Wendell Murphy, the hog king of Eastern North Carolina, knows how the levers of power work, for he once guided them as a state senator. So perhaps it’s not surprising that River Landing, a golf course community in Murphy’s Duplin County started by Murphy and his family, is going to benefit from a fat state appropriation for $830,000 in sewer upgrades for a pumping system that has been struggling to keep up with the “flow” at the golf course development.
The problems have hurt River Landing’s plans to expand a hotel at the front of the 1,600-acre community.
But now, thanks to an appropriation landed by state Rep. Jimmy Dixon of nearby Warsaw, the upgrade money is in the final version of the state budget, one of many “earmarks,” or special appropriations for specific projects that are inserted into a final budget by individual lawmakers. There are $70 million worth in this budget, most not getting much scrutiny in terms of debate.
Now Dixon, a retired poultry farmer, says he’s just doing good here for the community and that his finding this special appropriation has nothing to do with the fact that Murphy, his family and his employees have given the lawmaker $42,750 in political contributions and in-kind support (food for fundraisers) since 2011.
Dixon’s done helpful things for hog farmers before, including helping to pass a bill limiting the damages residents could receive in court over claims that odors from hog farms were hurting their quality of life.
Most of these budget earmarks go for towns or groups of businesses. River Landing is going to benefit in a large way from this one.
This kind of special interest legislation may be a tradition in North Carolina – Republicans learned it well from Democrats, true enough – but it’s not healthy and not appropriate. If ever there were a bill aimed at helping out a specific business, it’s this one, and what makes it all the more objectionable is that hog farming made Wendell Murphy a very wealthy man, one who could easily afford to finance a sewer upgrade.
So Dixon’s hitting all the boxes here. He’s spending a huge chunk of taxpayer money on a golf course development – Warsaw officials say it will help the town – even though the development could do fine without it.
And this appropriation, by the way, is larger than other earmarks helping several other towns, and unlike those other appropriations, it benefits one main business. The other appropriations have multiple benefits for business and for local governments.
Wendell Murphy has been most generous to his alma mater, N.C. State, and he’s no doubt been generous to worthy causes in his home county. But even though Dixon and others connected to Murphy say the former state senator had nothing to do with getting this appropriation done, Murphy should have stepped in front of this.
Alas, this is old-fashioned, back-scratching politics, practiced at taxpayer expense. And it’s hardly a glorious tradition, now is it?