The Beat: A look at what’s been making headlines around WNC

The North Carolina General Assembly convened its new session in Raleigh this week. In a major power shift, Republicans are taking control of both the House and Senate for the first time since 1898. It might not be so grand a party, however, as they face a $3.7 billion budget deficit.

In the online post "County's Newest Legislator, Tim Moffitt, Gives CIBO his Take on the Work Ahead," Xpress reported that the Republican who defeated Rep. Jane Whilden in November promised a "philosophical shift" from a mindset of spending to one of saving.

“For decades, whatever came in through finance was spent by appropriations without any real plan for a rainy day,” he told an audience of local business owners.

Look for Xpress to check in with local Democratic representatives Patsy Keever and Susan Fisher soon, as we launch a new online feature, "N.C. Matters: The State Beat," which will include regular reports on all our local legislators.

Last week, the Smoky Mountain News devoted a cover story to the issues facing the General Assembly. In "Does Right Equal Might? Republicans Take Control Next Week," the Haywood County weekly reported that the new leadership is looking at everything from redrawing voting districts to slashing school budgets to privatizing the Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission.

And in one example of a difficult state funding decision, Xpress recently reported in an online post that "Swannanoa Valley Youth Development Center, Camp Woodson to Close." In a statement, the Department of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention blamed the Office of State Budget and Management's requirement that all state agencies cut their operational expenses by an additional 2.5 percent this year. Currently 84 staff members are employed at the Youth Development Center and 19 in the Woodson Wilderness Challenge. Both facilities and associated programs are scheduled to close March 1.

Crimes around WNC, new bathrooms coming to Pack Square, Shuler votes "no" on health care repeal

In Western North Carolina crime news, "Cherokee Mothertown, Kituwah, Target of Vandalism," the Tuckasegee Reader reported. According to the article, "perpetrators lifted a cattle gate off of its hinges and drove a full-size pickup truck onto the [Swain County] complex, making at least one pass over the Kituwah mound, which is the focal point of an archeological site that dates to the Mississippian period."

Meanwhile, over in Madison County, the News-Record & Sentinel reported that a "Crime Spree Tears Through Walnut Community." During the early morning hours of a recent snowstorm, Charles Blagg allegedly tried to steal four cars and break into a home in the rural Walnut area. “Based upon interviews, he was grossly intoxicated on alcohol and other controlled substances,” Madison County Sheriff Buddy Harwood explained.

And in another case of impaired judgment, BlueRidgeNow reported that "Alcohol, Speed Played Part in Fatal Accident" in Henderson County. "The driver of the vehicle had some sort of altercation with another driver and sped off before the accident occurred," said N.C. Highway Patrol Sgt. Rusty Jones. "The driver has been charged with driving under the influence and driving while their license was revoked." At press time, the names of the individuals involved had not been released.

In better news, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported "Asheville Group to Move Ahead with Pack Square Restrooms." After a long delay, a new pavilion, restrooms and a visitor information desk are scheduled to be completed in downtown's Pack Square Park by early July.

And in politics, the daily paper reported that "Heath Shuler Votes Against GOP Repeal of Health Law." Despite having voted against the law last year, the Western North Carolina Democrat said in a statement that repealing it now was the wrong way to go. He emphasized that it would be "immoral and unproductive" to repeal provisions in the law that "allow parents to maintain insurance coverage for their children until the age of 26, help senior citizens pay for their prescription drugs and prevent denial of coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions."

About Jake Frankel
Jake Frankel is an award-winning journalist who enjoys covering a wide range of topics, from politics and government to business, education and entertainment.

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