Bellying up to the trough

Any local, state and federal budget typically includes what is technically called discretionary spending but is commonly known as “pork.”

Each year in North Carolina, a number of local projects that are deemed “non-essential” end up getting funded through the efforts of legislators eager to bring home the bacon to hungry constituents. 

However, like bacon itself, pork projects are popular and go down smoothly, but in the end aren’t the healthiest budgetary option for most consumers. 

Conservatives hold that although such projects may be palatable locally, those projects lie outside the proper scope and purview of governments and should therefore be left to the private sector to fund if desired.

In this year’s state budget — which should take effect by July 1, assuming a June 27 veto by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper is overridden by a General Assembly solidly in Republican hands — there are pork projects both large and small, like the $2 million funding boost for the North Carolina Museum of Art, or the $20,000 allotment for a Cherokee County museum. 

Anyone who values their local arts, education or literacy programs, or their local museums, parks and state-run historical sites should be pleased with the amount of pork in this year’s legislative offering; conversely, conservatives should be outraged at the more than $8 million in pork plated by legislative Republicans. 

Museums seem to draw the most attention and the most dollars in the budget, with a $350,000 increase to aquariums on the North Carolina coast, a $257,000 increase in funding for the North Carolina Museum of History, a $225,000 increase for the state transportation museum, $125,000 for a Jacksonville children’s museum, $50,000 each for the Foscue Plantation, an Ocean Isle museum and the Earl Scruggs Center. 

Smaller funding allocations between $25,000 and $40,000 are slated for the Oxford Museum of History, the Sampson County history museum, a museum in Albemarle and the Raeford Hoke museum. 

Parks and historical sites will see some of the largest increases, including $1.3 million for local parks across the state, $975,000 for the Fort Dobbs historical site, and $50,000 for Crowders Mountain State Park. 

Arts programs are also set to cash in, with a $500,000 funding increase for the state’s grassroots arts program, a $350,000 increase to the N.C. Symphony, $50,000 for the arts council of Wilmington and New Hanover County, and $80,000 for the Pocosin arts organization. 

Education and literacy programs will also see allocations, like a $100,000 plum for the Sturgeon City environmental education center in Jacksonville, $558,000 in grants for local libraries and bookmobiles, and $75,000 for something called the “rural touring arts program.”

Although the $8 million figure may be obscenely large to some, and not nearly enough to others, North Carolina has come a long way in managing its earmarks, at least on the surface. 

Prior to 1988, all N.C. legislators were allotted a set amount of discretionary funds to be used at will. When that provision was eliminated by Democratic Speaker of the House Josephus Mavretic in April 1988, each member had $30,000 to spend as desired. 

Today, that $30,000 would be worth $59,642, meaning that if all legislators still had the ability to utilize such funding, they’d be serving up $7.15 million in pork anyway. 

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