Local News

State Legislative Leaders Accused Of Using DOT Money On Pet Projects

Posted March 17, 2005

— Leaders of the General Assembly are accused of using taxpayer-funded checkbooks to dole out money for road and cultural resources projects.

Don Carrington, of the John Locke Foundation, contends President Pro Tem Marc Basnight and House Speaker Jim Black personally directed millions in state Department of Transportation dollars to local pet projects instead of those with more critical safety needs.

"It's too few people with too much control spending things on projects people don't know about," he said.

Basnight argues DOT dollars get local scrutiny.

"The Highway Discretion (Act) requires a resolution from the town or the county of the request," he said.

When similar questions over funding surfaced in 1997, Basnight said he made sure the projects were itemized in the budget so his fellow lawmakers could vote. He admits a half-million dollars for various museum projects were left out this year.

"But, that's the way it came out and I'll stand up to that error," Basnight said.

Jim Hunt was governor the last time the discretionary fund issue raised concerns.

"I don't know whether this is the best way to handle things or not, but I have great confidence in them and their personal integrity," he said.

As for power over the taxpayer's purse, Basnight admits he is uneasy with the system.

"Personally, I do not believe that the president of the Senate should have that discretion to allocate any amount of money without putting it in the budget," he said.

Both Basnight and Black contend discretionary money was spent on legitimate, worthwhile projects requested by local governments and lawmakers. They support a more public process to distribute the money, but so far, no such plan has been introduced.


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