Under the Dome

Dome: One-year legislator gets his way on charter schools

jfrank@newsobserver.comDecember 26, 2012 

Republican state Sen. Wes Westmoreland, a Shelby businessman, served one year in the legislature. He was appointed to replace the retiring Sen. Debbie Clary and didn’t seek re-election. But before he left, the Republican lawmaker made sure to get one more pet cause on a legislative study list.

At one of the final meetings of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Committee, Westmoreland made a stink about what he saw as the N.C. Department of Public Instruction’s sluggish efforts to approve “fast track” charter schools applications.

He asked the committee – which researches topics for lawmakers – to study how the state manages charter schools and how North Carolina can speed its process.

After the meeting last month, Westmoreland acknowledged that he had more than a casual interest in the topic. His frustration stems from personal experience. Westmoreland is a member of the board of directors at Pinnacle Classical Academy, a proposed charter school that applied for fast-track approval in Cleveland County but is awaiting the final go-ahead. His predecessor Clary, now a lobbyist, is also a board member.

“I’m not convinced we are doing everything we can to have successful startups,” he said.

His push appears to have worked. Program Evaluation staffers said at the meeting that they would put the report on the committee’s 2013 list.

Wilmington 10 pardon urged

Gov. Bev Perdue’s looming decision about whether to pardon the Wilmington 10 is getting more national attention. A New York Times editorial called on the outgoing Democratic governor to “finally” pardon the group, which became an international symbol in the civil rights movement after being wrongly convicted for a fire during a racial disturbance in Wilmington 40 years ago.

The Sunday editorial noted the newly discovered documents from the prosecutor that suggest he racially profiled potential jurors.

“Anger over this case has continued to fester in the black community,” the editorial said. “At a 40th anniversary commemoration last year in Wilmington, civil rights leaders rightly decided that the wrongly convicted warranted a pardon from Ms. Perdue. By providing it, she can finally bring a close to one of the more shameful episodes in North Carolina history.”

Perdue has 10 days left before Pat McCrory takes office on Jan. 5.

Rucho talks tax reform

A recent Civitas Institute study of tax reform includes ideas, such as eliminating personal and corporate income taxes, that are among those that Sen. Bob Rucho is exploring, according to a conversation the Mecklenburg Republican had with The Insider, Dome’s political cousin.

According to The Insider, Rucho’s ideas include replacing the business franchise tax, corporate income tax and personal income tax with an expanded sales tax to include services, a 1 percent real estate conveyance tax and a minimum $500 or 1.05 percent business license fee. Rucho told the newsletter that he sees the ideas producing a tax structure that is simpler, more transparent and less volatile, and encourages business growth. “The existing system isn’t going to work now or in the future,” he was quoted as saying.

Rucho also acknowledged to The Insider that pushing any tax reform measure through the legislature wouldn’t be easy, noting there had been seven separate efforts to examine tax reform in recent years, with no legislation passed. Most of those previous efforts focused on lowering sales tax rates and eliminating sales tax loopholes while broadening the tax to cover services.

Rucho said that he is speaking to industry groups regarding the ideas but that he believes “everyone should have skin in the game.”

Staff writers John Frank and Mary Cornatzer

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