Under the Dome

Perdue takes a surprise ride on the ferry

July 14, 2010 

Gov. Bev Perdue made an unannounced visit this week to ferry terminals in Bayview and Aurora to check out the ferry system's operations.

On Monday, Perdue and staff members rode the 3:15 p.m. ferry across the Pamlico River. The governor called the ferry staff "hardworking state employees, committed to doing their jobs efficiently and effectively."

The ferry system has been under scrutiny in recent days after its former chief, Harold "Buddy" Finch, said he was fired when he questioned nepotism, payroll padding and questionable spending in the division. The ferry system also received a 35 percent funding increase in the state budget recently passed by lawmakers.

State Department of Transportation officials have said Finch was fired because of personality conflicts with staff and a lack of progress on a two-month business plan.

Perdue has made a series of surprise visits to state agencies since she took office last year.

Cape Lookout to reopen

The Cape Lookout Lighthouse is scheduled to reopen to the public Thursday after a two-year closure.

The 163-foot lighthouse at Cape Lookout National Seashore had been closed since 2008 because of structural trouble. It received nearly $500,000 last year from the federal government for rehabilitation work.

U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan traveled to the beach during the Fourth of July recess to give a speech and tour the renovated Cape Lookout Lighthouse. Hagan, along with U.S. Sen. Richard Burr and U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, helped secure the federal money.

"Reopening this state treasure has great meaning for our families and small businesses, and for the future generations of Americans who will now have the opportunity to experience an incredible North Carolina cultural landmark," Hagan said.

The current Carteret County lighthouse was first lit in 1859 and still guides ships along the Core Banks. The repairs included fixes for the spiral iron staircase and hand railing, and a new guard rail at the outside gallery to protect children.

U.S. trade rep to visit

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk will be in the Charlotte area Thursday and Friday to talk about ways of increasing exports and growing jobs in the state.

Kirk will visit a broiler and sow operation in Concord and hold a roundtable discussion with state Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler and farmers in Mount Pleasant.

Kirk, a former mayor of Dallas, will also meet with Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx and area business leaders for a discussion about improving trade for small businesses. He will also tour the UNC-Charlotte Technology Center.

It will be interesting to see whether Kirk is joined by Democratic U.S. Rep. Larry Kissell, because of Kirk's past support for the North American Free Trade Agreement, which is unpopular in the region.

Spending at 14-year low

When the legislature left town over the weekend, it did so after enacting a budget with the lowest level of spending in 14 years, according to a new report.

State spending per capita is now at the lowest level since fiscal year 1996-97, dropping $311 over the past three years - from a peak of $2,257 in 2007-08 to $1,946 for the fiscal year that began July 1, according to the N.C. Budget & Tax Center, a liberal-leaning think tank based in Raleigh.

The group looked at the General Fund budget, which finances state government and the schools.

The cuts came as North Carolina, along with the rest of the country, faced the worst economic troubles since the 1930s.

"In the past two years," the report concluded, "lawmakers have enacted deep and damaging cuts to the public systems that undergird the state's economy by training the work force of tomorrow and keeping the state's population safe and healthy."

By staff writers Jane Stancill, Rob Christensen and Washington correspondent Barbara Barrett

jane.stancill@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4559

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