(USA Today) Low gas prices have rekindled talk on Capitol Hill about raising the federal gas tax to eliminate huge annual deficits in the federal Highway Trust Fund that pays for road and bridge work around the country. While some top Republicans remain adamant a tax hike is not the answer, there are signs that the idea, including one from Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, is at least getting a fresh look. Corker and Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., have proposed raising the federal gas tax by 12 cents over two years and indexing it to inflation. To make the concept more palatable to fiscal conservatives, the measure would lower other taxes. The 18.4-cent-per-gallon gas tax hasn’t been raised since 1993. As vehicles have become more efficient, the revenue generated by the tax has dropped. Current stopgap funding for the Highway Trust Fund expires in May, and transportation officials in Tennessee and other states are holding back projects until uncertainty about the federal money is addressed.
(Raleigh News & Observer) President Barack Obama’s dramatic proposal for free community college for Americans was met with both excitement and criticism Friday. He outlined his plan in a speech at a community college in Tennessee – a state that pays community college cost for residents with lottery money. Ninety percent of Tennessee high school graduates have applied for “Tennessee Promise,” the program launched by that state’s governor, Republican Bill Haslam. “Community colleges should be free for those willing to work for it,” Obama said. “Because in America, a quality education cannot be a privilege that is reserved for a few.” The program, dubbed “America’s College Promise,” would provide two years of free community college for students with at least a 2.5 grade point average making progress toward a two-year degree or a technical certificate in a high-demand field. It would cover tuition but not living expenses or other costs.
(Asheville Citizen-Times) Chief William Anderson downplayed concerns about putting new police officers on the street without the supervision of trainers, according to a lieutenant’s testimony in a Civil Service Board hearing. The city on Wednesday won its motion to dismiss Lt. Mark Byrd’s grievance, but on the grounds he did not meet the filing deadline in the matter. Byrd’s attorney, John Hunter, disagreed with the decision and said Byrd would consider appealing to state Superior Court. Byrd filed a grievance after he was transferred from special operations in patrol to logistics in administration. He said Anderson retaliated against him with the transfer after he raised his concerns about staffing, including the use of field training officers. “Placing rookie cops with veteran officers,” Byrd read from the email Anderson wrote during a hearing on Wednesday. “Wow. What a novel idea.” Byrd said the note, which he felt was derogatory, linked to a news story about the practice in New York. He said he was also later told he was wrong raising the concern internally and questioning the chief. Once in his new position in logistics, Byrd raised concerns about lapsed radar certifications that resulted in hundreds of traffic tickets being dismissed. He also flagged problems in evidence handling. The city asked the board to dismiss his grievance, saying it can’t be heard because he did not file it on time. None of the central concerns of the grievance or the merits of it were addressed.
(Asheville Citizen-Times) The city should overhaul the police department before hiring a new chief, according to a group that represents officers across the state. The North Carolina Police Benevolent Association also wants input on hiring a replacement for outgoing Chief William Anderson, its executive director, John Midgette, said Saturday. Mayor Esther Manheimer on Saturday said City Manager Gary Jackson would appoint an interim chief and start the process of finding a new chief. The city has said it will search nationally. Anderson, 58, announced his Dec. 31 retirement Friday after weeks of turmoil. His decision comes as state regulators conduct a preliminary inquiry into standards at the department. His decision to leave came about a month after a quarter of the city’s officers signed a petition saying they had no confidence in the department’s leaders. A Citizen-Times investigation into the department found allegations of on-the-job retaliation, an increase in officer resignations and administrative errors that led to officers using expired radar guns. Hundreds of traffic cases have been dismissed.
(Mountain XPress) The Pisgah and Nantahala National Forests may be our shared, public lands. But what do we do with them? How do we preserve and protect them — and for what uses? These were the questions posed at the first of Carolina Public Press’s Newsmakers series, held Thursday, Nov. 13. The lively discussion focused on the U.S. Forest Service’s draft plan for 1 million acres of public lands in Western North Carolina — and demonstrated just how passionate area residents are about the public lands that are part of the region’s great outdoors.