At Wednesday night's town-gown soiree, all were on their best behavior. The only moment of tension arose when Will Raymond pressed the town planning director on a point. Two hours went by before Elaine Barney politely asked if the university still had a protest petition in place for the proposed OI-4 zoning changes.
But there was one particular bit of hogwash that should not go uncorrected. This was Jonathan Howes sanctimonious prattle about the need for the university to safeguard our tax dollars. That was the primary rationalization offered for UNC's push for a hasty town review of university development projects.
What Howes did not tell us, but surely knows, is that state funding accounts for only 20-some percent of the university budget (see, for example, UNC says state funds are just 25% of budget).
In misrepresenting this fact, Howes is playing on public misconceptions. In its Feb. 26, 2004 issue, the Triangle Business Journal reported on a UNC survey which found that
15 percent of respondents thought the state paid for more than two-thirds of the university's budget, while 47 percent answered between one-third and two-thirds. Only 39 percent of North Carolinians chose the correct answer: less than one-third.
Those who've read the headlines lately know that state funding continues to fall.
I doubt that most voters, other than arch-conservatives, mind if their tax dollars are unspent for the 90 or 120 days it may take to make sure a project is done right. But the business interests who seek to profit on university growth don't like to see their capital sit idle for even a few weeks. Coincidentally, these tend to be the same folks who dislike regulation of any sort that doesn't put money in their pockets.
By the way, the town has faced this kind of propaganda before. In 2001, the university's master plan was framed as a mandate from the state's voters who had just approved a massive higher education bond referendum. Then council-member Joyce Brown documented that only a small portion of the master plan was to be funded by the bonds. Most of the bond projects were for infrastructure and renovations, not for growth.
We hear a lot on this blog from certain parties concerned with civility. I trust they'll agree that it is the height of incivility for a public official (in this case, Howes) to dump a load of crap on the citizens.