Summary of recent North Carolina newspaper editorials

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Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

July 21

News & Observer, Raleigh, on state funding for NC Biotechnology Center:

Since its creation as the first state-sponsored biotechnology initiative in the country in 1984, the N.C. Biotechnology Center in Research Triangle Park has helped create many high-tech, high-paying jobs by fulfilling its mission of bringing private entrepreneurs together with universities to produce great research and practical results.

The center is almost funded entirely by the state, and in this year's House budget, it has an appropriation of $13.6 million. That's a small expense in a $20 billion-plus state budget. Unfortunately, the state Senate has zeroed the center out of its budget, a curiosity that may reflect a hardline Senate philosophy that the state shouldn't be helping nonprofits of certain types. It's a shortsighted view, following "fiscal conservatism" out the window.

But in this case, it's bad economics, considering what the center delivers with a staff of just 64 people.

Connected to the area of "life sciences," the center makes modest loans to startup companies that in turn use that seed money to get more investment from private individuals and venture capital firms. The list of companies that have been helped is long, and the state has gotten its money back when those companies have succeeded.

The center's loan policy is conservative, but the payoff has been impressive. In the last 10 years, the center says it has loaned money to companies that have created nearly 3,000 jobs. The number of jobs connected in some way to the center in the last 30 years is over 200,000.

What's the Senate's problem? It appears it might be something minor and worse the result of a misunderstanding.

Recently, a letter was sent out from former Gov. Jim Hunt, an early advocate for the center, rallying people to a political meeting to discuss current issues and, quite possibly, potential Democratic leadership spots and the current Republican-run General Assembly. In the letter, the Biotech Center was listed as the location.

But the center's president and CEO, Doug Edgeton, knew it wouldn't be appropriate for a nonprofit funded by the state to serve as a site for such a meeting, and he turned down the meeting without delay. Unfortunately, it appears some Senate Republicans didn't get the word and may believe the center was the host for the meeting.

Edgeton did the right thing by rejecting a political meeting. The center shouldn't be in effect put out of business because of a misunderstanding that was no fault of its leaders or anyone connected to it. This organization is valuable, and surely both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate realize that.



July 21

News and Record, Greensboro, North Carolina, on unexplained attack on military offices in Chattanooga:

Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez was born in Kuwait but came to the United States with his family in the wake of war.

The United States led a multinational coalition that liberated Kuwait from the clutches of Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

Abdulazeez became a naturalized U.S. citizen. He attended public schools, made friends and participated in athletics. He studied engineering at a state university. He had a good job with a technology company.

He'd been given a lot by this country. So, what reason did the 24-year-old man have last week to open fire on military offices in Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing four Marines and a sailor, wounding two other men and losing his own life?

The explanation offered by a spokesman for his family, supported by Abdulazeez's diary, opens a window into a troubled life. He experienced depression, abused drugs and alcohol, was in debt, had difficulty adjusting to a night shift. Those things may be true, but they hardly set him apart from many others. They're not answers.

Other pieces of the puzzle hint at different possibilities. Despite his birth in Kuwait, he held Jordanian citizenship and may have had Palestinian heritage. He traveled to the Middle East a number of times. He was a practicing Muslim and wrote at least once about jihad.

Those items still don't add up conclusively to much of anything, let alone the makings of a terrorist. There is no evidence to this point that he was directed or inspired by any terrorist group.

Yet his actions resemble a "lone wolf" terrorist attack. The Islamic State, sophisticated in its recruiting and communications, calls on Muslims living in the United States to strike blows against their enemies — potentially all Americans. Men and women in the U.S. armed forces may be preferred targets, symbolizing the military power of the United States.

This puts us all on notice, if we weren't already. We continue to be at war. Most of our fighting is carried out overseas by drones or special forces, or by proxies. But we can expect the Islamic State and other terrorist groups to try to hit back at Americans on our soil. Sometimes, they will succeed.

Spectacular attacks like 9/11 aren't likely anymore. Individual murders are easier to pull off. Defending the country isn't only a matter of sealing our borders or watching ports and airports if longtime residents, even American citizens and sometimes even native-born Americans, can be radicalized and recruited by terrorists to do their bidding.

Our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies must be vigilant. So should ordinary Americans, family members, friends and religious leaders. If they see suspicious behavior or hear troubling talk, they should report it. We don't want to become a nation of spies, but reasonable caution might prevent an act of violence that otherwise would take everyone by surprise.

When a young man with mental health concerns acquires firearms — whether it's a Dylann Roof or Muhammad Abdulazeez — it should raise concerns.

Blocking immigration by Muslims, as North Carolina evangelist Franklin Graham suggested last week, would be impractical and unfair. This country doesn't discriminate by religion or blame millions for the actions of a few.

Religion or ideology may have nothing to do with Abdulazeez's actions, anyway. And there's not a common motive for domestic terrorism. Twenty years ago, an anti-government radical named Timothy McVeigh killed 168 people in a bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City.

Tighter security has been ordered at military offices in the wake of last week's attacks. Military personnel may be encouraged to carry weapons. Better precautions are necessary.

Still, it's not possible to prevent all threats. Nor is it necessary to surrender to fear and suspicion.



July 21

Charlotte Observer on negotiations over North Carolina's sales tax:

Things must not be going too well for Sen. Harry Brown in private negotiations over what to do with North Carolina's sales tax - which is good news for Mecklenburg County residents and millions of others.

The Republican from Onslow County has been leading Senate negotiators in closed-door talks with the House about a budget for the new fiscal year, which began three weeks ago. One of the key elements Brown wants: Taking hundreds of millions of dollars from North Carolina's fastest-growing counties and giving it to poor, rural counties.

Brown took a break from those talks Tuesday to hold a press conference designed to drum up support for his plan. Surrounded by officials from rural counties, Brown, normally a conservative, made his case for redistribution of wealth.

The plan would take up to $200 million from Mecklenburg over the next four years and sprinkle it - along with many millions more from other large counties like Wake and Guilford - to poor counties around the state. Mecklenburg would have little choice other than to considerably raise property taxes to make up that money.

"We understand there are rural areas that are hurting and there needs to be a way to help them. But we don't think taking fuel from the commercial engines of the state is the right way to do that," Brian Francis, Mecklenburg County's legislative lobbyist, told the Observer editorial board on Tuesday.

It's not like Mecklenburg and other counties horde their sales tax collections now. Some $29 million a year of sales taxes generated in Mecklenburg are redistributed to other counties already.

Under the current formula, a quarter of local sales tax is distributed statewide and three-quarters is kept where it was generated. Under Brown's plan, 80 percent would be taken for distribution statewide by October 2019, with just 20 percent staying at the point of sale.

It is ironic that the tax-cutters leading the N.C. Senate are pushing a plan that would lead to dramatic tax hikes on about half the state's residents. Backers of the plan say the rural counties can't continue to just raise property taxes. But a number of them actually have lower property tax rates than Mecklenburg. And the plan would drive Mecklenburg's property tax rate even higher.

No one questions that North Carolina's rural counties are struggling. But the best way to help them is to make infrastructure investments and devise economic development strategies that create jobs there, not to undercut the very counties that most drive North Carolina's economic growth.

Thankfully, Gov. Pat McCrory and - more importantly - House members of both parties object to Brown's plan. McCrory said he will veto a budget that includes a sales tax redistribution. Let's hope that Brown's last-minute stab at publicity doesn't change their minds.


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