Dorothea Dix as a pawn

March 15, 2013 

Nine years. That’s how long it took Raleigh officials, state officials and advocates to forge a deal to use the Dorothea Dix hospital property for a magnificent park.

But now Republicans in the General Assembly – acting out of revenge, out of partisanship, out of pettiness and out of motives that might not yet be known – want to scrap the deal. They say the state didn’t get a good enough deal on the lease, which has the city paying $68 million over 75 years. The exact lease arrangement is complicated to calculate because there are state offices still on the Dix campus.

Building a park on the 300-acre property would preserve downtown land for future generations and create an oasis close to the city’s core.

And this isn’t just about the city or Wake County.

As the Capital City, Raleigh is a destination for many of our state’s residents who annually take in, with pride, their sites, their government buildings, their museums. No wonder then that the prospect of a park that would itself be a destination on those journeys was called a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

The state’s taxpayers will still own the land.

But now GOP leaders are riding in on their white steeds, not just talking about the financial shortcomings of the deal but saying they also want to protect the interests of the mentally ill. They’d have the city lease a smaller portion of land to the city at “fair market value,” with proceeds going to mental health care. That’s not an original idea.

What an interesting burst of compassion from the same lawmakers who saw to it that hundreds of thousands of North Carolinians would not be eligible for federal Medicaid expansion and who also cut unemployment benefits for their struggling fellow Tar Heels.

The real story here isn’t hard to figure. Republicans wanted Gov. Beverly Perdue, who closed the Dix deal, to put it off until Gov. Pat McCrory took office, basically expecting an elected governor to intentionally shirk her duties. Consider their identical House and Senate bills seeking to tear up the agreement revenge.

There’s more politics as well: House Speaker Thom Tillis and Senate President pro-tem Phil Berger are looking at the GOP race for U.S. Senate next year. No doubt they’re hoping this outrageous display lends itself to claiming they only tried to get the state’s taxpayers more money.

There’s also the prospect that doing away with the Dix deal would mean developers could dream up new ideas about money-making ventures with the property. Once the park deal is out, no matter what rhetoric has flown about using any proceeds to help the mentally ill, all bets are off.

This is a petty maneuver that in the long term should rightly backfire on the Republicans.

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