Ashvegas: The City You Love. The News You Want.By James Harrison

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Longest Day—the allied invasion of Europe. Before this week’s Hit List takes off, read the story of Black Mountain’s Andy Andrews, who was part of the third wave in Normandy. You can also read about Asheville’s Ed Whitaker, who was part of the invasion with a battalion containing 19 men from Asheville (all 19 made it back). Along with Andrews and Whitaker, Western North Carolina is home to several D-Day veterans, many of whom are traveling to the National D-Day Memorial on a trip sponsored by Asheville and Hendersonville Rotary Clubs.

Now, without further ado—your week in local, state and federal politics.

Budget season continues

Last week was the city’s time to shine. Now, County Manager Wanda Greene gets her time in the spotlight, with the release of a $280.3 million budget proposal. Mountain Xpress reporter Jake Frankel got an early look at the financial plan, which calls for no increase in property taxes and marked $44.3 million for a new county building addition and parking deck. In addition, the budget allocates $67.9 million for Buncombe County schools, and carves out $1.17 million for local nonprofits and nongovernment agencies. Overall, the budget is down $1.4 million from last year’s total—a 0.5 percent decrease. Final votes on the document are expected to take place later this month.

Not so fast on that parking deck

During Greene’s budget presentation to County Commissioners, members of the group balked at the proposal of the $44.3 billion garage and expansion. According to Citizen-Times reporter Mark Barrett, members of the board instructed county staff to begin searching for alternative sites for its Health and Human Services building, located at 40 Coxe Ave. Keep an eye on this one. If county staff are able to find a suitable relocation site for the building and parking garage, the Coxe Ave. property could be sold for private development—a potentially huge happening for the booming South Slope. According to Assistant County Manager Jon Creighton, finding space both large enough for county staff and within range of public transportation will be a “very tall order.” Stay tuned.

Budgets, budgets, budgets

Here’s a quick nod to an awesome data-visualization collaboration between Code for Asheville and the Citizen-Times. Unveiled this week, the interactive allows users to see a just how much of city tax dollars are being marked for next year’s budget plan. Cool.

Turner eking Moffitt in poll

With the margin of error, it’s a statistical dead heat. But according to the findings of a new internal poll released by Democrat Brian Turner’s campaign, the first-time candidate is “in the lead” over state Rep. Tim Moffitt. The survey shows Turner with support from 41 percent of those polled, with Moffitt scoring 39 percent. The poll was carried out among 518 voters this week, roughly six months before Election Day. We’ll see what happens.

Here come the Republicans

North Carolina’s GOP faithful will swarm into Western North Carolina this weekend, for the annual party convention. For the first time, the shindig is being held at Harrah’s Cherokee Casino and Resort—hundreds of miles away from the rancor of Raleigh. For a preview on what wonders the weekend holds, see this report in Carolina Public Press.

Short session reaches halfway mark

Can you believe it? Seems like it was only yesterday lawmakers returned to their coveted seats in the State Legislative Building. There’s been no shortage of action in the session’s first three weeks, and the latest proved to be no different. Here’s a whirlwind attempt at summarizing a few of the big items, beginning with—you guessed it—a budget.

Ruling leaves $60 million hole in Medicaid

The big story this week was Gov. Pat McCrory‘s admission Tuesday of a $60 million shortfall in this year’s Medicaid budget. The details are complex, but essentially what happened was federal regulators denied a portion of the plan which would have allowed the state to collect additional tax on managed-care Medicaid providers. The news is the latest headache for staff at the state Department of Health and Human Services, which has been plagued by controversy and glitches in recent months. While it remains to be seen what will happen, the issue didn’t stop McCrory from touting his own Medicaid reform proposal at the Governor’s Mansion Wednesday. The plan, which calls for building upon the already-existing system, is diametrically opposed to the Senate’s proposal, which would turn it over the state’s Medicaid program to private, managed-care organizations. More than 100 doctors were in attendance to support McCrory’s plan.

Common Core on the way out?

House and Senate members voted this week on separate bills to repeal Common Core standards before next year. Both passed. Votes on the measures fell largely on party lines, with local Reps. Tim Moffitt and Nathan Ramsey supporting the House version. Freshman state Sen. Terry Van Duyn, a Democrat, opposed the Senate version of the bill, which would allow the state to “maintain” authority over academic standards. If the chambers can agree on a final bill and gain approval from McCrory (which doesn’t seem to be a done deal just yet), North Carolina could become the second state in the nation to back out of the national teaching standards, which were first adopted in 2010. The prospect is gaining national attention, including this article in theWashington Post.  

Go for fracking

It was no surprise to see the governor sign a bill clearing the way for hydraulic fracturing in North Carolina this week, but the development still has the observers across the state talking. The bill, called the Energy Modernization Act, ends a 2012 state moratorium on fracking. While McCrory and GOP members of the General Assembly continue to tout the potential for fracking to create jobs and push toward energy independence, environmental groups have expressed strong opposition to the method for extracting oil and gas from the earth.

Senate race quick hits

No time for analysis—we’ll just drop a few of the latest developments in the world heavyweight championship bout between U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan and Thom Tillis. This week, it was revealed that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee has reserved $5.5 million in TV airtime in the lead-up to November’s election (which means it’s probably time to consider saving for a DVR if you don’t own one yet). The senator will also be gaining support from Americans for Responsible Solutions, a pro-gun-control organization fronted by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Both Hagan and Tillis weighed in on the controversy over the recent prisoner exchange between the U.S. and the Taliban, and members of the state House have implemented new rulesgeared at discouraging “trackers” from filming Tillis when he’s in Raleigh, hoping to catch a gaffe.

That should be enough news to keep you busy till next Friday! See you then.

James Harrison recently returned to Asheville after working as a government reporter for Nooga.com, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Follow him on Twitter at @jharrisonAVL.

6 Comments

  1. “Turner eking Moffitt in poll”

    Asked for a comment, Moffitt said: “Eeek!”

    And the real problem is that Rep. Moffitt just can’t help re-inforcing the negative impressions folks have about him – the latest example, the CPP story about his ‘media company’.

    tinyurl.com/lw2x5ac

    “The article quoted Moffitt as saying he had “thoroughly vetted” the concept of the business with the State Ethics Commission before launching it…

    “However, Moffitt told CPP he did not take that step. “No, I didn’t run it by the Ethics Commission,” he said. Instead, “I reviewed the ethics laws to make sure that I wasn’t going to violate any.”

    How many different ways does he have to demonstrate his, shall we say, slippery grasp of the truth, before even people who agree with him generally don’t want him representing them?

    And there’s the impression of him as a bully – also not especially a ‘traditional value’ that people want to see in their representative:

    “One of the articles in the publication, titled “How Local Government Works,” drew particular criticism. The article noted that the General Assembly has the power to both establish and abolish local government entities, including cities.

    The article mentioned no city in particular, but was illustrated with a photo of Asheville City Hall, leading some to question if the image was meant as a veiled threat to officials in Asheville, whom Moffitt has often sparred with.

    Asked why that photo was chosen for the article, Moffitt said, “Because I have a sense of humor.”

    Yes, that’s hilarious to the people of Asheville, and to the county residents that don’t want to be saddled with the cost of “abolishing” the City at the center of Buncombe County.

    tinyurl.com/odt53v9

  2. Thanks for a mention of the Asheville Budget App. Here’s a link to the full app that was a collaboration with the City.

    http://www.avlbudget.org

  3. Turner should change his name to Not Moffitt and he’d clean up.

  4. Great round-up as always, James.

    A couple of things I’ll add:

    1) If the county sells the Health & Human Services building it will be a great disservice to the very people who use it the most. Currently situated right next to the city’s main bus hub, the building is easier to get to for our most vulnerable citizens than it will be if located outside of downtown. Making a quick buck in the booming South Slope real estate market isn’t worth shafting our city’s poor imho.

    2) The internal PPP poll released by Turner’s campaign also contained this gem: 49% of people polled, in Moffitt’s own red-leaning district, disapprove of the job he’s doing. That’s big. Another big number? 28% of Mitt Romney voters have an unfavorable view of Moffitt. That’s is *base*.Turner does seem to have a name recognition problem, but that’s much easier to overcome than a disaproval problem. Especially since major advertising pushes haven’t started yet and given Turner’s impressive first quarter fundraising numbers.

    • Not only is the current location the best possible place for a social services department, they apparently went through this whole exercise five years ago when this project was on the table the first time. What they found back then is that there just isn’t a suitable location elsewhere in the county that meets all the requirements and federal mandates. Downtown merchants and restaurants that rely on the lunch trade also wouldn’t exactly be thrilled at pulling 400+ middle class earners out of downtown, most of whom commute in from outlying areas.

      Hopefully they don’t waste too much time on this search for alternatives. The current building is already overcrowded, and none of the social programs it houses (Medicaid, Food & Nutrition, WIC) show any signs of shrinking any time soon.

    • luther blissett says:

      Mike Fryar suggested moving HHS to Hwy 70 near Black Mountain, so I suppose he means somewhere on the eastern side of Swannanoa. Maybe people could get rides there in quarry trucks or hitch on Ingles trucks heading to the depot, because there ain’t no buses during the day.

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