A meeting of a legislative panel charged with finding ways to eliminate government waste drew an overflow crowd Thursday of mostly opponents to a proposal to consolidate the state's agricultural research stations. The legislature's Program Evaluation Division staff has recommended closing up to seven of the stations and shifting ownership of the stations from the Department of Agriculture to N.C. State University. The closings and transfer could save the state up to $54.7 million up front and $3.7 million every year thereafter, according to a legislative staff report. But farmers have sharply criticized the plan, saying they could lose helpful research on crops.
Legislators also heard from staff researchers that economic booster agencies in the west, northeast and southeast of the state should become nonprofits to be consistent with their counterparts in the Piedmont. Their report on the economic boosters also called for creating uniform performance standards across all regions to measure job creation and other goals. Officials with the agencies said they support uniform standards but should keep their current organization to avoid disruption. Sen. Martin Nesbitt criticized both reports as attempts to fix what, at least in western North Carolina, isn't broke. "We're beginning to say that everything needs to be centralized and standardized and run out of Raleigh," the Asheville Democrat said, "and agriculture can't be done that way." The committee did not vote on either proposal.
(Jordan Schrader, ASHEVILLE CITIZEN-TIMES, 5/09/08).