclogging the interchanges they drive every day. You know, like states are supposed to do.

Instead, dozens of roads projects in Charlotte and Raleigh — along with hundreds across the state — are being delayed over the next decade because of financial problems at the N.C. Department of Transportation. The News & Observer’s Richard Stradling reports that those delays are reflected in the latest State Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP, which lays out project schedules for the next 10 years and was scheduled to be approved Thursday by the State Board of Transportation.

Among the projects affected in the Charlotte area, according to NCDOT documents:

  • An upgrade of the I-77 and N.C. 73 interchange to a split diamond configuration, delayed from 2020 to 2024.
  • Construction to widen Park Road from Johnston Road to N.C. 51, now designated “unfunded.”
  • The widening of congested U.S. 21 in north Mecklenburg near Gilead Road, delayed from 2021 to 2024.

The problems stem from a dismal financial picture at NCDOT, which spent nearly $300 million in the last year on cleanups and repairs from storms, including Hurricane Florence. The department also has spent $300 million, with more bills to come, to settle a lawsuit involving the Map Act, a 1987 law passed by the Democratic-led General Assembly that unconstitutionally allowed the state to reserve land without actually buying it. The financial woes have forced NCDOT to lay off hundreds of workers and recalibrate its project schedule.

Or, maybe state lawmakers could dip into that surplus that Senate leader Phil Berger has said is “more money than was needed.”

This is what tax revenue is for — to administer to needs, to compensate for unexpected burdens, to remedy shortfalls that affect critical programs and infrastructure. It’s possible that roads aren’t even the best place to use some or all of the $872 million that Berger wants to Venmo back to taxpayers. The education community can make a very good case for investing more money into public schools and teachers. The state’s judicial system also is dangerously underfunded.

All of which demonstrates that the surplus isn’t really a surplus at all. It’s misguided policy and bad politics that leaves programs underfunded, needs underserved, and the road to a better North Carolina a slow, bumpy ride.

The Charlotte Observer

Thom Tillis upside-down?

A poll by Public Policy Polling shows Garland Tucker had gained on Thom Tillis again, now trailing Tillis by just 7 points in the Republican Primary. (Tillis 38%, Tucker 31%, Undecided 31%).

Worse for Tillis, his popularity with Republicans had plummeted for the second time in a month: In the PPP poll, in August, he had dropped another 26 points (Tillis Favorable 34%, Unfavorable 38%).

A candidate who has the misfortune of receiving more ‘Unfavorables’ than ‘Favorables’ is what pollsters call ‘upside down.’

The first Republican primary in North Carolina I was part of was in 1976 — I’m in another now with Garland and this is the only time in 43 years I’ve seen a Republican U.S. senator underwater with Republican voters. For years Thom Tillis, being Thom Tillis, has straddled the fence: In Washington he voted to increase the debt and opposed cutting foreign aid spending but, then, he told voters in North Carolina how he lies in bed at night worrying about the national debt.

Now, with Garland Tucker pointing beyond Tillis’ words to his votes — like supporting citizenship for illegal immigrants — in the primary, Tillis is turning somersaults in the opposite direction, struggling to appeal to conservative voters. But instead of fooling voters flip-flopping has left Tillis upside-down.

Carter Wrenn on the blog Talking About Politics

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