A stimulating move

Published 8:51 pm Friday, January 9, 2009

By Staff
North Carolina’s top elected officials decided earlier this week to speed up more than $740 million in state-government building to help stimulate the state’s ailing economy.
Gov. Mike Easley, who leaves office Saturday, said the move by the Council of State will help create more than 25,000 new jobs. The council’s decision will speed up construction projects that include prisons, a museum complex and state-run university buildings by a month or two, according to the governor.
With the state’s unemployment rate at its highest since October 1983, those jobs are needed.
It’s a smart, laudable move by the Council of State, comprised of the governor and nine other statewide elected officials such as North Carolina’s secretary of state, secretary of agriculture and state treasurer. Not only is Easley leaving office Saturday, but so are some of the Council of State members.
The council’s decision to accelerate the construction of the five prisons, 14 university buildings and the museum-and-office complex in downtown Raleigh is nothing short of a late Christmas present for North Carolina residents, especially those seeking work. A nearly $3 million renovation of the polar-bear exhibit at the North Carolina Zoo near Asheboro also will be accelerated.
To help speed up the construction projects, the council authorized the issuance of $507 million in new debt, which has already been approved by either the public or the General Assembly. If that will help put North Carolina residents to work, and it should, then taking on the extra debt during hard economic times will be worth it.
The Democratic governor took a pragmatic view of the effort to speed up the projects. It’s a common-sense view of the situation and one that most North Carolina residents should appreciate.
Not everyone on the Council of State favored speeding up the projects as State Auditor Les Merritt and Labor Commissioner Cherie Berry, both Republicans, did not side with the council majority. Merritt questioned whether it is a good time for the state to borrow money given the state of the economy and declining revenues.
Merritt makes a good case for waiting, but it’s hard to argue against something that will put people to work, especially when the number of people unable to find work continues to rise.
Lt. Gov. Beverly Perdue, a Council of State member and who succeeds Easley as governor Saturday, requested the council urge that jobs generated by the borrowing would go to North Carolina residents. That makes sense. North Carolina residents should be given the first shot at such jobs. That type of thinking could explain, to some degree, why Perdue will become the state’s next governor Saturday — keeping the best interests of North Carolina residents foremost in her thoughts.
In its final meeting, the current Council of State accomplished something that will benefit thousands of North Carolina residents and likely will provide a remedy for the state’s ailing economy.
Now, it is the incoming Council of State’s turn to find ways for the state’s economy to recover.