Gov. Mike Easley and the state of North Carolina have been sued by two former state officials who are accusing them of pilfering $205 million from the Highway Trust Fund to balance the state's budget. Former state Transportation Secretary James E. Harrington and former state Sen. William Goldston, filed the complaint Nov. 14.
Harrington and Goldston filed the complaint in Wake County Superior Court, saying Easley and state lawmakers violated North Carolina's constitution by plundering the road-building fund to balance the state's budget. The two former state officials were instrumental in developing the Highway Trust Fund.
According to the complaint, the North Carolina Highway Trust Fund was created "for the purpose of improving 1,844.2 miles of specific transportation corridors and completing 205.4 miles of urban loops around seven named cities."
The complaint specifies two specific instances when the governor and state transferred money from the trust fund into the state's general fund. First, on Feb. 5, 2002, the governor used an executive order to transfer $80 million from the trust fund into the general fund. Most recently, state lawmakers approved legislation to shift another $125 million from the trust fund to the general fund as a loan to be repaid during fiscal years 2004-2005 through 2008-2009.
Goldston was a senator in the North Carolina General Assembly from 1985-1992. He served as chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee and co-chair of the State Highway Study Commission in the late 1980s that reviewed the state's highway system and created in 1989 the North Carolina Highway Trust Fund.
Harrington served as Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Economic Resources 1973-1976 and as Secretary of the Department of Transportation 1985-1989. According to the lawsuit, he initiated the State Highway Study Commission and participated in creation of the North Carolina Highway Trust Fund.
-- By Rene Tankersley, feature editor