State Treasurer Calls DOT Spending Excessive, Blames Transportation Chief

November 1st, 2019

The political finger-pointing is heating up in the current NC Department of Transportation fiscal crisis, as State Treasurer Folwell and Governor Cooper trade barbs at one another regarding who is to blame for the current situation.

Legislators have been considering a $660 million dollar legislative bailout for the DOT budget, though we suspect it may take a while to reach a final deal as the political parties continue to blame one another for the current crisis.

The DOT has blamed the excessive spending on a series of natural disasters and ongoing legal settlements over a now-repealed law. With a shortage of funds for operations, the DOT has placed 900 road projects on hold and has laid off hundreds of contractors and employees.

This explanation does not sit well with Fowell, who believes that the department’s financial issues are due to mismanagement that could have been prevented. He has accused the DOT of purposeful overspending that has resulted in issued highway bonds and says that state Transportation Secretary, Jim Trogdon, is to blame.

He Said, He Said

Between April 2018 and April 2019, the DOT provided $1.1 billion in “short-term” loans from the Highway Trust Fund to the Highway Fund. Fowell asserts that under the law, the transferred funds could not have been paid out of the trust fund and that the DOT never sought and received permission from the Treasurer’s Office for the transfer.  He expressed his opinion, focusing on the fact that taxpayers, bondholders, and rating agencies have trusted that the funds be used properly. “The lack of oversight at NCDOT is outrageous,” he said.

Both Trogdon and Cooper see things a bit differently. In an email to WRAL News, DOT spokesman, Steve Abbott, wrote that Trogdon “is focused on continuing to deliver critical projects in every region of the state” and that he will continue working to improve the agency’s internal processes.

On behalf of Cooper’s office, spokeswoman Megan Thorpe responded bluntly in an email saying: “A financial lecture from the nation’s least effective state treasurer, who boasts among the worst fiduciary returns on investment and raised the cost of health care for state employees during his tenure, is not credible.” She expressed that the NCDOT is, in fact, working within legislative guidelines and navigating the MAP Act settlements as well as historic storms and flooding, costs of which she said were “unprecedented.”

The proposed legislative bailout has yet to be cleared by either the House or the Senate. Only time will tell how the situation will resolve.