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 In the News, June 1, 2010 

BROADBAND

Editorial: Cities should stay out of broadband. Cities shouldn’t be getting into the Internet and cable-TV business. A proposal being pushed in the state Senate to require municipalities to get voter approval if they borrow money to pay for broadband infrastructure doesn’t seem like an unreasonable demand. A handful of municipalities across the state of North Carolina have gotten into the broadband business, with varying degrees of success. Now a number of other cities and towns in North Carolina are also considering getting into the broadband and cable TV business. … Cities shouldn’t be in the business of competing with private industry. There are a number of options available for people who want to purchase high-speed Internet service. Providers offer broadband through cable connections, DSL, wireless cards that plug into our computers, and satellite connections. They vary in quality, cost, speed and dependability.

Bill would delay new broadband networks. Salisbury Mayor Susan Kluttz traveled to Raleigh Wednesday to fight a bill that failed to make a promised exception for the city's Fibrant broadband system.  By the time she got to the Legislative Building, though, Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, had pulled the bill from the Senate Finance Committee's agenda, saying he would try to come up with a compromise.  Anything less than freedom for cities to run their own fiber-optic systems will likely face a fight — a fight the cities must win, Kluttz says.

 

TAXES

State and local governments lose millions because of remote sales. The Washington State Legislature has just struggled through another difficult budget session, cutting and patching in yet another attempt to deal with rising costs and recession-shrunk revenues. Future biennial shortages of a billion dollars or more are projected. Yet latest estimates show our state and local governments lose roughly a billion dollars a biennium because states can’t require out-of-state “remote sellers” to collect sales taxes on their behalf. It’s been nearly 20 years since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that forcing businesses nationwide to follow the many different jurisdictions’ tax applications, rates, and rules was an unconstitutional burden on interstate commerce. So if a business had no physical presence in a state, that state could not require it to collect sales tax on items sold to residents or businesses there. … Frustrated by the congressional logjam, some states are going to court. New York has prevailed in federal court with its contention that, in this digital age, a transaction that passes through a computer server in that state constitutes a physical presence and makes the sales tax collectible. North Carolina has sued a major online retailer for its refusal to turn over records of sales to residents of that state. Other states may have litigation active or pending. It’s likely that some or all of these may come before the U.S. Supreme Court.

 

GENERAL

Gaston’s ‘cash in lieu of benefits for elected leaders’ perk is unique. Cities the relative size of Gastonia tend to allow their elected leaders to participate in municipal insurance plans, at least across North Carolina. But Gastonia’s policy of allowing City Council members to receive cash just for turning down health coverage appears to be a statewide anomaly.  A [Gaston] Gazette survey of 11 North Carolina cities, both nearby and in Gastonia’s general population range, revealed this week that almost all of them allow their city council members to participate in city-sponsored insurance. But none offer those elected leaders any stipend in place of accepting insurance coverage. In 2008, the N.C. League of Municipalities surveyed cities to find out whether they offer health insurance to their elected city leaders. It contacted all 26 cities statewide that have between 25,000 and 100,000 residents. Of the 18 cities that took part in the survey, 17 confirmed that they allow their mayor and council members to be insured by the city.

 

TRANSPORTATION

Editorial: Mobility fund. North Carolinians must pay higher taxes and transportation-related fees if they want highways and mass-transit systems that work effectively in the future. Put aside all of the generalities about "tax-and-spend," "fraud and waste," and "no new taxes," and look at reality: North Carolina's roads are in bad shape and getting worse. It's hard to imagine that we once called ourselves "The Good Roads State."