Opinion: Carolina Beat

No. 836: They’re spending my money on what?

N.C. Senate and House conferees are trying to reconcile their $17 billion budgets beyond closed doors. We can all rest easy. It’s not like the General Assembly honorables have abused our trust in the past by giving themselves control over $30 million in discretionary funds to create jobs for their cronies or to make sidewalks look nice instead of making roads safe.

Oh wait, they did.

Every month this year has added another $100 million to revenues. The latest estimate is excess revenues of more than $500 million. But senators and House members argue they need to raise taxes to pay for schools and Medicaid, that they need to raise fees to pay for roads, and that everything else in the budget is essential for the state.

You be the judge. If you can justify all 10 of the following spending items, not including the funhouse of education spending, from either the Senate or House budgets, Senate President Pro-Tem Marc Basnight may have a place for you in the Assembly.

Governor’s Transition Team and Inauguration
The Senate included $325,000 in its budget to pay for these two items even though the next gubernatorial transition and inauguration won’t be until 2009. The House did not include them. Maybe the Senate plans to set the money aside in a reserve fund.

Kid’s Voting
Both the Senate and House would spend $200,000 on this worthwhile-sounding program that teaches children to vote for the most attractive candidates by including pictures on the mock ballots.

Southeast Agriculture Center/Farmers Market
When Sen. David Weinstein of Robeson County, who is no foe of state spending, asks to end $282,750 in state funding for a farmers market, why would the House put that money back in the budget? I don’t know either, but they did.

CIAA Tournament Promotion
The House has proposed adding $500,000 to promote the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association basketball tournament, which will move to Charlotte from Raleigh in 2006. Somehow the CIAA cannot promote the tournament as effectively in a larger city closer to more of its schools. During the tournament’s six-year run in Raleigh, the state spent no money to promote it. There are no provisions for the state to promote the Middle Eastern Athletic Conference tournament in Raleigh.

High Point Furniture Market
Yes, High Point has been the place to go for furniture, but when everyone from High Point wants to go to Las Vegas, why should the Senate and House spend $1 million to stop them?

Roanoke Rapids Music/Entertainment Complex
There should be a place to see good concerts and good family entertainment in Roanoke Rapids. Those who live there and those who stop off Interstate 95 deserve it. But the state’s taxpayers should not pay $750,000 to build it if nobody else will. The House thinks we should.

Advanced Vehicle Research Center
Not only should Roanoke Rapids get a new entertainment complex, it should host a test track and other facilities in the hope that the automotive industry will test fuel cells and other technologies. This is such a good idea that the sponsors of the program need $7.5 million from taxpayers to start work and find companies to locate there.

Kerr-Tar Hub
What distinguishes the counties north of the Research Triangle area from the Triangle? According to the House, nothing that $6 million can’t fix. Four counties will create the non-profit Kerr-Tarr Hub, Inc., to attract companies, but they have no idea yet which industries to target.

Vision Plan Implementation
The seven regional economic development commissions would receive $1.75 million from the House to continue to implement their vision plans. This is in addition to the $1.75 million they received to first come up with the visions. The only people not getting state money in this economic development mess are taxpayers themselves.

Global TransPark
Just in case any of the last four ideas sounded good, remember that the GTP, the original money pit, has drained at least $140 million of public funds in the last 14 years. There are 200 employees there instead of the 55,000 expected by 1998, and those include three state agencies and GTP itself. But it’s not done yet. The Senate and House each allocate another $1.6 million. It may be better than subsidies directly to companies or social engineering, but wouldn’t you rather just have the money back?

Joseph Coletti is fiscal policy analyst with the John Locke Foundation and author of Freedom Budget 2005, an alternative state budget.