#ncga: The money fairies of Jones Street

DollarPoliticians using the public treasury to pay off or payback cronies back home is nothing new.  But it is something different when the crowd that spent decades griping about such practices is now enthusiastically DOING IT — now that they are in charge:

 A last-minute addition to the state budget will send $1.25 million to 13 towns for “downtown revitalization” – even though some of them never asked for money and their legislators say they don’t know how the towns were selected.

In the final weeks of budget negotiations, House leaders added the allocation and named 13 recipients, most of which are represented by powerful legislators or close allies of Speaker Tim Moore. The funding sidesteps the N.C. Main Street program, which has for years provided state money for downtown development through a competitive grant process.

Each of the 13 towns will receive about $100,000. A separate Senate allocation, added by Republican Sen. Trudy Wade of Guilford County, will direct $1 million to High Point to turn a library parking lot into a downtown “central gathering space.”

Meanwhile, the Main Street Solutions Fund will get $900,000 for its grant program. Those grants, ranging from $25,000 to $200,000, help renovate downtown properties in poorer communities.

The House’s top budget writer, Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Republican from Cary, said Moore pushed for the $1.25 million in downtown funding.

“In the budget process, very late, the speaker found that we had a little bit of money left,” Dollar said. “I think the speaker thought that it would be best used to assist some of these rural downtowns that these communities had.”

The downtown fund is among a variety of projects in this year’s budget that powerful legislators added to benefit their districts. Moore also garnered funding for a water system project in Kings Mountain and a baseball stadium in Shelby. Senate budget writer Harry Brown directed millions to his district.moneyfairy

The earmarks made it into the final spending compromise, despite major cuts to education and other programs as the overall spending level was lowered by $415 million from the House proposal.

Moore declined to comment for this story, but his spokeswoman provided a news release sent only to media outlets in his Cleveland County district. The announcement highlights downtown grants to Shelby and Kings Mountain and says the money will “help continue growth and job creation. Similar grants have proven extremely effective for other cities across North Carolina.”

Cleveland County is the only county in the state where two towns will receive the downtown money.

Other recipients include Dunn, the hometown of House Rules Chairman David Lewis, and Rutherfordton, the hometown of House Majority Leader Mike Hager. Most of the 13 towns are represented by legislators appointed to leadership positions by Moore or legislators who rarely vote against the House majority. Only one of the towns, Pembroke, is represented by a Democrat.

The unexpected windfall has the towns’ leaders unsure how they’ll spend the money.

“It was a complete surprise, and I think that was the case for all the communities,” said Sarah Edwards, director of the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp. “I don’t know that anybody really knew about it.”

O-kay.  Somebody tell us HOW the NCGOP campaigns with a straight face as the party of fiscal responsibility when they are tossing public money around to people who didn’t even ask for it. 

And while we’re at it — those run down downtown properties are all owned by someone.  Why is it OUR responsibility to fix someone else’s property?

Hold on.  It gets even, um, *better* :

House Speaker Tim Moore and Senate budget writer Harry Brown included a combined $19 million for their home districts in this year’s budget.dolmore

For those of you keeping score, that’s roughly one-one-thousandth of the ENTIRE state budget going to two districts that aren’t exactly booming metropolises.  MORE: 

The spending will benefit a nonprofit baseball organization in Moore’s Cleveland County district, a planned museum in Brown’s hometown of Jacksonville as well as water system, airport and school construction projects.

This type of spending has been common in North Carolina budgets for years – referred to as earmarks or “pork barrel.” When Democrats were in the majority, Republicans often criticized Senate leader Marc Basnight for funding projects around his Dare County district.

Moore and Brown weren’t the only legislators who successfully secured funding for special projects at home this year. But the two leaders appear to have garnered more money and more projects for their districts than any other lawmakers, a News & Observer review of the 400-page budget bill found.

Many of the projects are clearly needed: The Jones County schools in Brown’s district have been in poor condition for years, and Moore’s hometown of Kings Mountain is among many rural communities with aging water lines.

Plenty of other communities, however, have similar needs and won’t be getting help from the state budget. The earmarks highlight Moore and Brown’s clout in the legislature, and the benefits that communities can reap when their lawmaker rises in the leadership ranks.

“Our education system should not be funded based on which member is a member of the majority party and leadership,” said Rep. Nathan Baskerville, a Henderson Democrat who says schools in his rural district along the Virginia border need help too.saine2

“Why couldn’t they go through regular procedures? Let all of the rural infrastructure needs be placed on the table … it shouldn’t be done last-minute in a back room.” […] 

Exactly.  That would be transparency.  You know, the stuff Tim Moore and Thom Tillis promised was going to be the rule, not the exception, in Republican Raleigh.

We’ve got teachers having to spend their own money to buy school supplies. Kids are having to sell candy bars to pay for band instruments and athletic uniforms. The people in Charlotte are getting tolled to pay for a new road.

Yet, Tim Moore’s non-profit baseball group hits the jackpot.  Downtown groups are getting six-figures in state cash they didn’t ask for.  Harry Brown’s folks are getting a museum.  Show of hands.  Is THIS what we all voted for in 2010?  2012? 2014? 

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