The allocation of North Carolina’s share of the pork from the $787 billion stimulus bill has begun! In fact, in February the governor appointed North Carolina’s very own czar to dictate the allocation of the $6 billion given to the Old North State. Czar Dempsey Benton is the director of the Office of Economic Recovery and Investment and charged with properly distributing the stimulus dollars.
This raises some interesting questions. There does not appear to be any sort of legislative check or any check at all on Czar Dempsey. The governor unilaterally created his office and, he was unilaterally chosen by the governor without input from the General Assembly or the citizens of North Carolina to be the director. This is a most undemocratic move and one of questionable constitutionality. This is also a rather troubling state of affairs, given that he has unchecked control over $6 billion of taxpayer money. Moreover, given the state government’s blatant corruption and waste in areas that are “checked and balanced,” consider how much greater is the opportunity for corruption and waste in an area that is not subject to these safeguards. It is a circumvention of the legislative process and flies in the face of the basic founding of this country.
There is already some evidence of waste in the Czar’s kingdom. He has allotted $76,000 to an urban forestry project in Durham. The project involves removing 29 trees along a downtown street and replacing them with 103 new ones, with a projected cost of $575 per tree planted. The costs associated with this project are unusually high, particularly the costs associated with the planting of the new trees. The trees typical for such a project usually run at about $100 each. So, then the remainder of the budget must be spent on labor, leaving labor costs at about $475 per tree, which is ridiculous.
What this illustrates is the danger and cost of giving one person so much power and removing the legislative branch from the picture. Czar Dempsey is running about the state spending money on a whole slew of pet projects at exorbitant costs to taxpayers.
Of course, the irony of the whole situation is that this supposed “stimulus” has accomplished nothing. The latest statistics from the Labor Department indicate an increase rather than a decrease in unemployment. The official statistic has risen to 9.8%, but when factoring in those who have given up looking for work (discouraged workers) or are involuntarily working part-time the statistic is 17%. Unemployment among the young (ages 16-24) alone stands at 25.9%. We have been asked to surrender our traditional forms and modes of government in return for nothing.