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Legislative Follies



folly (noun): lack of good sense or normal prudence and foresight; criminally or tragically foolish actions or conduct; a foolish act or idea; an excessively costly or unprofitable undertaking

Bringing home the bacon

Pork barrel politics, as integral to lawmaking as blood is to sausage, took on new meaning last Thursday as House members vigorously debated the merits of Western versus Eastern barbecue as if trimming fat from the state budget.

House Bill 433, earnestly sponsored by Republican Reps. Jerry Dockham and Hugh Holliman from Davidson and Julia Howard of Mocksville, establishes the Lexington Food Festival, known for its barbecue, as the official State Food Festival.

Wearing his trademark bow-tie, which, unfortunately, can't be used as a bib to catch barbecue sauce drippings, Dockham boasted of the authenticity of Lexington's hickory-smoked, pork shoulder-and-ketchup concoction—but not without challenge from Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican.

"I would not be the man I am today without Eastern North Carolina barbecue," proclaimed Lewis, who looks like he might have put away a few hogs in his day.

Lexington purports to be the Barbecue Capital of the World, although that claim has not been independently verified and seems largely legendary in its own mind. Taylor Sisk, in a Short History of North Carolina Barbecue, contends that most casual barbecue eaters probably wouldn't notice the difference between eastern and western varieties. But to North Carolinians, of course, they're as different as ham and tofu.

After nearly 15 minutes, an unknown lawmaker piped up that other important business was pending. HB 433 passed, 98-12.

Eight miles high

When the guv and other state bigwigs need a hassle-free and fast way to travel, do they dodge the potholes on Interstate 40? Do they hit the rails, hopping the 7:05 Piedmont outta Raleigh? Sit cheek to jowl in a Greyhound with their constituents? Nope. They fly in executive aircraft.

With a $3.2 million budget, the state's executive aircraft fleet includes a 25-year-old Beechcraft King Air turboprop, a 1998 Sikorsky helicopter (the civilian version; the company also makes Blackhawks) and a 1998 Cessna Citation Bravo, whose slogan is "For those who'd rather make money than spend it."

It looks like Cessna is making the money and the state is spending it. The eight-passenger aircraft costs about $500 an hour to operate and requires two pilots; the state still owes a half-million dollars on the loan, which should be paid by June 2008.

The 10-seat Beechcraft King Air is paid for, but it's old and slow, which adds up when considering it costs $250-$400 an hour. The state owes $1 million on the seven-passenger Sikorsky helicopter, whose hourly rate is $550.

Gov. Mike Easley has proposed including an additional $423,000 to replace all three aircraft on a lease-purchase agreement.

According to fiscal research staff, who presented an analysis to the Joint Environmental and Natural Resources committee last week, in 2006, state officials spent 676 hours flying in executive aircraft—equivalent to 42 round-trip flights from RDU to London.

Business and industry leaders flew more than 200 hours, followed by UNC officials—most of them from the Chapel Hill campus—at 181. Gov. Mike Easley, staff and Council of State members clocked in at 135.7 hours, and Treasurer Richard Moore left his counting house to ride for 45.4; cultural resources officials racked up just 12.7 hours. Cultural resources are better viewed from the ground.

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