A single editorial can hardly do justice to summing up a budget for the entire state of North Carolina, but allow us to comment today on a small, but significant part of Gov. Pat McCrory’s first spending proposal – a call to divert $65 million from the Golden LEAF Foundation to the state’s general fund.
The giant, unprecedented tobacco lawsuit settlement of the 1990s was designed to compensate states for the harm caused by cigarettes in terms of health care costs. And while the original lawsuits took aim at the giant tobacco companies that manufactured cigarettes, the ripple effect had a devastating impact on hard-working farmers, suppliers, truckers and plant workers in tobacco-growing states.
In an amazing display of discipline, the N.C. General Assembly acknowledged the economic impact of the lawsuit on communities with long traditions of farms, warehouses and other jobs related to tobacco. Lawmakers somehow mustered the political will power to push away millions of dollars and put half the state’s share of the settlement money into a foundation set up solely to mitigate the economic damage left by the war on tobacco.
The Golden LEAF Foundation has an admirable history of nurturing small, often innovative businesses and entrepreneurs by awarding grants across the state. The money still helps communities like Rocky Mount and Wilson create jobs for displaced tobacco farmers and workers.
Sending the tobacco settlement money – none of which is taxpayer dollars, mind you – into the state general fund would open the door to any number of special interests, projects and earmarks for legislators to use to reward political pals.
Coming at a time when the state’s more urban counties like Mecklenburg, Guilford and Wake regularly announce plant expansions and the arrival of new industries, a loss of money to Golden LEAF would further hurt Eastern North Carolina, mountain communities and other rural areas still crippled by the Great Recession.
Here’s hoping that our delegation in the N.C. General Assembly – Sens. Buck Newton, Angela Bryant and Clark Jenkins; and N.C. Reps. Jeff Collins, Bobbie Richardson, Joe Tolson and Jean Farmer-Butterfield – will recognize the good works the Golden LEAF Foundation has long performed for North Carolina tobacco communities. That mission of economic development needs to continue – not end.