The NC General Assembly Needs Tax Dollar Transparency

Jun 23, 2017 by AFP

Webster’s Dictionary will tell you an “earmark” is “a provision in Congressional legislation that allocates a specified amount of money for a specific project, program, or organization.” Particularly egregious earmarks are called “pork barrel spending,” or sometimes just “pork.”

Despite all the positives of this year’s North Carolina state budget – the Appropriations Act of 2017 – it still has pork in it. This problem is not unique to this year’s budget, but it can be fixed through greater transparency in the budget process.

Here are just a few examples of pork in this year’s budget:

  • $15 million in recurring funds for the Film and Entertainment Grant;
  • $5.75 million in downtown revitalization projects around the state;
  • $500,000 increase in funding for the grassroots arts program by the NC Arts Council;
  • $100,000 to the North Carolina Wildlife Habitat Foundation for the Oyster Highway project on the New River, in Onslow County;
  • $80,000 to the Pocosin Arts organization, in Columbia, NC;
  • $50,000 to the “Dreams of Wilmington” project;
  • $50,000 for the Earl Scruggs Center, in Shelby, NC;
  • $50,000 to the Arts Council of Wilmington and New Hanover County; and
  • $20,000 for the Cherokee County Historical Museum.

There are more special earmarks in the budget beyond these. Who asked for them to be in the budget?

We do not know.

Did anyone have to publicly defend using statewide taxpayer dollars for these special projects?

No, they did not.

Increasing earmark transparency in the state budget process would likely stop a good portion of this pork spending in the state budget.

Back in February, Rep. Verla Insko (D-Orange) – who does not align with Americans for Prosperity on very many issues – filed a very simple bill that would have dramatically increased budget transparency.  Her short bill would have simply added into law that, “Every special provision contained in the Current Operations Appropriations Act shall indicate the name of the member or members who requested the provision.” Simple!

Unfortunately, despite being sent to the state House Appropriations Committee on February 9th, the bill was never heard or debated. Rep. Insko also tried to amend the 2017 House Permanent Rules – the rules of the state House itself – to include her transparency language. This amendment also failed.

While tax cuts and overall controlled spending are great things for North Carolina taxpayers, we deserve to know our tax money is not being spent on pet projects. If a project is important enough to use public funds for, then a legislator should be proud to put their name on it.

Let’s hope Rep. Insko files her bill again, and that more legislators stand up to support greater transparency instead of backroom pork barrel deals.