North Carolina’s so-called Welcome Centers are indeed a welcome site for full-bladdered motorists in need of a pit stop. And the available maps and tourism brochures may come in handy for curious travelers as well.
But are these facilities a “core function” of state government? Should taxpayers be forced to pay $1.9 million annually to subsidize them?
North Carolina features nine “Welcome Centers” located on interstate highways near state lines. The centers are home to “clean, modern facilities” that offer visitors abundant copies of “the state’s Official North Carolina Travel Guide, the Department of Transportation’s official state map, and other marketing publications exclusively about North Carolina.”
Most of us already knew that. But did you know that each center also has on staff “professional, nationally-certified travel counselors” ready to book room reservations at no charge?
Also part of the nearly $2 million annual cost to taxpayers for the Welcome Centers is more than $35,000 worth of cell phone and email services for the 44.25 full-time equivalent staffers, along with $5,940 for cable TV service.
There really is no need for government to be involved in welcome centers. Any traveler is familiar with highway rest stops that combine gas stations with restaurants that also feature bathrooms, maps and informational brochures. Private enterprises can more than adequately meet the needs of motorists in need of a break.
Instead of continuing to force taxpayers to hand over nearly $2 million every year to fund the welcome centers, the state should sell the facilities to private interests. In many cases, the facilities will go from gobbling up taxpayers’ money to contributing tax revenue to the state. And for those worried about the “commercialization” of welcome centers, private charities can raise money to buy the facilities and preserve them in their present state if they so choose.
Welcome Centers are no concern of state government, and clearly would not be funded if the state budget was “cut to the bone” as so many insist. Because running the centers forces taxpayers to pay for facilities that should instead be supported by voluntary, private support, taxpayer funding for the state’s nine Welcome Centers is this week’s Waste of the Week.