Wednesday, July 31, 2013 —
RALEIGH —As long as there is politics, there will be this thing that people refer to as pork.
As the word is batted about, it is important to consider what pork is and what it is not.
Pork, in a political context, implies fat, that there is some excess that can be passed around to grease the wheels of politics and keep folks back home happy. Just because excess is implied does not mean that what people view as pork is all bad.
It depends on one's perspective.
Not so long ago, state legislators in North Carolina would approve a pork barrel bill at the end of each legislative session. That bill was all about capital spending— an economic development shell building here, a museum there, a university dorm building here, a community college building there.
If the building was coming to your district, there was nothing bad about it.
Legislative leaders also utilized the pork barrel bill to enforce discipline among the ranks. Vote against the budget bill or otherwise become a troublemaker, and you could forget about having your legislative district included in the largess of the pork barrel bill.
Over time, the fact that the money was being doled out based on political considerations, and not the merit of the actual projects, caught the public's eye. The pork barrel bill went away.
Pork didn't, though.
The governor and legislative leaders continued to control relatively small pots of road-building money that they could dole out at their discretion.
And something called the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center was created to pass out water, sewer and other types of grants for communities.
The News & Observer of Raleigh recently reported that the center broke its own rules in passing out grants and that political influence surrounded the awarding of some grants. A audit by the office of State Auditor Beth Wood found little or no oversight of the grants once awarded.
I'm shocked, shocked I tell you, to see that politics is influencing the awarding of state construction dollars.
Scott Mooneyham is a syndicated columnist for Capitol Press Association and covers activities of the N.C. Legislature.