Gov. Perdue has announced that the state Department of Transportation will not collect fees on coastal ferries this year – as legislated in the budget passed last summer.
This story has several interesting aspects. First is the legal authority of the Governor to circumvent legislation passed by the General Assembly. The Governor’s office claims that state law allows for DOT to exercise discretion as to whether or not to collect the tolls. Legislative leaders, on the other hand are upset about Perdue circumventing laws they passed in the budget.
Secondly, there is an examination of the ferry system itself. Taxpayers subsidize 94 percent of the ferry operations (according to Rep. Frank Iler cited in the N&O article). So the legislation asking for increased user fees totaling a few million dollars would still mean that taxpayers would be subsidizing in the neighborhood of 85 percent of ferry operations. Moreover, as examined in this 2010 Civitas article, the ferry division has recently been investigated by state authorities “into allegations of inflated salaries, reckless spending, and nepotism revealed by former ferry director, Harold Finch.”
Confirmed incidents of nepotism by NCDOT Ferry Division staff and seemingly bloated salaries were the first incriminating details to surface in this saga of government waste and corruption. An assistant to a senior ferry official was found to have used tax payer money for her own benefit in hiring both her husband and her sister to work with her in Manns Harbor.
Finch also made serious claims of wasteful spending practices perpetrated by the Ferry Division. He stated that the Ferry Division would spend without regard to budgetary constraints, and simply ask the General Assembly for more when money ran out. Indeed, recent history has shown an explosion in the Ferry Division’s budget. Annual expenditures for the Ferry Division in the 2003-2004 budget came to about $20 million and has grown almost every year since. This year, both the House and Senate agreed to an $11 million increase in funding, bringing the annual Ferry Division budget to a shocking $41 million.
So here we have a division wrought with corruption and irresponsible budgeting, whose budget has exploded in recent years. Certainly, the bright side to this story is that this questionable division will need to trim a little bit of fat.
Lastly, however, is Perdue’s rather bizarre statement concerning her actions blocking the ferry fee increase:
“This new ferry tax – which I have always opposed – is both excessive and discriminatory,” Perdue said in a news release. “It is unjust for the General Assembly to balance their budget on the backs of coastal working men and women.”
This selective indignation is highly curious coming from the Governor who signed on to the largest tax increase in state history in 2009 in order to “balance the budget on backs” of “working men and women” throughout the entire state.
Moreover, since when is Perdue against “discriminatory” use of taxes? This is the same woman that champions countless targeted tax credits for
cronies economic development purposes, such as film tax credits and renewable energy tax credits (not to mention discriminatory subsidies including the One North Carolina Fund and JDIG funds, etc.) – such tax credits are undeniably discriminatory as they are available only to a select few companies chosen at the discretion of politicians like Perdue.
Would it be too strong of an accusation to label Perdue’s statement about the ferry fee as hypocritical?