We’ve been told — since the November 6 election — that North Carolina experienced a “conservative revolution.” Yet we have the NCGOP majority in Raleigh sending up trial balloons about things like — oh — jacking up unemployment taxes, not fighting the implementation of ObamaCare, and increasing oversight over and squeezing more money out of THE NORTH CAROLINA RAILROAD.
Yes, boys and girls, you read that right. We owe the federal government BILLIONS. Our economy is in the tank. We’ve got record unemployment and one of the nation’s highest gas tax burdens. And the “honorables” are looking at ways to increase “oversight” and squeeze more money out of business and the general public. Beautiful. Just freakin’ beautiful.
Get a load of this:
The North Carolina Railroad Co. offers rail transportation but owns no locomotives. It’s a private corporation, but the state is its one shareholder, representing millions of taxpayers.
The railroad is indeed a strange bird, one created in 1849 by the Legislature to capitalize on the rapid development of train traffic to move goods and passengers.
Today, it owns 317 miles of rail and land from Charlotte through Greensboro and Raleigh to the Morehead City port and operates largely on the $14 million annually it receives from Norfolk Southern Corp., for use of the rails for freight traffic. Amtrak trains also use the tracks daily.
“It’s unique that the state owns stock in a private railroad corporation,” railroad President Scott Saylor said in an interview. Unlike other state governments that may own their own rails, he added, North Carolina is different because it owns “a railroad franchise.”
So, what do the gatekeepers of Raleigh’s “conservative revolution” have to say about all of this? :
Lawmakers at the General Assembly appear to want the state to become more active owners nearly 15 years after the last private shareholders were bought out. Key legislators sound on board with a proposal for next year’s session that would place more oversight upon the railroad and demand the state receive direct cash dividends again for company shares.
Wait. I thought this “conservative” stuff was all about private property, capitalism, free trade, less regulation and all of that stuff. “Key legislators” — with a GOP majority in both chambers of the NCGA — means Republicans. You know, the guys leading this “conservative revolution.” Read On:
The Program Evaluation Division, the Legislature’s state government watchdog agency, said the state has contributed greatly to the fiscal health of the railroad company. But lawmakers have few avenues for keeping watch.
A recent division report on the railroad recommends lawmakers require the N.C. Railroad provide a one-time $15.5 million dividend in 2013 and resume annual dividends in 2014, expected to be at least $3.7 million. Current law makes a cash dividend optional. The railroad last gave a cash dividend to the state in 2005 of about $10 million.
The railroad “would still have the lion’s share of the money for economic development and track improvements. I don’t think that we’ve gutted their revenue,” said Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell. “The state owns the railroad, so (we’re) just trying to have a reasonable dividend, to get the benefit of the ownership.”
THIS GUY wants to be majority leader for the GOP caucus in the state House. Still feeling good about that “conservative revolution”? Wait, there’s MORE:
The economic downturn, the lack of state revenues and the rise of the Republican majority in the Legislature caused some lawmakers in 2011 to consider whether selling the railroad assets made sense. The division report offered several reasons against the idea, but added now “the state is not profiting financially from being the sole shareholder of the corporation.”
News Flash: Government is NOT in the profit-making business. THAT is the job of private enterprise. SELL THIS MOTHER. What is the concern? Losing one of the many things the bureaucracy controls and mucks up on a daily basis? SELL IT!
Railroad leaders say they’ve been providing alternatives to dividends in recent years that benefit the state. The railroad’s profits have been sown back into replacing aging bridges, doubling tracks in high-congestion areas and improving safety for pedestrians. N.C. Railroad track also will be used later this decade to extend Charlotte’s light rail.
“Extend Charlotte’s light rail”? That sounds like THE RED LINE my Charlotte friends have been fuming about. It’s been blasted all around as a huge waste of money, but the Charlotte chamber and developer crowd (aka “Friends of Pat and Thom” ) wants it.
Saylor said requiring regular cash dividends could make it more difficult to reach the railroad’s goal of completing $437 million in capital improvements, when funds from governments and Norfolk Southern are added. The railroad has saved $70 million toward its $95 million share for the projects.
Saylor said he hopes the railroad one day could help assemble an industrial site along the railroad corridor that could attract an automobile manufacturer. Better rail means companies along the route can grow new firms attracted to the region, according to Saylor, adding the railroad has contributed to creating thousands of jobs.
“The goal of these resources is to give North Carolina a competitive advantage in recruiting industry to the state,” Saylor said.
The division’s report said the state has contributed nearly $200 million to the N.C. Railroad since 1998, mostly in the form of Department of Transportation spending for capital improvements within the railroad’s corridor. The Legislature eased repayment of a $61 million loan it gave to the railroad to complete the private shareholder buyout in 1998.
SELL IT. SELL IT. SELL IT. I WANT MY MONEY BACK. Read On:
Draft legislation considered by lawmakers would require the railroad to disclose more information to lawmakers, hold a strategic plan and explain why objectives weren’t met. The railroad also would give the state 14 tracts of land to sell that are providing little or no income. […]
Yep. That’ll surely increase the railroad’s efficiency. That legislative oversight stuff has done such a *swell* job with the rest of the bureaucracy.
It’s a slap in the face of the taxpayers to demand we cough up even more of our hard earned money when the state is wasting money like this. SELL THE RAILROAD. SELL THE PORTS. Close down the Human Relations Commission. (Six figures a year for someone to plan the annual MLK celebration — and poke around in other stuff that really is more in the domain of the Attorney General? Really?)
Take a chainsaw to it all. (Where’s Leatherface from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” when you really need him? )
A private company — free of the constraints of government — could do SO MUCH better with the railroads and the ports than these bureaucrats and politicos.
If we’re going to spend the next four years rewarding Charlotte friends of Thom and Pat, increasing regulations, and squeezing MORE MONEY out of the public, we’re not going to have much of a conservative revolution. In fact, all we will have really done is let a new set of money-changers into the temple.