If all politics are local, then every budget is about the effect the budget will have upon one’s district. While legislators clearly pay attention to a budget’s effect on specific statewide programs (education, roads, state parks, etc.), legislators pay particular attention to what is in their backyards. As an Appropriations Chair, I am particularly aware of this because I am one of the legislators who hear directly from my colleagues about how funding is needed for specific local needs or wants.
Some view requests for monies for local projects as “pork,” but often these requests are for projects of statewide significance that just so happen to be in one’s community. For example, western North Carolina legislators for years have been trying to get a state crime lab located in western North Carolina because DUI convictions were being lost because lab results were not available quickly enough to support DUI prosecutions. In other words, DUI offenders were continuing to drive because of delays in getting lab results. Ultimately, a western lab was funded at the Justice Center in my district in Edneyville. Is my seeking funding for the completion of that lab “pork?” I think not.
On the other hand, a budget proposal can get pushed by a legislator to fund what is really just a local need or want. I tend to view those funding requests as “pork”— or as another legislator called them “Easter eggs.” The projects may be worthwhile, but the question is whether state government should be funding them. A project may have real significance locally, but not tie to any state responsibility. Local government officials sometimes want a new library or museum, but then hope the state will help them bear the costs. If the state funds such projects, one can understand why one might view such projects as Easter eggs — gifts out-of-the-blue.
So what is in the House budget that is particularly focused on western North Carolina? There are a host of programs and projects that relate to the region. Accompanying these items are references which can be found in the Special Provisions or the Money Report.
WNC Agricultural Center. Construction of a new building with an open pavilion, and restrooms to support the annual NC Mountain State Fair and year-round ground rentals. There is $500,000 in the House budget for the construction. (Page 134, line 4 of the Special Provisions)
Western Crime Lab. The state is completing work on the Western Crime Lab in Edneyville. The lab now must be equipped. There is $1,087,803 in the budget to buy equipment and $301,276 for a technician, scientific supplies, increased maintenance and utility costs. (Page I 13, Item 13 of the Money Report)
DuPont State Recreational Forest. Because of visitation and the lack of infrastructure, the Agriculture Department said it needed roughly $5 million. The House budget provides $3 million for bathrooms and other infrastructure and also funds 9 new employees to manage and maintain the state recreation forest. Additionally, there is a Special Provision that makes the forest eligible for funding from the Parks & Recreation Trust Fund (PARTF). (Page H 5, Item 4 and Page M 3, Item 1 of the Money Report)
Muddy Sneakers. Muddy Sneakers is an educational program piloted in Transylvania and Henderson counties. Some schools in several WNC counties participate in the program that takes 5th grade students outside to teach them parts of their science curriculum. The idea is that some kids learn science better by being in the field — typically public lands like Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site, Gorges State Park or DuPont State Recreational Forest. (Page F 9, Item 28 of the Money Report)
Firefighting Equipment. The budget allocates $3 million for the purchase of an airplane and heavy equipment used to fight fires in the mountains and across the State. (Page H 5, Item 5 of the Money Report)
Agricultural Development & Farmland Preservation Trust Fund. The budget allocates $1 million to protect prime farmland. (Page H 5, Item 7 of the Money Report)
Western Women’s Business Center. The Support Center received $100,000 to match a federal grant from the federal Small Business Administration. (Page H 39, Item 45 of the Money Report)
Natural Heritage Program. The House budget adopted the Governor’s budget in restoring $489,750 to fund work critically necessary to producing the environmental documents necessary to start work on road projects funded in the budget. (Page H 44, Item 50 of the Money Report)
Clean Water Management Trust Fund. $5 million was added to the trust fund’s budget to support its water conservation work which in WNC mostly means acquisition of lands adjacent to major watersheds. The Dept. of Agriculture will likely be able to seek funding to complete acquisition work at DuPont State Recreational Forest and Headwaters State Forest (Transylvania County). (Page H 43, Item 49 of the Money Report)
Motor Vehicle Emissions Inspections. Upon U.S. Environment Protection Agency (EPA) approval, Henderson County will be exempt from motor vehicle emissions inspections. Such approval is not likely until 2017 at the earliest. (Page 90, line 24 of the Special Provisions)
WNC Farmers Market. Money is provided for repair and renovations of existing facilities and infrastructure and construction of new facilities to support Farmer’s Market programs. The WNC Farmers Market is beginning to lose market share to markets in other areas and other states, because it is not able to track fruit and vegetables going through the market. These monies are a first step towards addressing that issue. (Page 134, line 1 of the Special Provisions)