Local Politics

Budget cut visible to N.C. travelers

Posted July 3, 2009 4:04 p.m. EDT
Updated July 6, 2009 12:28 p.m. EDT

— In light of the economy, the state of North Carolina is cutting back across the board. With a projected $4.6 billion deficit in the state budget, every program is coming under scrutiny and cost-cutting is rampant.

Residents will feel the effects of those cuts in their classrooms and their wallets, in services the state provides and as they travel the state's highways.

The state Department of Transportation found one way to save $1 million that may mean fewer vibrant views for vacationers. It has suspended the roadside wildflower program. Flowers planted over 1,500 to 2,000 acres have beautified the trip through the state since 1985.

More than 50 percent of the funds for the program comes from the sale of vanity license plates, with the rest coming from federal highway programs. DOT officials said the state money continues to accrue in a bank account, and they said they hope to use some for a fall planting.

Pam Cockroft, a visitor from Michigan, already noticed the difference.

"I always notice them when I drive down. In fact I made that statement to my husband. '(I) wonder where the flowers are, 'cause they're not here," she said.

Aaron Earls of Wake Forest said he can see the logic.

"I would say that would be a good bit of too much money for the government to be spending on flowers," he said.

In Raleigh, Dawn Currin agreed. "Some of the stuff has been taken out. I've noticed that. It just doesn't look as nice but I would agree a million dollars is a little much."

In another cost-cutting move, the state plans to reduce the inmate litter program. Soon, the floral view may be replaced by a much trashier one.

Kris Bailey thinks the flowers and litter pick-up represent money well spent. "We've got to have those tourism dollars and as people come in and see trash and don't see flowers, they don't come back," he said.

Cockroft is one visitor to whom it makes a big difference. "That's a big part of coming into North Carolina, seeing all those beautiful flowers," she said.

North Carolina is operating on a stopgap spending plan after lawmakers failed to pass a new budget before the end of the 2008-09 fiscal year on June 30. The provision keeps the lights on, but allows state departments and services to spend no more than 85 percent of what was allocated in the past fiscal year's budget.

DOT officials hope the new budget will provide for some planting.