So why is it so important that the state know exactly what the North Carolina Railroad is worth? Well, call it a conspiracy theory if you like, but consider this: Republicans in the General Assembly have passed a tax cut thats likely to create quite a hole in future budgets. Their plan is reckless and shortsighted, but theyre pushing on.
Might their curiosity about the worth of the railroad, a 317-mile line that curves through Charlotte and the Triangle to Morehead City, be tied to an aim to sell it to plug budget gaps? And could it be that the railroad is but the first of the states assets to be sized up for the block?
Republicans say, oh, no, theyre not actively looking to sell the railroad. But a special budget provision requested by Gov. Pat McCrorys office would invite the state Department of Transportation and the budget office to entertain offers for the railroad. The purpose, some House Republicans say, is just to know what its worth. As The News & Observers Bruce Siceloff reported, theres already a report that a private equity firm might be interested.
What a foolish, foolish move it would be to sell the railroad, which is a private corporation owned entirely by the state. The railroad already brings in $14 million annually from the lease of tracks to Norfolk Southern Railroad. And legislative staff, who studied the issue closely, recommended in 2012 holding on to the railroad as an asset for economic development.
This falls under the category of leaving well enough alone. Selling the railroad to fill in budget gaps created by an ill-considered tax cut would provide one-time money and nothing more. And the railroad would be gone. This idea should not leave the station.