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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., March 13, 1998. Interview C-0328-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Making decisions about disbursing a budget surplus

Holshouser reveals his organizational mentality as he confesses that he made decisions about disbursing government money guided in large part by the desire to avoid waste. He also sought to trim the state's budget, avoiding unnecessary expenditures. Despite his efforts, he could not avoid criticism for his purchase of park lands, which require expensive maintenance, or correct the impression that money pouring into the public school system was not accomplishing anything.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James E. Holshouser Jr., March 13, 1998. Interview C-0328-2. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

If you would take one or more of these, you mentioned the budget, education, parks, community colleges and may be others, that you would rather look at. If you would take a couple of these and comment on how these came to be important to you, why was it that that particular issue, community colleges, parks, education or whatever it is, that you want to talk about. Why did that become important to you?
Well, it is bad to have to say so and I am not sure that I want to say so for public attribution but it was a large part looking for places to put money that would not be wasted but would not be recurring, so that you didn't get yourself into trouble later in your administration just approach the budget. If you had asked me in October what I was going to spend money on, I would have talked about education I know. Public schools a lot, talk about the university a lot, might have mentioned the community colleges in passing, but not to the extent that we ended up doing. Certainly not the parks. Because while I knew that we were behind in park acquisitions I had always as a legislator thought that because we had so much of the state that had federal parks the fact that we had such a low amount of state park land wasn't as bad an indictment as some people tried to make it. And we probably made a mistake in not, I say made a mistake I'll back up and say, the circumstances turned out to have made the acquisition of all that extra park land subject to second guessing because once you buy it you have got to have operating money to operate. When we got the money appropriated to buy it, we knew it would take time to get it so that you could operate it. So the money for operations really wasn't much in that first biennial budget. By the time 1975 came along and that would normally started to kick in, we had gone into a recession and the energy crisis and all that and the money wasn't there. It never got the kind of operating support that it should have had and there was a lot of publicity about it, probably during Hunt's second administration maybe. About the fact that we had all this park land out there that was just letting go to the dogs, that we weren't maintaining it right, or operating it right. That was just sort of a left over from the circumstances of '75, the energy crisis and all that. I personally thought and I still think that the state had the highway funds for road paving and had the general fund for everything else and that the main purpose of that general fund ought to be education. It has always been that way and the public schools needed more and we are still struggling with that. And time will tell whether the current education initiatives are going to be proven to be the answer. We have the tendency to try new initiatives but not to keep it going long enough to see if it really works. A lot of people say we just keep pouring money into it and nothing gets better and it is hard to say that whether if you didn't spend the money things would have gotten a lot worse. I think the main focus I had was because of background was on the university and the education system. I thought we had enough fat in the budget that we could cut some. I did what a lot of governors around the country do, we got some people to come in and they organized an efficiency study. We got Archie Davis to head up a commission and his name alone was going to give that credibility. The commission came in and businesses loaned people to come in and do the study in the various departments. The records are pretty solid that we saved about, ended up changes, that resulted in about 80 million (dollars) a year which at that time was a lot and still a lot of money but it was more money then than it is now.
That was with recurring?
That is right. And a lot of them were just common sense things that came from the departments themselves which is always the best way to go. You ask people how they could do it better, how they could save money and they always know better than anybody else if they will tell you. I was real pleased with that because I thought part of what I had to do as a Republican was to show people a few different wrinkles in the approach to government. One way was to try as near as you could to show people their tax money was being spent wisely and not just being wasted unnecessarily. I don't think you ought to do one of those every administration. I think you ought to do one of those every ten to fifteen years because you'll cut back and it gradually starts to build back up.