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OPINION
Published on: 2004-04-09

Two For The Show
Paying for flattery isn't sound recruitment
Gov. Mike Easley would be a more credible advocate of bigger sums to draw industry to North Carolina if the newest set of incentives weren't wrapped in a scam.

A week ago, Easley was indulging in some hand-wringing to the effect that the state's One North Carolina industrial incentives fund was becoming overcommitted and was basically running on fumes. If that's true, and we have no reason to doubt that it is, there could be no better argument for making wise use of what money we do have.

Instead, two new programs evade critical assessment by requiring industrial prospects to declare, in writing, that they wouldn't come here if not for the incentives.

This is defensively billed as an effort to ensure the integrity of the program and the data. But if that doesn't set off your baloney alarm, have your circuitry checked at once. What we have here is not evidence of an effective program, but a program that requires all comers to say that it's effective in order to qualify for a share of the goodies.

True, there's a ter-r-r-ible penalty for any who are later found to have lied: loss of subsidy. But how is this provision to be enforced?

Are we to entice these concerns to come here by holding out the prospect of having their books audited once or twice a year? Don't hold your breath.

The honor system, then? Hardly. No one whose conscience won't permit him to lie will even bother to apply, because he knows his honesty disqualifies him. So the applicants are a mix of bona fide hardship cases and pragmatic liars; and the state has no way of knowing which is which, if it even cares.

North Carolina is in trouble, but its interests are ill-served by such juvenile attempts to gin up flashy statistics for its recruitment programs.

The sign-or-get-lost requirement should go because it's bogus. Incentive programs, like other programs, should stand on their actual merits. And if the state is so unsure of our recruitment effort that it must resort to cheap tricks to make it appear effective, then maybe it's time to give some of those programs a closer look.