TAR HEEL VIEW: Downtown dollars flow to crossroads with no downtown

It won’t achieve the notoriety of Alaska’s “Bridge to Nowhere,” but as a symbol of pork-barrel spending at the state level, this one is tough to beat.

Tucked away in North Carolina’s 2017 budget is a $30,000 downtown revitalization grant for…Cleveland?

No, it’s not the Ohio metropolis that’s home to LeBron James and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Not Cleveland, North Carolina, a Rowan County town of 900-some souls.

Not Cleveland County, whose state representative is none other than House Speaker Tim Moore.

Nope, the beneficiary of this budget earmark is the unincorporated Cleveland community southwest of Clayton in Johnston County.

Local leaders didn’t ask for the downtown revitalization cash, and for good reason.

“We don’t have a downtown,” Greater Cleveland Chamber of Commerce executive director Kim Lawter told the News & Observer. “Where would downtown be? Even that’s been a topic of conversation.”

Johnston County commissioners said they’d await direction from the General Assembly on how the money can be spent and floated the idea of using it to establish a city government and apply for incorporation.

Meanwhile, lawmakers aren’t jumping up and down to take credit for the laughable legislative largesse. The Raleigh newspaper was unable to zero in on the earmark’s sponsor.

The 2017 state budget included millions in earmark spending, most enriching the home districts of influential Republican legislators. Democrats cried foul and GOP leaders either defended the merits of specific projects or pointed out that Democrats sure liked the taste of pork when they ruled the roost in Raleigh.

For the Tea Party crowd, those excuses don’t wash.

“How do you go in front of the voters now — with a straight face and no crossed fingers behind your back — and claim to be the party of smaller government and fiscal conservatism?” Brant Clifton asked on The Daily Haymaker, a conservative North Carolina political blog.

As for one of those other Clevelands, the House speaker’s home county, Moore had no trouble bringing home the bacon.

Lawmakers signed off on a $5 million appropriation for an advanced manufacturing center at Cleveland Community College, a quarter-million each for two nonprofits, $200,000 for the county fairgrounds, $100,000 for an amphitheater in Kings Mountain, $75,000 for the city of Shelby, $50,000 each for the towns of Boiling Springs and Lawndale and $25,000 for the town of Lattimore.

The Cleveland community in Johnston County is a burgeoning retail and residential center with an estimated 27,000 residents. We don’t begrudge those North Carolina taxpayers their fair share of state funding just because they don’t happen to live in a municipality.

We do, however, question the wisdom of a downtown revitalization grant for a community with no discernible downtown. You can’t revitalize something that doesn’t exist.

— The Wilson Times