Saturday, December 08, 2007

A conservative Viewpoint
- North Carolina Needs Less Legislative Pork

Article by Bob Steinburg
- Edenton, North Carolina: Cradle of the Colony

There is an obesity epidemic in the U. S. and North Carolinians are among the most significantly overweight. Perhaps the steady diet of pork we’ve been fed by our Democratic- controlled state legislature over many years has contributed to our declining physical and fiscal health. We North Carolinians need to consider changing this steady diet of fat to something leaner.

The phrase “pork barrel spending” originates from the Civil War era when slave owners dipped into the barrels of cured pork to feed their slaves. Today it is the taxpayers who are being fed from the pork barrel.

Former U. S. Senator Everett Dirkson from Illinois said “A hundred dollars here, a thousand dollars there and the next thing you know your talking about real money.” North Carolina’s $205.4 million in new pork barrel spending for fiscal years 2007-09 is real money and state taxpayers are often clueless where these tax dollars go. One thing is for certain-- excessive pork consumption has contributed to North Carolina’s unenviable distinction of being the highest tax state in the southeast.

Pork barrel spending are payouts benefiting a legislator’s district and can be in the form of slush funds given to preferred groups to be spent at their discretion. It can also include money for nonprofit organizations that should really be raising cash on their own. The Democrats who have controlled Raleigh for years have used this spending as a tool to insure they remain in power by delivering the bacon to their districts. This often flies in the face of fiscal responsibility.

The Civitas Institute, a research and public policy organization in Raleigh, provides some examples of the millions of taxpayer dollars wasted on pork barrel projects in the new state budget:

• $ 25 million on a public-private partnership for the N.C. Research Campus at Kannapolis.
• $14 million for the “One North Carolina Fund,” that critics have labeled Governor Easley’s “walking around money” used for special handouts to preferred corporations in his business recruitment efforts.
• $14 million from the highway fund for an “economic development fund” that is basically a slush fund for the 14 members of the Board of Transportation who each receive $1 million to spend as they see fit.
• $3.5 million for a vaguely described N. C. Center for Automotive Research.
• $1.2 million to provide chauffeured limousine transportation for trade shows of “international significance.”
• $250,000 for the non-profit Jewish Heritage Foundation to produce a documentary on Jewish life in North Carolina.
• $2 million to Johnston & Wales University-a private university in Charlotte. This fulfilled a promise made by Democrat House speaker Jim Black who resigned earlier this year for political malfeasance.

Examining the entire earmark (money requested but not actually spent) last session, submissions totaled $1.49 billion dollars and by a ratio of 6 to 1 those were made by Democrats. The Democrat spending requests amounted to 86 percent of the total dollar amount considered by the legislature, compared to Republicans 14 percent. It appears Democrats have more of a taste for pork than Republicans.

There is also recurring spending in our state budget for items that can also be considered pork. Unlike the aforementioned, which needs legislative consideration and approval for each budget period, recurring items, once passed, never need to be voted on again.

A glaring recurring waste item is the millions of dollars being dumped into Lenoir County’s Global Transpark in Kinston, which has never lived up to it’s mission. It was envisioned as a tool to bring jobs to economically depressed eastern North Carolina from new global or domestic industry. It also was designed as a launching pad for our state’s agricultural exports abroad. While a grand idea on the surface, there was one basic ingredient missing that would have increased the probability of the industrial park’s success: highway access. Highway 70 is simply inadequate to handle the trafficking for the likes of a UPS, Volvo, or BMW. It’s time to pull the plug and put this dog to rest.

A union leader once told me that even though he knew the management of his company was in extreme financial peril he could not convince his fellow union members. The membership said if he wanted to remain president he had to press for more wages and benefits or else they would strike. He did. The company closed its doors.

Unlike those unrealistic union members we must realize we are paying a heavy price for our legislature’s excessive pork spending projects, much of which never sees the light of day. Not all pork is bad, but like everything else in life, moderation is the key to healthy living.

How can we blame democrats? When Republicans had control in Washington, they proved to be more guilty of earmarks and pork than Democrats. What is our future? Hopefully not our legacy. At least one party needs to clean up its act so the taxpayers have a choice. It is not likely to be the democrat party, so hopefully the Republicans will return to their roots. Someone needs to be the party we can trust.


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