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Barrett criticizes Easley

By Ned B. Hunter, Rocky Mount Telegram

TARBORO – Republican gubernatorial candidate Dan Barrett said Tuesday that if Gov. Mike Easley had worked with legislators to control state spending, he would not have been forced to withhold county revenues to balance the state budget.

"The governor and the legislature had two choices, find a way to control spending within the operating budget or raid the capital fund budget – such as the monies designated for the Highway Trust Fund and the State Employee Pension Fund," he said. "They chose to dip into our future funds, our future pools of money."

Barrett, 44, is a Winston-Salem attorney and former Davie County commissioner who traveled Tuesday to the Twin Counties speaking to voters in restaurants, hospitals and courthouse hallways about his plan to restore fiscal responsibility to state government and improve North Carolina's economy.

He said the governor's decision to withhold revenues from local governments impeded their ability to serve residents.

"The work gets done across the state through the local governments, by towns and by counties," Barrett said to reporters in Cottons Restaurant in Tarboro. "The recent seizure of hundreds of millions of dollars that goes to local governments ... has had a profound effect upon our citizens across the state through the loss of services and in increases in property and sales taxes."

Matt McCorkle, consultant for the Easley campaign, said Barrett needed to "get a hold on his facts."

"We're proud of the governor's fiscal management," he said. "We are ranked fourth in the nation in budget management by USA Today, the budget is around $14.7 billion, which is less than what he was handed by his predecessor (former Gov. Jim Hunt), and we are one of the few states with a AAA bond rating."

An opponent of the lottery, Barrett said passing a lottery is no guarantee lawmakers will increase education spending.

"States that have put the lottery in place are not spending any more on education than they did before," he said. "It simply goes into the general fund, and until we stop raiding the general fund, there is no guarantee the funds will go to education."

Rather than a lottery, Barrett said he would work to improve the state's overall tax burden on business to entice industry and help small businesses grow.

"Our tax rate is not competitive, both corporate and personal," he said. "If it is out of line you have trouble attracting and keeping businesses in our state. My goal is to have the lowest tax rate in the Southeast."

Before implementing his plans to improve the state's economy, Barrett must first wrestle a win in the Republican gubernatorial primary in May from five other Republican hopefuls. N.C. Sen. Minority Leader Patrick Ballantine, R-New Hanover, former Charlotte Mayor Richard Vinroot, who was defeated by Easley in 2000, businessman George Little of Southern Pines, former N.C. GOP Chairman Bill Cobey, and N.C. Sen. Fern Shubert, R-Union, are all vying for the honor to challenge Easley in the November election.

Ballantine is the Republican front-runner in fund-raising, having raised approximately $1.2 million in funds, according to his campaign office on Tuesday.

But Barrett said it takes more than raising money to win a campaign.

"I think the people of North Carolina are concerned with who can be the best governor rather than who can raise the most money at cocktail parties," he said.

Ballantine said his ability to raise campaign funds means Tar Heel voters believe he is the best candidate.

"We are proud of our fund-raising efforts," he said from his campaign headquarters on Barrett Drive in Raleigh. "We're receiving money from farmers and seniors for as little as $5. We are rasing money because people are supporting our campaign."

Barrett has raised more than $200,000 in campaign funds as of Tuesday, according to his campaign office.
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