Opinion: Carolina Beat

CJ Editorial: The Global TransPark, Busted!

The following editorial appeared in the May 2001 print edition of Carolina Journal:

RALEIGH — An April report by the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division concluded, among other things, what Carolina Journal has asserted for years. The N.C. Global TransPark Authority near Kinston cannot support itself; the $25 million debt it incurred from the state’s Escheat Fund cannot be repaid with current revenues; and the TransPark can be offloaded, piece by piece, to other public or private entities, and off the taxpayer dole.

The report also projected that the TransPark is nearly 15 years away from generating enough private-sector “benefits” to exceed the state’s investment in the authority — and that a project initially estimated to create 55,000 jobs is instead employing fewer than 400 people.

It’s time to cut the cord and start bringing North Carolina’s commitment to this foolhardy project to an end.

The General Assembly formed the GTP Authority in 1991 to serve as an industrial park and transportation network to handle international cargo flights. But the infrastructure needed to link the GTP with major highway and rail routes remains unfinished. “Furthermore,” the report said, “overly optimistic, initial job projections make it appear as if the Authority has fallen short of its adopted mission.” No kidding.

For the most part, the GTP’s business model has been bribery. Deploy tax-funded economic incentives to get companies to lease space, hoping that eventually some poor sucker will be foolish enough to pay full price. Rather than generating revenues, the authority has depended on subsidies from the General Assembly, grants from the federal government, and other sources. The authority loses $3 million annually, generating less than $2 million from leases and other revenues but owing between $4 million and $5 million in operating costs.

That’s no way to run a railroad.

GTP also obtained a $25 million loan from the state’s Escheat Fund — which handles unclaimed property — that cannot be repaid. Including interest, that debt is now roughly $40 million. Last year, CJ reported that the authority had no plans to retire the debt; this latest legislative report confirmed our earlier findings.

So what to do? The debt to the Escheat Fund must be retired; as of now, the main options are getting more money from the General Assembly (in other words, additional taxpayer subsidies to the GTP) or selling off some of the property at the park. We urge the latter.

Moving forward, the state needs to divest fully from the TransPark. The report notes (again, confirming CJ‘s earlier findings) that the airport could be transferred to another governmental entity at no cost to state taxpayers. Lenoir County operated the airport before the GTP was created; it should have an opportunity to reclaim the facility.

Then, as commercial leases expire over the coming decade, the Department of Transportation should begin liquidating commercial real estate at the site. Revenues from those sales should help retire the Escheat Fund debt.

The Global TransPark has been a boondoggle for two decades. The General Assembly should get it off the books before this white elephant turns 30.