SCOTT MOONEYHAM: Will Waste Finders Become the Waste?
Early next month, state taxpayers will find out whether North Carolina's legislative leaders are serious about being more efficient with their money, or if they are simply wasting more of it themselves.
Last year, the legislature created a new division within its permanent staff, hiring a group of analysts whose sole job is to determine whether state programs are still useful and fulfilling their intended purpose.
It's pretty safe to assume that at least some state government programs aren't doing much to benefit the larger public. Inevitably, tax money is handed out for programs that at some point outlived their usefulness.
Logic may tell that to you, to the rest of the public and to the legislators responsible for doling out the tax dollars. Logic and political will, though, don't always fit so neatly together.
The bulk of tax dollars, after all, go to support government jobs. Getting rid of waste usually means eliminating jobs.
If you're Joe Legislator, that's fine as long as those jobs are in Jane Legislator's district. If they happen to be in your district, why then these are hard-working state employees performing good and noble services.
Early next month, this new Program Evaluation Division will issue a report examining the usefulness of the state's 18 agricultural research stations.
A draft report already prepared by the division recommends closing seven of the 18 stations, selling the land for an estimated $54.7 million and generating $3.9 million in annual savings. The remaining stations would be operated by N.C. State and N.C. A&T State universities. Currently, the state Department of Agriculture operates most the stations.
The seven stations that would be closed encompass nearly 6,900 acres and have 55 full-time employees.
One key finding in the report: Only a couple of other states operate more agriculture research stations than North Carolina; California and Texas have fewer.
Not surprisingly, the grumbling has already begun. Some legislators are talking about more study. Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler is fighting to defend his turf, saying the recommendations would cause "irreparable harm" to farming.
Rep. Bruce Goforth, a Buncombe County Democrat, said that he found it ironic that the state is considering shutting down the research stations while promoting efforts to preserve undeveloped property.
But the issue is bigger than just the consolidation of agricultural research stations.
These recommendations are really a test case for this notion that the legislature can set aside cronyism and turf protection and the pork barrel mentality. Will these analysts provide independent, objective assessments that are heeded by legislators, or will they ultimately serve up justification for the political whims of their political masters?
Will this division, with its 10 employees, itself become unneeded government waste?
These are questions that legislative leaders may well have thought of when they decided to craft this new evaluation apparatus. If they didn't, they'd better do it now.
Scott Mooneyham writes for Capitol Press Association. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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