To the Editor:
In January, Republicans swept into state government on a mission of frugality, vowing to trim fat from the state budget. And trim they did, taking a cleaver to unemployment benefits, our vaulted education system, welfare, health care, and the environment. Millions of North Carolinians — young and old — were negatively affected.
What we are learning, though, is that not everyone in the state is hurting. Wealthy citizens got a big tax break on income tax. Others have benefitted, too. Turns out that it’s good to be close to the governor and high officials in his administration. Recently, Gov. Pat McCrory gave huge raises — over $20,000 — to his staffers because, as he noted, it is expensive to live in Raleigh. Perhaps the governor needs to be aware that it’s expensive to live in a few other places in North Carolina, notably anywhere between Murphy and Manteo.
McCrory has been generous to himself, too, at least to his image. He recently authorized $150,000 for a TV ad campaign that shows him boasting of his accomplishments in his first few months in office.
But all is not sweetness and light in Raleigh, and reports show that there is an undercurrent of darkness in this administration. They don’t like it when they are crossed. Recently, a section chief in the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), a 35-year state employee who’d served six governors, was let go by DHHS Secretary Aldona Wos because she defended her own staff members for lobbying legislators about unfair spending by the DHHs. These staff people had gone to the legislature on their own vacation time with a story to tell, quite a story about how budget cuts were going to reduce health services to children. This was not what Secretary Wos wanted to hear, but the section chief was only protecting the rights of her staff to speak freely. Doing so got her fired.
Now, on the other hand, we find that Secretary Wos has a generous streak, well, at least for friends. Through personal services contracts, she hired Joe Hauk and Les Merritt to help streamline her now depleted department. What are their qualifications? Hauk was a member of a company run by Wos’ husband; Merritt is a former state auditor and confidant of Art Pope, the man who brought in 75 percent of the money to finance the Republican takeover of NC government. Hauk and Merritt are going to live well in Raleigh or wherever they wish. For eight months consulting, Hauk was paid $228,375. Merritt is doing OK, as well; in two months, he was paid $58,500, part of a year-long contract that is capped at $312,000. (Note that Merritt is also a member of the N.C. Ethics Commission. Ouch.)
So, what is one to conclude? That the old cliché of it being good to have friends in high places is still true. However, for the rest of us who are obliged to scratch out a living or try to find a job, we need to have a long memory, at least until the elections of 2014 when we can put some folks back into the legislature to block this naked cronyism.