The big story out of last week’s UNC Board of Governors meeting was the approval of a new tuition strategy. The plan, announced ahead of the meeting by UNC President Erskine Bowles, sets an annual 6.5 percent ceiling on tuition hikes at all 16 institutions.

For the first time, it also takes into account student fees, which campuses have raised in recent years to cover everything from stadium additions to parking decks. Under the formula, some of the money from the hikes has to be dedicated, with 25 percent set aside for student aid and 25 percent for faculty pay. After years of erratic–and sometimes huge–jumps in tuition and fees, the move should make it easier for campuses and students to budget ahead.

But the mantra of making tuition predictable and affordable is just one side of the strategy. The other side is an interesting twist that Bowles and UNC Veep and chief pencil Jeff Davies built into the plan: The legislature has averaged an increase of 6 percent a year for the UNC system. For every 1 percent increase over that, the tuition cap drops by 1 percentage point.

Bowles was clear with the Board of Governors last Friday that the tuition structure is part of an integrated legislative strategy. Knowing they’ll be cutting down a tuition hike gives legislators an extra carrot to increase funding.

National ‘lections

One of the cool things about being constantly mistaken as a pundit (I think it’s the glasses) is that on occasion you get to sit around a table with people who actually know something.

On a couple of recent sunny, bi-partisan afternoons, I heard some commonality of opinion; the Senate is iffy, the House goes (the high range, offered by a Republican, was the GOP losing 30 seats) and Dems are nervous that an over-enthusiastic House leadership might outrun its headlights and give the GOP good fodder for ’08.

A couple of other things to watch: In addition to the size of the implosion of their religious-right strategy, the GOP is facing an about-face on the part of Hispanics, a group they were successfully wooing until the only immigration policy they could come up with was a 700-mile fence that likely won’t ever be built.

Sharpe image

Fifth District U.S. Rep. Virginia Foxx’s Sunday morning didn’t start so well with the Winston-Salem Journal, hardly a lefty publication and the largest paper in her district, endorsing Democratic challenger Roger Sharpe. The 12-county 5th District, held by Richard Burr for five terms, runs along the state’s northern border–ranging from tree farms to the I-85 urban corridor. The Journal praised Sharpe, a former state senator, for a thoughtful, civil campaign and took Foxx to task for marching in lock-step with the administration. The only time she bucked Bush was over Katrina aid (ouch), the Journal noted, then added:

“On most other issues, however, Foxx has not only swallowed the party line uncritically; she has also helped to spread it.”

Air America lands

Air America, the lefty network built to counter the right’s monopoly on talk radio, filed for Chapter 11 last week after it said talks broke down with a major creditor. Two North Carolina stations, WCHL in Chapel Hill (1360 AM) and WPEK in Asheville (880 AM), broadcast several shows in the AA lineup, including The Al Franken Show, which has brought the comedian and pundit on a couple of trips through the state. The company released a statement last Friday vowing to stay on the air.

Sticking to their story

As of this writing, the Wall Street Journal hadn’t responded to Congressman Charles Taylor’s call for a retraction after a front-page story noted a link between the congressman’s earmarks in legislation and the location of some of his businesses, including highway projects near land holdings and $3.8 million in federal funds for a park in downtown Asheville right in front of the flagship for Taylor’s banking business.

Bernard Allen, 1937-2006

Last week, Wake County Rep. Bernard Allen, on his way to re-election for a third term, died suddenly after a blood clot entered his lung. Allen, who suffered a stroke in September, was 69. Though most reports cite his sponsorship of the lottery, Allen, a former teachers’ lobbyist, used his position in the General Assembly to advocate for educators and the poor. Allen’s name remains on the ballot and votes for him will go to his successor. Next week, Wake Dem exec committee members from District 33 will select a replacement to complete his current term and for the November election.