02/20/08 — Beverly Perdue makes a stop in Goldsboro

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Beverly Perdue makes a stop in Goldsboro

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on February 20, 2008 1:55 PM

With her time split between Raleigh and her home in New Bern, North Carolina gubernatorial candidate Beverly Perdue said she knows about eastern North Carolina and the struggles it's facing in terms of economic development, education and infrastructure such as roads, water and sewer.

More specifically, she said, she knows about Wayne County, Wilber's Barbecue and about Seymour Johnson Air Force Base because of her efforts to lead the state's fight against the federal Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 2005.

And, she promised Tuesday in between campaign stops in Goldsboro, that if elected, she would be an advocate for the rural areas of eastern and western North Carolina -- helping to bring them up to the same playing field as the wealthier middle third of the state.

"We want to have a really vibrant, successful urban economy, but you also must have a vibrant, successful rural economy," she said.

Her goal is to make investments in both.

"You've got to take care of the whole state," she said.

And that means addressing education by continuing such programs as the Learn and Earn initiative and More at Four, as well as the extra funding of low-income counties.

It also means addressing issues of water, sewer and roads, and for communities like Goldsboro, expanding the state Department of Commerce's Main Street program, which helps with downtown revitalization by focusing on historical preservation.

"That (Main Street Solutions) is important for a community like Goldsboro," she said. 'We need to be sure the downtown area is strong, resilient and looks successful. That's why the movie theater (Paramount) is so important."

Also important to Goldsboro's future, she noted, is Seymour Johnson and the success of her military industrial complex initiative.

But she acknowledged that the other pieces -- the traditional infrastructure of roads and water -- first have to be in place.

"The state is struggling with road challenges," she said. "We really do need to fix DOT."

The problem, she explained, is that as important as roads are to areas like the Triangle, the Triad and Charlotte, they're equally important for the development of rural eastern North Carolina.

Unfortunately, she continued, because of the current inefficiencies in the state Department of Transportation, the future estimates of unmet needs across the state are between $30 million and $65 million over the next few decades.

To fix that deficit, Perdue explained that she would end the transfers out of the state Highway Trust Fund, hold contractors accountable for their work and lower construction costs.

Ultimately, she continued, her goal is to prevent mistakes like the too-thin asphalt now afflicting the new I-795.

"I'm going to transform the culture at DOT. I'm going to power it down so local offices have more decision-making authority," she said. "We've got to do things more efficiently and differently."

They also, she said, need to allow local governments to have more of a say in what projects have priority in their regions -- similar to how she wants to approach the issues of water quality and quantity.

"I think the most important thing we all can do is be better stewards of the resource. It all starts with the users, but you can't solve the long-term challenge by just stewardship," Perdue said.

And that, she continued, can only be done with a long-term strategic water use plan.

It's something that she credited retiring state Sen. John Kerr, D-Wayne, for his persistence on.

"John Kerr was the leading proponent in eastern North Carolina for water and sewer," she said. "His legacy will be that. He stuck up for water and sewer year after year, even when it wasn't sexy. John understood that for eastern North Carolina to grow and prosper, it had to have water and sewer."

And that, she continued, is the kind of approach she wants to continue, with the state providing funding and resources for local governments to address their own problems either on local or regional scales -- much like Wayne County and N.C.'s Eastern Region are attempting to do now with a regional water summit scheduled for March.

"I think the leadership should come from the top, but I'm not a person that believes every decision has to come out of and be owned by Raleigh," she said. "We need to let the local governments make the best decisions for themselves and their regions."