TransPark funding survives but Kerr says it's time for payoff
By Matt Shaw
Published in News on July 26, 2004 1:58 PM
The Global TransPark has survived its annual death-watch again, receiving $1.3 million in state funding this year.
But N.C. Sen. John Kerr of Goldsboro said it's time for the GTP to pay off on some of its promise.
"Something needs to happen out there," Kerr said. "I used up a lot of my Green Stamps to keep it going, but I'm not going to be up there (in the Legislature) forever."
TransPark critics have become increasingly vocal during recent legislative sessions. Its annual budget has been cut from $4 million in 2000-2001 to $1.6 million last year, but opponents have sought to eliminate all funding and turn ownership over to Lenoir County or its community college.
Each year, Kerr has argued to give the TransPark more time. That faith nearly paid off in 2003 when Boeing Co. came close to locating a 1,200-job plant to build its new 7E7 Dreamliner at the Kinston industrial park
The TransPark received worldwide publicity as a result of being a finalist for the Boeing plant, Kerr said. Now a Boeing supplier, whose name Kerr declined to reveal, has Kinston among its final three locations for a new plant that would make airplane parts.
Kerr believes the TransPark is still an attractive location for many industries. "We have a heck of a workforce here," he said.
But the Legislature isn't making things easy by continually cutting its budget. More than half its annual allotment will go to cover staffing costs, he said.
The state's 2004-05 budget also includes money for two new employees in the N.C. Department of Cultural Resources who will work exclusively on promoting heritage tourism.
That could boost travel through Wayne County, Kerr said. The region could easily market itself to Civil War buffs using the site of the battles of Goldsborough Bridge and Whitehall with the close proximity of battlefields in Bentonville and Kinston, he said.
He noted that the new U.S. 117 is expected to serve 30,000 to 40,000 motorists a day, many of whom are tourists headed to Wilmington or Myrtle Beach. "Those people could stop here and spend some money," he said. "I hope the city or county takes the lead and begins working on this."
The Legislature also included funding for a cardiovascular disease institute at East Carolina University. Kerr wrote the bill to give $60 million to build and equip the new facility at ECU and $180 million for a cancer center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Kerr also wrote a budget provision to spend $25 million to buy land around military bases to protect the bases from encroachment. This is a separate but similar project to the Clean Water Management Trust Fund's wetland restoration project around Seymour Johnson.
Another bill gave $20 million to the N.C. Rural Center to help local governments meet their water, sewer and other infrastructure needs. Many of these grants are related to economic development.
Kerr also wrote a law to give the Office of State Budget and Management oversight of all state grants and the ability to cut off funding to groups that misspend money or do not follow the rules.
The senator also arranged for money to assist Pitt, Greene and Lenoir counties to plan for use of surface water. Groundwater use has been restricted in many parts of eastern North Carolina because of depleted aquifers.
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