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Archive for November 28th, 2012

Changes In Party Control In State Legislatures

Governing.com has an interesting interactive map that shows the results of the 2012 elections on state legislatures across the country.

Here in North Carolina, Republicans increased their control in both chambers. With Republican Pat McCrory in the CEO’s seat, the GOP will have no trouble setting its agenda, which most likely will include tax reform, education reform, and regulatory reform. All of these will be pointed toward getting the state’s economy back on track. That doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements within the Republican caucus over how to go about these reforms. That may well become a very interesting story line in January when the General Assembly reconvenes.

For an excellent roadmap to policies that will lead the state back to stability and, ultimately, prosperity, read John Locke Foundation President John Hood’s latest book, “Our Best Foot Forward.” Hood talks about key ideas here.




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Why Are There So Many Empty Classrooms On College Campuses?

Duke Cheston writes a very interesting piece on the utilization of classroom space on college campuses. On one hand, we continually hear students demanding more sections  of courses. On the other hand, classrooms sit empty for big chunks of the day and evening. I wonder if any legislators will ask questions about this data. They should.

The 17 schools in the University of North Carolina system had an average classroom occupancy of 44 percent in 2009, according to a 2010 study by the system. According to a different study by the UNC administration, its Facilities Inventory and Utilization Study 2011, North Carolina’s community colleges do even worse: the average classroom was used only 18.4 hours per week, or 26 percent of the standard school week. (Four private colleges in the state — Campbell, Mars Hill, Barton, and Pfeiffer — also were part of the study, and they averaged 23 percent classroom usage in 2011).

This suggests that costs are higher than necessary. The average American university spends $2,073 per student per year on building maintenance costs, according to the American Physical Plant Association. The savings that could be realized from more efficient classroom use are substantial. Western Kentucky University, for instance, was able to save more than $345,000 during the summer months alone by making some improvements in classroom use, including temporarily closing energy-inefficient buildings.

In some ways, universities’ apparent poor use of space is the opposite of what one would expect. Colleges have the ability to schedule classes throughout the day and evening, and prestigious universities like UNC-Chapel Hill have no difficulty finding enough students willing to fill classes. Why then do colleges leave so many rooms empty?

Some observers have suggested, based on the pattern of classroom use through the day, that colleges simply give in to the desires of students and professors to sleep late and go home early. At Appalachian State University, for example, 80 percent of classrooms were used during the 11:00 a.m. hour, but only 31 percent were in use at 8:00 a.m., and the evening hours had much lower usage rates.

There may be some truth to that, but other factors, such as limited availability of large classrooms or technologically sophisticated classrooms, also make efficient space use difficult.

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Durham And Orange Counties, Sales Tax Hike For Transit Is Coming

Durham County’s voter-approved half-cent sales tax hike will be imposed on April 1, as it will in Orange County.  Last month, JLF’s former Director of Research, Michael Sanera, provided this data on rail transit, which is a key element of the Triangle counties’ transit plan and the reason this tax is being imposed.

But promises of a “positive impact” on congestion have not panned out in other cities that have wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on rail transit. Of the 33 U.S. cities with some form of rail transit, only six account for more than 1 percent of the passenger miles traveled in the region, and 22 carry less than one-half of 1 percent. Does Orange County want to be like San Jose, where rail makes up 0.42 percent of passenger miles traveled? How about Denver (0.44 percent) or Dallas (0.26 percent)?

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