The answer: the least fortunate among us. It is they who look to our state agencies for the assistance that they can not pay for themselves. However, the reality facing us on the front pages of our newspapers is that the truly needy in our region will soon be without the mental health care and other services they desperately need.
The lead paragraph of an Asheville Citizen-Times’ front page story on Sept. 21 poignantly testifies to this debacle: “Too little in state funding to cover services such as psychiatric care played a big role in forcing a shutdown of the region’s biggest provider of safety net mental health care, the agency’s chief officer said Wednesday (Sept. 20).”
New Vistas-Mountain Laurel employs about 700 people and serves 10,500 patients in eight counties, according to the ACT. About one third of this client population is identified as “most vulnerable” including schizophrenic patients.
Adding to the anxieties of our social conscience is a front page story in last Friday’s (Sept. 22) Mountaineer in Waynesville. It informs us that lack of funding has resulted in denial of 8,000 requests for rides — about half for a “medical related” journey — by Haywood Public Transit in fiscal 2005-06. Fortunately, the paper adds, staff drive their own cars to pick up persons when the need is “immediate and critical.”
Juxtaposed against these accounts is the lead article of September’s Carolina Journal, published monthly by the John Locke Foundation. The title is: “Will Persistent Scandals Affect N.C. Elections?”
Detailed accounts of corruption at the highest level of state government flow from the pages of the CJ. We are told the disgusting story of how the leaders of our General Assembly have transformed public tax dollars into political treasure chests. Millions of dollars that could have been spent in deserving areas like mental health were used to benefit the allies of the powerful. The ring leaders of this assault on the state’s treasury are well-known Democrats — House Speaker Jim Black and Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight.
It would be unjust to refer to this article but only cite the trespasses of Democratic leaders. During 2003-04 Black shared power with Republican Co-speaker Richard Morgan, and the two with Basnight controlled millions of dollars in discretionary funds. Also, as I have discussed in a previous column, former Rep. Michael Decker Sr., a one-time Republican before switching parties to support Black and place the 2003 House in even partisan balance, pleaded guilty in August to accepting $50,000 for switching parties.
However, Decker and Morgan are not up for election, and they have been denied re-nomination in the GOP. Similarly, Morgan’s ally, former Speaker Harold Brubaker — whose participation in pork projects was chronicled by CJ — has been marginalized by his party. But the Democratic leaders continue their profligate ways without serious challenge from their own party. Black’s transgressions are more widely known, but he retains the support of House Democrats.
Specific examples of where these leaders spent our taxes should give voters pause.
Black last year earmarked $400,000 for a teapot museum in Sparta. Almost one third of the deficit at New Vista could have been satisfied with this disgraceful waste. Months before Black earmarked the museum funds he received $10,000 in campaign contributions from supporters of the project.
The Carolina Journal’s examples of Basnight’s use of discretionary funds includes hundreds of thousands of dollars for downtown improvements in Elizabeth City where Democratic ally Rep. Bill Owens owns buildings valued up to $5 million, according to the CJ. Black joined Basnight in this caper.
According to the CJ, Basnight in 1997 “with then-House Speaker Harold Brubaker, a Randolph County Republican, and with Gov. Jim Hunt ... distributed $23 million in discretionary funds to special projects favored by political friends and supporters ....”
There also is Basnight’s discretionary grant of $140,000 in 1996 to the John A. Hyman Memorial Youth Foundation, “a nonprofit drug counseling organization created and led by former state Sen. (and U.S. Rep) Frank Balance, a Warrenton Democrat.” Balance is now in federal prison for his personal use of state grant monies obtained for the foundation when he was a state Senate leader. In 2004 testimony before a grand jury, Basnight said he did not know about the foundation until 2003.
The CJs list of misplaced trust in our legislative leaders includes many more examples. The most egregious case was Slippery Log Road in Columbus County, the site of numerous accidents and three deaths, whose improvement was ignored while funds adequate for the repair went to less deserving projects approved by Black and Basnight.
Like the mentally ill who are denied services that these misplaced funds would provide, political pork has long been with us. But that fact is no comfort to the needy, and voters should reflect upon why the communities of Western North Carolina will have thousands of their citizens go without the care that would otherwise make them healthy contributors to the general community.