Cover Story: NC's stimulus czar

By Jeff Atkinson - bio | email

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - It's been five months since President Obama signed the stimulus package into law and on this weekend we celebrate American independence we're looking at how your tax dollars in the stimulus are being spent and who's accounting for them.  PrimeTime's Jeff Atkinson has our Cover Story.

It's the biggest one-time infusion of tax dollars in the modern era.  787 billion dollars altogether.  8-point three billion to North Carolina to kick start the economy and create jobs.

But equally important-- orders from Washington-- you'd better not waste it.

"The best man I could find to do the hardest job in the state.. there's only one man.. Dempsey Benton."

Gov. Perdue turned to Dempsey Benton.. longtime Raleigh city manager and former cabinet secretary.. to watch the till.  The state's stimulus czar.

"The directive is do it. But do it right."

With so much money on the line.. and dumped in the state's lap so fast (like never before).. job one is to make sure the billions end up where they're supposed to.

Of the 8-point-3 billion about a third of it's committed to programs to help balance the state's budget.

The rest is new money to go for transportation.. education, energy programs.. water and sewer and workforce development.

Does Benton have the best job in state government?

"Sometimes I do and sometimes I don't. Depends on whether the answer's yes or no," he says.

And the people doing some of the asking.. in an audience at CPCC's Harris campus on the west side.. two weeks ago.

A workshop for political leaders and everyday people interested in getting their piece of the stimulus pie.. one of about a dozen Dempsey Benton's held around the state.

"It's been a challenge to get our arms around the projects because of the order of magnitude. We're getting there."

Protests over the stimulus.. with signs "Stop spending my kid's future.." have turned up the heat in Washington and across the country.. to make sure the stimulus dollars aren't wasted.

President Obama charged each state governor with oversight.. and said he will call them out if he hears of waste or fraud.

"The American people are watching," said the President.  "They need this plan to work.. expect to see money spent in intended purpose."

North Carolina's launched a website..

where stimulus spending can be tracked.  There's a section specifically to report waste and fraud.

The Tar Heel state is one of six states chosen by the feds to be super audited.

"We got to be sure we dot our I's and cross our T's because Big Brother is watching," says Gov. Perdue.

The billions North Carolina is receiving is designed to boost the economy.. create or save more than 100-thousand jobs in the state.

Dempsey Benton's job is temporary.. runs for only three years.. till the stimulus money runs out.

People can get a piece of the stimulus pie.. how do they do that?

Give you just one example.. home weatherization. The state normally doles out about 8 million dollars a year to winterize homes.. in the stimulus package we're getting 44 million dollars each year for the next three years.. at least four times more than normal.