When a conservative majorities seized control of the legislature back in 2011, they came to power under a welcome pledge of promoting transparency and open process. Today, sadly, these pledges ring hollow. If anything, sweetheart deals and special gifts for favored fat cats are just as common as ever.
See for example the recent story by investigative reporter Dan Kane in Raleigh’s News & Observer about how a powerful state lawmaker (Rep. Jimmy Dixon) slipped a special $830,000 appropriation into the state budget last year. The money was to address water and sewer concerns at an exclusive golf community in Duplin County started by the powerful hog farming magnate, Wendell Murphy. This despite the fact that a separate state fund already exists to prioritize and allocate funds to such projects and that the nearest impacted town – Wallace – hadn’t even requested the money. Dixon had also received more than $42,000 in political contributions down through the years from Murphy, his family and employees.
Happily, important voices are now speaking out against the giveaway. Yesterday’s lead editorial in the News & Observer put it this way:
“This kind of special interest legislation may be a tradition in North Carolina – Republicans learned it well from Democrats, true enough – but it’s not healthy and not appropriate. If ever there were a bill aimed at helping out a specific business, it’s this one, and what makes it all the more objectionable is that hog farming made Wendell Murphy a very wealthy man, one who could easily afford to finance a sewer upgrade….
Wendell Murphy has been most generous to his alma mater, N.C. State, and he’s no doubt been generous to worthy causes in his home county. But even though Dixon and others connected to Murphy say the former state senator had nothing to do with getting this appropriation done, Murphy should have stepped in front of this.
Alas, this is old-fashioned, back-scratching politics, practiced at taxpayer expense. And it’s hardly a glorious tradition, now is it?”
And this morning, a critical editorial in the Fayetteville Observer notes that the giveaway comes at the same time that lawmakers have been denying funding to clean up pollution problems impacting large swaths of the state:
“We have no fundamental problem with earmarks. Local lawmakers should be able to recommend and push for funds for the local projects that they know will benefit their own communities. Road construction, school buildings, park acquisitions, museums and other public facilities, even municipal sewer installations — there are long lists of projects that are an appropriate use of taxpayer funding, things that improve the quality of life in our communities. But we’re not at all sure that such prompt, generous funding is appropriate in service to wealthy developers, especially when it doesn’t quite pass the sniff test, given the political donations involved. And it’s especially unfortunate when the General Assembly loads more than $70 million in earmarks into the budget but is refusing to help state agencies combat a bona fide public health and safety emergency in and around the Cape Fear River — or anywhere else in the state, for that matter.
That sends a pretty ugly message.”
Let’s hope the chorus continues to grow.