Throughout the ongoing state budget negotiations in Raleigh, lawmakers have frequently cited that North Carolina is in the midst of a massive “budget crisis” – perhaps the worst this state has seen since the Great Depression. Behind the political rhetoric about “draconian cuts” to spending and claims of severe belt-tightening, however, is a list of more than $650 million in earmark spending requests – many of which will leave observers scratching their heads.
Consider these requests the “wish list” for our General Assembly.
In recent years, much attention and scrutiny has been placed on the use of “earmarks” in the Federal budget. The Federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) describes an earmark as “funds provided by the Congress for projects or programs where the congressional direction (in bill or report language) circumvents the merit-based or competitive allocation process, or specifies the location or recipient, or otherwise curtails the ability of the Executive Branch to properly manage funds.”
Applied to North Carolina, any bill that requests funding could be categorized as an “earmark” if it directs state funds to a specific recipient or geographic location. Most of these projects should be financed by local governments, subject to local taxpayer approval. Further, earmarks represent spending that bypasses an appropriate legislative process. For example, many earmark bills involve funding requests for capital projects on college campuses throughout the state. Such financing decisions should be made based on consultation with the UNC Board of Governors, not by the respective power of the legislators making the earmark requests.
In North Carolina, earmarks are not included in the actual budget. Legislators file bills appropriating funds to specific projects as a sort of “signal” of their intention to lobby for such spending to be included in the final budget.
While it appears little, if any, of the spending included in this year’s earmark bills will actually make it into the state budget, it is instructive to look at this wish list to learn more about how our elected officials would spend our money – if only they had more of it.
Some of the more questionable of these spending requests include: $1.7 million to purchase land and begin planning for construction of a research complex at UNC A&T that resembles the Star Fleet Training Academy from the Star Trek movie; half a million dollars for a John Coltraine Music Hall in High Point; $200,000 for researching the remains of Blackbeard’s pirate ship; $150,000 for the construction and operation of an “environmentally friendly” welcome center in Wilkes County; $25,000 for an outdoor drama entitled “Horn in the West,” and many others.
The Civitas Institute in Raleigh has compiled a complete list of earmark requests, which you can view here.
The wish list of our elected politicians underscores a profound disconnect between the political class and average citizens. At a time when North Carolina families are struggling to find work and put food on their tables, our elected leaders desire to spend your tax dollars to finance such items as an outdoor drama, a sunken pirate ship and a star fleet academy.