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McCrory wants better highway lights

Gov. Pat McCrory used his state of the state speech to ask his transportation secretary to improve highway lighting. It's just not clear what highway lights he's talking about.

White House applauds NC road effort

The White House says North Carolina is getting the job done on highways.

North Carolina has exceeded the federal deadline to obligate 50 percent of their highway funds under the economic stimulus plan by June 29, according to a White House release.

The release said North Carolina has "put to work" $314 million in highway funds - or 61 percent of their requirement.

The release said the largest project in North Carolina under the program is the widening of Tobaccoville Road from Forsyth County to Stokes County.

Federal money won't plug leaky bucket

A federal stimulus package moving through Congress would give North Carolina about $900 million for new road, bridge and transit projects.

State officials say that’s just a few drops in a leaky bucket, reports Bruce Siceloff.

Dwindling receipts from gas and car sales taxes will cut state transportation revenues by $300 million a year for the next three years, state Transportation Secretary Gene Conti told a legislative oversight committee Thursday.

“That $900 million from the federal government sounds great,” Conti said, “but ... you’re kind of just breaking even, if you want to look at it that way.”

The nation’s ninth-largest state deserves a bigger share of the $43 billion federal transportation package, legislators said.

“This is just about two bridges to nowhere, and it doesn’t seem like it’s quite enough for this growing state,” said Sen. David Hoyle, a Gastonia Democrat.

“It sounds almost like they’re dividing the money by 50 for each state,” said Sen. Richard Stevens, a Cary Republican. “Would Rhode Island get just as much as we do? It’s just a drop in the bucket when we’ve got $8 billion in projects waiting to go now.”

Brad Wilson, chairman of a statewide committee that has recommended state and local tax hikes for transportation, said the federal package won’t make a big difference.

“Even with the money that we may receive from Washington,” Wilson told the committee, “we will still need new money.”

What does the Transportation Secretary do?

Brief: 
Oversees state highways, mass transit, ferries and other transportation programs.
Answer: 

Oversees state highways, mass transit, ferries and other transportation programs.

As head of the N.C. Department of Transportation, the governor-appointed secretary supervises the state's divisions on highways, mass transit and railroads, as well as aviation, bicycle and pedestrian trails and ferries.

The department also includes the N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles, which oversees driver's licenses and vehicle registration.

The department is one of largest in the Cabinet or the Council of State. It employs more than 12,000 people and has an annual budget of more than $3 billion, including both state and federal money.

The secretary is one of 10 Cabinet-level positions appointed by the governor to head state agencies. In 2008-09, the annual salary was $120,363.

The State Highway Commission was created in 1915. In 1941, the legislature created the Department of Motor Vehicles.

In 1971, the two agencies were merged to form the N.C. Department of Transportation and Highway Safety during the administration of Gov. Bob Scott.

The department was given its current name in 1979.

The department is outlined in general statutes under Article 8 of G.S. 143B.

Claims Dept: McCrory takes on Smith

Pat McCrory, a Republican candidate for governor, is airing a radio ad that looks at Fred Smith's record as a highway contractor, reports David Ingram.

What the ad says: Announcer: "Why is Fred Smith attacking Pat McCrory? When Pat McCrory urged candidates to sign a pledge honoring Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment — Republicans don’t attack other Republicans — Smith said no.

"Then Smith turns around and attacks Pat McCrory with half-truths. He says we can’t afford Pat McCrory as governor. Wait a minute. Pat McCrory vetoed tax increases, and Pat’s leadership kept operating budget spending in line with the Taxpayer Protection Act’s guidelines.

"On the other hand, Fred Smith served in the Senate when spending increased by billions. Smith attacks Pat for one over-budget construction project? Careful there, Fred. As a highway contractor, over one-third of your company’s contracts went over budget, and two thirds didn’t finish on time."

McCrory: "The difference is leadership. I’m Pat McCrory, Republican candidate for governor, and my campaign sponsored this ad."

The background: McCrory proposed in February that Republicans in the governor’s race stay positive. Smith’s campaign was the first to run a negative ad.

Research by The Charlotte Observer turned up three tax increases that McCrory vetoed. And McCrory has championed some tax increases, such as a half-cent sales tax for transit. The claim is comparable to when Smith blamed McCrory for cost overruns in Charlotte’s light-rail system, over which McCrory has no direct oversight.

Smith’s paving company has completed 14 projects with the N.C. Department of Transportation. Five finished over budget, and nine finished late. Six of the nine late projects were completed within a month of the deadline.

Is the ad accurate? While literally correct, the accusation that Smith ‘served in the Senate when spending increased’ leaves listeners with an incorrect sense of Smith’s record. He has been a consistent advocate for limited spending.

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