Things We Could Do Without in the State Budget

On Monday, legislators gave final approval of a $20.7 billion budget for the 2007-08 Fiscal Year. Less than a day later, Gov. Mike Easley signed and sealed the package.

The budget appropriates $2.6 billion to the University of North Carolina system and $938 million for the community colleges.

“We have put reality behind the vision of an affordable, debt-free education from pre-kindergarten to an undergraduate degree at a state university,” Easley said in a statement. “Out of this budget, North Carolina emerges a leader in education on the national scene. History will note the courage and foresight of those who did not just make easy promises, but did the hard work to keep those promises and stand up for the future of our state.”

Among the items included in the budget are some that Gov. Easley and budget writers should be proud of, in my opinion. The budget spends $1.5 million to allow part-time private college students to participate in the legislative tuition grant program and $177,000 to provide additional funding for the Gateway Technology Center on the campus of North Carolina Wesleyan College. It also makes reductions to follow the recommendations of the President’s Advisory Committee on Efficiency and Effectiveness.

But there is also a collection of pork projects that takes away from the general mission of educating students. The projects range from saving shellfish to providing operational costs to successful programs.

Here is a list of some projects (in no particular order) that could easily be removed from the budget without affecting a student’s education:

North Carolina State Center for Universal Design ($300,000 non-recurring): According to the budget, the money will be used to provide general funding to the center. The center “promotes accessible and universal design in housing, buildings, outdoor and urban environments and related markets.” If this is a needed enterprise and center, there are certainly people who would be willing to fund its operations. Taxpayers should not be asked to fund what could easily be supported by the private sector.

UNC-Chapel Hill Law School ($2 million recurring): This funding makes up for “deficiencies in the operating budget.” There are ways to make up for deficiencies in the budget other than seeking a bailout from taxpayers. Law school officials could have made cuts – or could even request some of the school’s alumni to make charitable gifts.

Shellfish Restoration Funds ($300,000 non-recurring): The UNC-Chapel Hill Institute of Marine Sciences will receive this funding to restore the North Carolina bay scallop and to conduct a pilot project to protect oyster sanctuaries, among other things. Since there is a market for shellfish, that market would also be willing to pay for such a project. Seeking funds from taxpayers, again, seems like wasteful spending and takes away from the mission of educating students.

Competitiveness Fund ($3 million non-recurring): According to the budget, the funding “creates a research competitiveness fund to support strategic investments in emerging areas of importance to the economic competitiveness of the state.” This seems to duplicate programs at the Department of Commerce.

Inland Port Studies ($100,000 non-recurring):This would provide funding to the Institute for the Economy and the Future at Western Carolina University. It would be used to “study the feasibility of establishing an inland port within the 23 county region of the North Carolina Regional Economic Development Commission, known as AdvantageWest.” Isn’t this the responsibility of the economic development commission? And if so, shouldn’t AdvantageWest pay for the study?

John B. McLendon Leadership Awards ($500,000 non-recurring): This item was added into the budget during conference negotiations and thus possibly violates General Assembly rules. It provides a scholarship to one male athlete and one female athlete at the state’s historic black colleges and universities. Funding for these scholarships could easily come from the private sector.

Hugh Morton Collection ($150,000 non-recurring): Like the McLendon Awards, this was also added to the budget during conference negotiations. It provides funding to the North Carolina Collection at UNC-Chapel Hill to preserve photographs and negatives donated by Hugh Morton. Certainly, there are UNC-Chapel Hill alumni who would be willing to donate to such an effort. Hugh Morton is famous and beloved by North Carolinians. Taxpayers do not need to contribute to something that could easily be funded in the private sector.

Hosiery Technology Center ($100,000 non-recurring): This “provides funding to establish a research and development center for the seamless manufacturing industry.” It would primarily benefit Catawba Valley Community College and Randolph Community College, which are located in areas once dominated by the textile industry. The funding does nothing to educate students and is simply a gift to a stagnant industry.

Motorsports Consortium Funds ($500,000 non-recurring): The funding here would fund curriculum development activities with the North Carolina Motorsports Consortium. With the average NASCAR team (most of which are based in North Carolina) worth $120 million, this could easily be funded through industry resources.