Rationing the public pork

It was so predictable. Howls of shock and dismay cry out on press pages under such heading as “Budget cuts.” And, Gasp! Cuts will “include museum.” Soon editorials will ring out across the State chastising the mean Wascally Wepublicans for short-changing their favorite charities. North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory’s two-year budget proposes to stuff less cash in the bags of booty formerly handed freely (and unaccountably) to a plethora of interest groups.

Hundreds of North Carolina State-supported nonprofits that for decades have been allowed to suck “grants” out of the private economy squeal like stuck pigs headed for the BBQ pit. Granting other people’s money is the life blood of nonprofits that assume they do public good.

Benevolent bureaucracies of favored interests and unaccountable, questionable programs find that adults now intend to limit their pigging-out. But once governments’ announce the availability of large barrels of pork many little greedy hands reach in and demand a share.

For example, right here in River City “Sharp criticism” can be heard, according to a Wilmington StarNews article by Molly Parker. Something called a “biotechnology center” has sprung up with six offices in the state; one is in Wilmington. Who would defund biotechnology? Well a “stalwart of fiscal conservatism” might. For example, McCrory’s budget director, North Carolina liberal’s feared nemesis: Art Pope.(link)

Believe it, or not, Pope is actually “touting something called ‘zero-based budgeting’”—a subversive conservative scheme that would require agencies to justify annual spending rather than the current practice of expecting more every year based on what was spent in the previous year. Can you believe it? How stupid is that? Doesn’t everyone budget more spending each year—knowing they will be guaranteed additional money?

This “doesn’t sit well with these targeted organizations,” writes Ms. Parker. She got a predictably negative comment from Norris Tolson, CEO of the biotech center: the proposed state budget would “cause us to default on our commitments.” Well, gee, things are tough all over these days; except for government projects. But bureaucrats have learned the jargon that tickles political fancies and feeds their porkers.

To the bio-grants man words such as: “research and development,” “economic development,” “opportunities,” “jobs,” economic output,” and “education” have a nice sound—like sloshing pork in barrels rolling out of Raleigh (originally money pouring in from taxpayers). Typical of self-servers, the bio-center “credits itself” with “recruitment” that led to jobs and economic output—unrelated to nonprofit projects. Governor McCrory, however, seems to have a different view of the role of government than past administrators.

An Associated Press article by Gary D. Robertson describes why Gov. McCrory wants to cap some public pork barrels. The McCrory plan includes squirreling away nearly $1 billion over the next two years just in case: Medicaid shortfalls and more “economic downturns.” Further, we have reason to hope that the days of political smoke-and-mirrors have passed.(link to a related article)

McCrory says he won’t play “budget tricks” anymore. He refuses to “hide fiscal problems under his watch.” He’s found a lot of hidden cash floating around in various slush funds. Under previous administrations, “pots” of public money were scattered across the state.

One of the biggest is the Golden LEAF, a foundation to distribute money from the federal tobacco “settlement” in the late 1990s (some call this huge scam the Golden Fleece). As far as I know, the general public benefits are unaccounted and unknown (so far $500 million has been spread around by more than 1,100 grants in North Carolina with little to show for it).(link)

McCrory’s plan would shift some money from several large misnamed “trust funds” to the general state budget that will distribute $20.6 billion of taxpayer’s money next year. Some other unnecessary funds include Clean Water Management, Parks and Recreation, Natural Heritage, Grassroots Science and various social justice projects— taking millions of dollars from struggling North Carolina families for few beneficiaries.

Democrats say these funds (mysteriously) “fix” employment problems. But unemployment stays high in this state—evidence that government schemes don’t create productive jobs or add to the economy. Quite the opposite, they siphon money from productive sources and remove incentives for job creators by confiscating their wealth.

I assume that McCrory and state legislators know what’s coming: massive, relentless assaults from lobbyists, lawyers, activists and their press supporters.

A huge network of nonprofit organizations (and government agencies) arm themselves to defend claims to the public pork—every interest from signage to promote a bird reserve to funding Indian economic development will show up to demand a share. Public gardeners, biofuels promoters, museum supporters, environmental land purchasers and a host of other seekers of private wealth will do their dadblamedest to undue the governor’s budget.

And they have a good chance. Few politicians will have the courage to stand by the principle of limited government and the truth that they disserve the general public interest when they choose to serve the special interests.

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About R. E. Smith Jr.

Mr. Smith writes essays and commentary on politics, American history, environment, higher education and culture. He's been published in print media and at blog sites for about 25 years. Smith's formal education includes B.S. and M.S. degrees from the State University of New York and Syracuse University. He has earned a 21-credit hour Certificate in Professional Writing from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington. Training/work experience: NYS Ranger School; U. S. Army, Corp of Engineers; soil scientist and forester with USDA; Assoc. Professor at SUNY; real estate agent; small business owner.
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