Local News

Conservative Group Calls For Inquiry Into How State Leaders Spent Money

Posted March 21, 2005 5:05 a.m. EST

— There are partisan calls for investigations into how state leaders spent millions of taxpayer dollars. Conservative groups want to know why the governor is not speaking out on the issue.

When Democratic House Speaker Jim Black was on the verge of losing his title in a split house, Republican Rep. Michael Decker switched parties, giving Black enough votes to hang on, as a co-speaker. Two years later, Black helped create a new state job for Decker, using funds he controls.

"That money was used to give Decker a job at $48,000 a year. That's just flat-out wrong. That wasn't money that was appropriated for that particular purpose," said Chris Neeley, of Americans for Prosperity.

In fact, the money was part of $20 million listed as reserve funds for state agencies. Black admits he and then co-speaker Richard Morgan each had $5 million at their disposal while Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight controlled $10 million.

Basnight and Black also each has access to $5 million in DOT funds. Critics charge much of that money went to pet projects they and their allies supported.

"These three gentlemen have abused their power," Neeley said.

Bill Peaslee, the executive director of the state GOP, is not only criticizing legislative leaders, but he is also taking aim at Gov. Mike Easley.

"This whole thing -- it just really stinks," he said. "The first question is what did the governor know. Did he know about this spending? Did he approve it?" Peaslee said.

Some conservative groups have their own questions. Americans for Prosperity wants the state auditor and state attorney general's office to investigate.

"The taxpayers need to know how that money is spent, how much is there and the practice needs to end today," Neeley said.

WRAL has learned the reserve funds date back to the early 90s. Basnight told WRAL he made a point of listing the projects he funded in the budget. Black's office did not return phone calls to WRAL.

Easley was not available, but a representative said the State Budget Office "put accountability measures into place to deal with the disbursement of these funds."