Local Politics

Easley: Direct More Golden LEAF Money to Rural Areas

Posted April 3, 2007 5:26 p.m. EDT
Updated April 3, 2007 6:22 p.m. EDT

— Gov. Mike Easley said Tuesday that a foundation responsible for distributing funds from the national tobacco litigation settlement for economic development projects should try harder to get money into depressed areas of the state.

The Golden Longterm Economic Advancement Foundation, or Golden LEAF, has awarded about 560 grants totaling more than $200 million since 2000. But some of the grants have funded an art museum in the mountains, a training program for commercial truck drivers near the coast and the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham.

State Sen. Clark Jenkins, D-Edgecombe, recently filed a bill calling for Golden LEAF to be dissolved, arguing that the board doesn't do enough for the counties impacted most by tobacco production loss.

Jenkins couldn't reached for comment Tuesday, but Easley agreed that the foundation needs to be more aggressive in its economic development efforts.

"You are sitting on $500 million. Why aren't you doing more? Why aren't you more aggressive? Why aren't you out in those communities?" Easley said. "We need the money now. We need to build infrastructure -- water, sewer, things like that -- in these counties now. People are hurting now."

Golden LEAF was ordered to support economic development in all tobacco-dependant or economically impacted areas, not just  rural counties or eastern North Carolina, foundation president Valeria Lee said.

"I was disappointed, of course, that such legislation would be introduced because we feel that we've carried out the mandate and the mission as defined in the consent decree," Lee said. "We believe the projects we have supported in this line are very much a part of a larger picture for North Carolina."

Easley said he doesn't support Jenkins' bill, but said lawmakers could put more pressure on foundation board members.

"The legislation can't really override the court, but what they can do is look at the board. These legislators can remove some of these people from the board and replace them with other folks," he said.

Lee said the Golden LEAF board is getting more involved in communities to asses the greatest needs for grant support.