This article is the sixth and last installment in a series of recommendations detailing roughly $1.1 billion in funds and savings to help fill the current budget gap. Click the links in the box titled “Closing the Budget Gap” to see previous recommendations.
The state of North Carolina spends hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars every year to purchase land. The most common rationale provided is that state government must own the land in order to “preserve” it from development. Implicit in this notion is the elitist attitude that state bureaucrats know best how to manage land better than its citizens.
The purchase of land not only costs taxpayers millions when the purchase is made, but also the ongoing cost to “maintain” the land and the property taxes forgone further burden taxpayers in future years.
The current budget crisis makes it highly inappropriate for state lawmakers to be spending tax dollars to buy more land. How are we to take claims of a budget crisis seriously when state government spends $12 million to buy a mountain?
In FY 2008-09 North Carolina will spend approximately $130 million from current year expenditures (see chart) to purchase land, another $50 million in land purchases will be debt-financed through the “Land for Tomorrow” program, and tens of millions more will be spent by various off-budget state funds that are near impossible to track.
Agriculture Research Efficiencies
Furthermore, a May 2008 report by the General Assembly’s Program Evaluation Division evaluated North Carolina’s 18 state-owned and operated agricultural research stations. The report suggested that several of the research facilities and tracts of land were being underused, and consolidating many of them would increase efficiency. Recommendations in the report included closing seven research stations and selling or transferring several tracts of land.
Following the recommendations of the Evaluation Division’s report would produce a one-time cash infusion to the state of $54.7 million, and future recurring annual savings of $3.6 million
Following these recommendations – including those made by the General Assembly’s own Program Evaluation Division – can provide $185 million in revenue to help fill the current budget gap.
|STATE LAND ACQUISITION PROGRAM||DESCRIPTION||FY 2008-09 SPENDING ON LAND PURCHASES|
|Clean Water Management Trust Fund||53% of funds are spent buying land to "conserve buffer zones and protect the state’s water ways"; $434 million already spent from FY 1996-1997 to FY 2006-2007 to purchase land||$53 million|
|Parks & Recreation Trust Fund||Purchases land for parks. Receives funding from the real estate transfer tax||$58 million|
|Natural Heritage Trust Fund||Purchases land to "protect important natural areas." Financed by the real estate transfer tax and fees for personalized license plates||$15 million|
|Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund||Purchase land to "prevent the continued loss of farm lands"||$4 million|