Gov. Pat McCrory has been marching around the state with a vision. The vision couldn’t be clearer: The governor would like to be re-elected, and he’d really, really like it if everyone would compare him to President Eisenhower.
Unfortunately, that’s where any clarity ends. Unlike Eisenhower (a figure McCrory says he seeks to emulate) whose plan included a set of priorities and a way to pay for them, McCrory’s approach is apparently to promise everyone everything they might want and figure out how to pay the tab later.
First we have the governor’s “25-year vision”: a set of extremely broad recommendations for transportation improvements across the state. You want a host of new highways? Sure, let’s build them everywhere! Other folks want transit? Let’s do that, too! Coastal communities want beach nourishment? Add it to the list! Industrial freight rail? Why not!
How do we pay for all this? Now, that’s a pesky detail – not meant for grandiose speeches. If this set of platitudes and empty promises was not enough, McCrory set out Part II of his grand plan: Borrow over a billion dollars to build a hand-selected set of projects in rural areas to beguile rural voters before the next election.
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Bizarrely, McCrory’s list of projects bears no relation to his “vision.” More importantly, by pre-selecting the projects to be paid for with the borrowed billion, McCrory is gutting the new “Strategic Transportation Investments” program recently passed by the legislature: a data-driven process designed to take the politics out of transportation project selection. The vast majority of the governor’s chosen projects do not merit funding under this data-driven approach.
The governor’s decision to ignore a process he previously championed and instead cherry-pick priorities reneges on his promise to dole out funding based on merit rather than politics. Replacing a pre-determined list from the legislature with a predetermined list from the governor is not visionary; it’s politics as usual.
If McCrory truly wants to be seen as North Carolina’s Eisenhower, he needs to do much more than travel around the state spouting platitudes.
• First: Any plan must be grounded in reality. We wholeheartedly agree that transit, bicycle and pedestrian options are essential to turn our major metropolitan areas into vibrant communities and attract businesses, jobs and development for the future. But it’s not enough to just say so. So far McCrory’s administration has done nothing but cut funding for such vital projects. If nonhighway options are priorities, let’s fund them.
• Second: McCrory shouldn’t double-back on North Carolina’s progress toward removing politics from transportation planning. If we need to tweak the project-selection formula to better serve the state, let’s do so. Transparently. Conspiring behind closed doors to pick winner and loser projects should be consigned to the past.
• Third: McCrory can no longer punt on how to pay for his priorities. Borrowing yet more money just passes the buck. To fund even a fraction of the governor’s promises will require new revenue sources: a hard, unpopular truth he seems unwilling to face.
Kym Hunter is a staff attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center.