Taylor leaves bacon in DC

Although cited as reason in years of endorsements there’s no evidence North Carolina Rep. Charles Taylor (NC-11) actually “brings home” any “bacon.”

Most constituents assume Taylor can acquire federal funding for his home district because he sits on the House Appropriations Committee which oversees the federal budget.

Because he chairs the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Department of the Interior, he is also expected to bring back funds for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway, as well as numerous national forests located in his 11th congressional district. However, that does not seem to be the case.

In 2003, North Carolina ranked last in earmarked money per capita, behind all 50 states and the District of Columbia, according to Citizens Against Government Waste, a non-partisan organization dedicated to downsizing government.

According to the watch dog group Taxpayers for Common Sense, North Carolina ranks 30th in earmarked funds from the omnibus, the mega-bill that consolidates the final seven appropriations bills needed to fund the FY 2004 budget.

And Western North Carolina, in particular, came in 89th out of 90 in a per capita comparison of regions federal expenditures, at $4,996.

The latest available figures on overall federal expenditures show that the government spent on average $7,149 for each man, woman, and child in the country during fiscal year 2003.

The basic data files analyzed by TRAC for this report were developed by the U.S. Census Department through its consolidated federal funds reporting program
Federal expenditures include payments ultimately received by individuals and businesses. These may be salaries received by federal workers, payments for goods and services provided by businesses, social security and medicare benefit checks sent retired persons, grants received by state and local governments, research grants received by colleges and universities, and so forth.

As well, the national parks in Taylor’s district are suffering from budget woes. Recently the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that the Blue Ridge Parkway cannot afford to print maps, or replace departing employees. “The scenic highway is dealing with a tight budget that’s led to more than 45 unfilled positions and caused the parkway to look for help to pay printing costs for 700,000 parkway maps.”

The Great Smoky Mountains is another National Park Service facility located in his home district, whose budget Taylor oversees as Chair of the Subcommittee on the Interior, Support groups fund nearly 15 percent of park operations — with the Friends of the Smokies contributing $1 million annually and the Great Smoky Mountains Association around $1.25 million, of which a large portion goes to park ranger salaries

“This a national embarrassment. Here were are in the most visited national park with 9 million people from all over the world, and our Congress and current administration can’t find the funds to fulfill core needs,” said Greg Kidd told the Smoky Mountain News as he pointed to broken picnic table tops and exposed metal rebar protruding from benches. Kidd advocates for the National Parks Conservation Association.

Cades Cove, a section of the park that lies in Tennessee, has 2 million visitors annually. That would qualify as one of the top 10 most visited national parks if it was its own little park. Cades Cover only has one and a half rangers to offer cultural or historical interpretation on the preserved community.

While visitation to Cataloochee Valley section of the park (which is in North Carolina) has doubled due to the elk release, there are no interpretive park rangers stationed along the field to tell the hordes lined up each day at dusk about the elk project. There are also no rangers to lead history hikes along the North Shore of Lake Fontana in Swain County.

Rather than outsourcing, Kidd has a different recommendation to fund the Smokies’ shortfalls — instead of building the North Shore Road along the shore of Lake Fontana along the Smokies’ southern border, use the money to repair historic structures and hire interpretive rangers. Kidd estimates it would cost a minimum of $500 million to build the 26-mile road, based on per-mile costs of new road construction through similar terrain.

Taylor has pledged to see the road built. As chairman of the budget committee for the national park system and entire Department of Interior, in 2000 Taylor leveraged a $16 million appropriation for the North Shore Road. The only other money Taylor has leveraged for the park in recent years is $500,000 to build chain link fences around historic cemeteries in the Swain County section of park and repair restrooms, according to Kidd and park finance records.

Advocates for the park claim Taylor has the clout to win more money for the Smokies, or push for larger appropriations for the entire park service. This month, Taylor spoke at a ceremony honoring the transfer of 127 acres of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for a new K-12 school campus. At the ceremony, Taylor said during a speech that he got the land transfer approved by telling other Congressmen “that they would not get another dime in appropriations” if they voted against the land swap. Taylor’s press secretary failed to return phone calls requesting an interview.

June 2, 2004 editorial, the New York Times wrote:

If Great Smoky is the poster child for what ails the parks, Mr. Taylor is the posterchild for Washington’s inability to find a cure. The money we spend on the parks, about $2.4 billion a year, is one-tenth of 1 percent of the total federal budget of $2.4 trillion, not much more than a rounding error. Surely a nation as wealthy as this one can do better. These are our jewels, deserving of far more jealous safekeeping than we are giving them now.

Partial bibliography

Spending bill 'pork' runs lean for N.C.
Jan 22, 2004 The Herald-Sun Washington bureau

Budget woes throw Parkway a curve
Vacant jobs, trouble paying for maps reflect fiscal challenges

April 2, 2006 Asheville Citizen-Times

History Lost The Smokies’ battle with environmental challenges is well known, but as budget cuts now threaten cultural treasures, private donors struggle to fill the gap
5/12/04 Smokey Mountain News

Bill to fund restoration of park services
3/16/05 Smoky Mountain News

Congress shortchanges our national treasures
6/2/04 Smoky Mountain News

For national rankings for states and counties, as well as for rankings of counties within each state, see tracfed