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 In the News, June 22, 2010 

ANNEXATION

Editorial: A new conflict in which David should prevail. Groups on both sides of North Carolina’s half-century-old involuntary annexation law were in Raleigh this past week urging state lawmakers to see things from their point of view. It’s almost like a modern-day David vs. Goliath story. Grassroots groups would like to see the law changed in a way that would give people targeted for annexation into a city or town some meaningful say-so in that decision. Others, such as members of the powerful League of Municipalities, don’t mind a little tinkering with the law. But they want lawmakers to keep their hands off of the cities’ authority to annex property without the consent of those being annexed. Here’s why we use the word “powerful” to describe the League of Municipalities: It represents well over 500 cities, towns and villages across the state and has dozens of staffers. If a city government wants something done in Raleigh, an organization with the league’s lobbying power is a good ally to have.

Charlotte to get a bump. Charlotte is set to be a bigger city in 2011 — by 2,434 acres and about 4,100 residents. The city has begun work on annexing three unincorporated areas in Mecklenburg County.  … The three areas total 3.8 square miles. They’re much smaller than the areas annexed in 2009, which totaled 11 square miles and 18,500 residents. Jonathan Wells, the city’s capital facilities program manager, has been working on annexations for a decade and says this is one of the smallest. N.C. law is less restrictive than other states on annexation, and it’s the city’s policy to grow every other year. The Queen City has spread to 299 square miles from 140 in 1980. The city could reach 376 square miles before running into other jurisdictions. But when that will happen is tricky to say, Wells says, because annexation follows growth. And right now, growth has slowed considerably.

 

ABC SYSTEM

Lawmakers ponder ABC system change. The proposed modernization of North Carolina’s alcoholic-beverage control system could be enough to give one a sore head, depending on one’s perspective.
 Yet, measures that would affect local ABC boards across the state by closing stores that don’t meet performance standards are more palatable to one key local official than wholesale privatization of the system. …  Bills cycling through the state House and Senate would place more controls on the statewide ABC system, but the proposals would not result in shifting control of the system to private hands as some reform advocates recommended.

Opinion: Time to deregulate the ABC system. … Regardless of how or if you drink, the State of North Carolina prefers to be by itself in controlling liquor sales. As the majority of U.S. states have shown, however, liquor retail is no core province of government. And the good news for state and local leaders is, deregulation in North Carolina wouldn't even force them to go cold turkey on their alcohol revenue addiction. The state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) system is a relic of the Prohibition era, but its roots run deeper.

Opinion: Abolish ABC boards. Don’t look for any reform of the state’s liquor sale monopoly in this session of the General Assembly. It appears legislators need all the fortification they can get to handle the other pressing issues facing the state – like making it a felony to abuse animals and giving $300 million in corporate welfare to selected businesses, primarily the film industry. The recommendations of a joint study committee on alcoholic beverage control suffered the same fate as most legislative study commissions. They were gutted by special interest groups and lobbyists.

 

SWEEPSTAKES CAFES

Game over? State Senate opposes video gaming with 47-1 vote. The North Carolina Senate overwhelmingly approved legislation Monday to shutter hundreds of new businesses that bill supporters argue are offering just another form of illegal video poker where people buy phone or Internet time, then play games on computer screens to win cash and prizes. By a vote of 47-1, the chamber continued its long history of opposing video gambling, this time through electronic and computer-based devices springing up at new "sweepstakes cafes" or "business centers." North Carolina Senate leaders, sheriffs and Christian groups say the sweepstakes games are an end-run around the state’s 2006 video poker ban. A series of pending court cases where the illegality of the machines has been questioned has led to the new law attempting to tighten the ban.

Editorial: Allow, tax and regulate Internet sweepstakes cafes. … Supporters say gaming, or gambling, is a personal choice that is victimless, and like alcohol and cigarettes doesn’t need to be prohibited, just regulated. Of course, those products are associated health risks, while Internet gaming is not. … Some states have horse racing tracks and off-track betting parlors. Some have casinos. Numerous communities have cash payout bingo, and many states — including this one — use lotteries to raise funds for education and other necessities.  So it wouldn’t be inconsistent if North Carolina, which just a few years ago legalized the lottery, would also permit sweepstakes gambling. In fact, except for the ban on video poker machines, it would be perfectly consistent with our past actions.

Editorial: Not in N.C. Let's get one thing straight: there is no worthwhile distinction to be made between video poker, currently banned in North Carolina with one notable exception, and the electronic "sweepstakes" game parlors sweeping the state. Both offer what amounts to commercial gambling in a state that has long been wary of that practice. The storefront parlors, in which patrons plunk down dollars - ostensibly to purchase Internet or telephone time - for a chance to play electronic versions of poker, keno and slot machines, are merely a dodge. By setting up their payout systems as pre-determined "sweepstakes" they allow the gaming industry to step oh-so-lightly around the video poker ban that the General Assembly put into effect in 2007. That ban was enacted for good reasons, centering on payoffs and corruption. There was, in addition, the traditional feeling that North Carolina is not a commercial gambling state, a position that admittedly contains elements of paternalism - who are legislators to tell ordinary folks how to spend their money?

 

BROADBAND

Cable TV fights municipal broadband. Alarmed by the prospect of competing for customers against local governments, the cable TV industry is pushing for a state law to prevent North Carolina cities from offering Internet and cable systems to their residents. The industry, led by Time Warner Cable, wants to protect itself from what it calls unfair competition. The industry's concerns are gaining urgency as some two dozen towns in the state are either planning or exploring their own telecommunications and television service for residents and businesses. A proposed moratorium on municipal broadband has sailed through the state Senate and is now awaiting debate in the House of Representatives. But some lawmakers in the House are intent on derailing any proposal that would delay the development of local broadband networks. They say the future of the state depends on unfettered broadband access.