Embassy Square is part of a controversy this week, and it has nothing to do with capital budgets or city spending or operational costs. In fact, it’s a problem not at all of the making of the Embassy Square Foundation or the Henderson government.
Instead, it’s all about state politics.
Raleigh’s News & Observer reported Wednesday that the $475,000 the state Department of Cultural Resources awarded the Embassy project for library construction this fiscal year didn’t exactly go through the traditional appropriations process.
The money came out $5 million in reserve funds set aside in the state budget to be spent at the discretion of Democratic House Speaker Jim Black. It was the same pool of money Black tapped to set up a job for Michael Decker, a former legislator whom Black owed a big favor for helping keep him as speaker in 2003.
As part of the Democratic leadership of the House and co-chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Rep. Jim Crawford of Oxford had a voice in how Black spent the $5 million. Representing Henderson in the House, Crawford fought for and won the $475,000 for the library.
The N&O says the Department of Cultural Resources had no control over how the reserve funds were spent, so perhaps Embassy Square isn’t as impressive to the people in that agency as we thought. On the other hand, Crawford got 9.5 percent of Black’s personal slush fund for a project that has no political value for the speaker, so perhaps Crawford’s commitment to Embassy Square is even greater than we thought.
In the end, what does all of this mean? Probably not much. The state funding for the library is pork, as is the money the federal government has granted the project. But as long as politics play a part in how governments spend money — which will be as long as governments have money to spend — legislators will try to slide a few extra bucks to their constituents. And we’d rather the Embassy foundation spent $475,000 from the people of Charlotte, Raleigh and Greensboro than any more money from the city’s bank account.