The Hit List returns! Here’s our best attempt at looping you into all the goings on in local, state and national politics around Western North Carolina.
No more vaping at the U.S. Cellular Center. That was the line handed down by City Council members this week, who unanimously approved a resolution to ban e-cigarettes from buses, parks, greenways or other city facilities—much in the way tobacco cigarettes are currently banned. This will be frustrating for many users who will have to avoid using their Best Vape Juice that helps keep them from smoking tobacco products. In many ways, the ban seems rather counter-intuitive. Violate the ban and earn yourself a $50 fine. If you get caught, that is. If you are someone who vapes, just like with smoking a cigarette, you wouldn’t be able to use your vaping device in a public place according to the laws about vaping. But you can do it outside. Just make sure you have high quality e liquid with you in order to effectively use your vape, or else it wouldn’t be worth it, especially if you are someone who has recently given up smoking cigarettes.
More goggles at last week’s Buncombe County Board of Commissioners meeting. Facing a large group of supporters working to keeping the county’s indoor swimming facility at the Zeugner Center open, County Manager Wanda Greene informed the group the pool would stay open until a replacement facility had been built. The meeting came one week after commissioners voted 6-1 to approve financing a new, yet-to-be-planned $6.5 million facility, and more than a month after an initial announcement suggested the pool would close at the end of this season. In addition to pool discussions, commissioners agreed to sell the old sheriff’s office on Haywood Street to a hotel group for $4.4 million. The purchasers, PHG Asheville LLC, are affiliated with the group building the new Hyatt Place Hotel across the street. Additionally, commissioners backed a $141 million, eight-project bundle contract, which addresses a whole slew of items. Luckily, reporter Hayley Benton has a detailed rundown of what all the contract entails in her report for Mountain Xpress.
Is Western North Carolina getting the shaft from Raleigh? That’s not a new question by any means—but the Mountain Xpress asked it from an interesting angle this week with a story on NC Arts Council board appointments. Of eight nominees to the board this year, none were from our arts-rich neck of the woods. Still, many community members interviewed for the story said that when it comes to assistance, Western North Carolina is far from being underserved.
For the first time in a while, the Asheville Citizen-Times sent a reporter and photographer to Raleigh. In one of the dispatches last week, reporter Mark Barrett covered remarks made by state Sen. Terry Van Duyn and state Rep. Susan Fisher at a press conference to show support for a Supreme Court resolution to undo Citizens United. The 2010 case opened the floodgates for corporate money to flow into elections across the country. Along with Van Duyn and Fisher, WNC area lawmakers Rep. John Ager and Rep. Joe Sam Queen attended the event. Meanwhile, state Rep. Brian Turner helped introduce a bill which would give voters the final say on various electoral restructurings made by Raleigh. Already sent to the House Rules Committee, Turner’s bill is unlikely to advance any further. Finally, for a brief gallery of photos of scenes from the Citizen-Times’ trip to the capitol, see Katie Bailey’s images here.
Birth of the budget
Offering his financial plan for the next fiscal year, Gov. Pat McCrory unveiled a 300-page budget proposal which largely “stays the course,” according to a Raleigh News & Observer report from last week. The plan includes no tax increases, and asks major agencies to cut their own budgets between 1 and 2 percent. Education spending makes up for more than half of the $21.5 billion plan, with a 2.8 percent overall increase in funding and plans to support hiring 1,400 additional teachers. Members of the legislature are expected to begin debating the budget soon, aiming for a goal of the House, Senate and governor agreeing on a draft by July. The budget is the first drafted by Lee Roberts, who replaced Art Pope, McCrory’s controversial first state budget director (remember him?). For a profile on Roberts, click here.
Ruh roh, more ethics fumbles? That appears to be the case for Gov. Pat McCrory, who this week amended a 2013 ethics form to include more than $13,000 in previously omitted travel expenses. According to WUNC, the governor accepted seven trips paid for by outside groups in 2013, and failed to disclose details on forms required of every elected official by the state. Trips were paid for by groups including the National Governor’s Association, the Republican Governor’s Association, and the Southern Governor’s Association, and were hosted at locales including Washington, D.C., New Orleans, and Scottsdale, Ariz (sorry, none in Asheville). The governor’s staff defended their actions, saying the expenses did not need to be disclosed because they had been paid in the form of “scholarship.” According to the News & Observer, it’s the third time McCrory has filed an amendment to update information on ethics forms from the 2013 calendar year. Meanwhile, another ethics complaint filed against the governor in January appears to have advanced in the State Ethics Commission. More here.
McHenry makes the rounds
Disagreeing with a provision of President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration, U.S. Rep. Patrick McHenry introduced a bill last week that would prohibit undocumented workers from retroactively filing for tax credits from the past three years. The bill, called the “No Free Rides Act,” would also prohibit the same group from receiving the Earned Income Tax Credit. On a recent swing through Asheville, McHenry visited WLOS and WWNC to discuss issues and answer questions. Watch the TV segment here, radio recap here.
Signin’ and slammin’
North Carolina U.S. Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis made waves this week, along with their Republican colleagues, by signing a letter attempting to influence negotiations for a nuclear agreement with Iran. Backlash to the letter was strong, even among Republicans. Still, Burr and Tillis defended their decision, according to a report in the Charlotte Observer. Over in the House, U.S. Rep. Mark Meadows said he thought the letter had merit.
A few other items of note
– A new bill could join Lake Junaluska with Waynesville.
– The state has fined Duke Energy $25 million for contamination near Wilmington.
– At the ACC Tournament, Gov. Pat McCrory recounts his days as a ballboy.
– McCrory’s ethics forms flap, summarized in a Kevin Siers cartoon.
– Having Kay Hagan withdrawals? She reflected on her loss in a recent interview.