by Sarah Curry
Director of Fiscal Policy Studies
One of the major areas of spending in the state budget is Natural and Economic Resources (NER). Within that, there are five major categories: the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Department of Labor, the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), the Department of Commerce, and the Wildlife Resources Commission.
In fiscal year 2014-15 Natural and Economic Resources spending within the General Fund increased by 9.7 percent, or $36 million. That increase was mainly found in the Commerce Department’s budget, which had the largest increase within NER — 67.5 percent, or $34.6 million, over last year. This increase was comprised of $10 million set aside for film incentive grants, $20 million to be used for a job catalyst fund targeting the manufacturing industry, and $1.3 million to expand the Rural Economic Development Division’s grant programs. Natural and Economic Resources also funds and manages some of the state’s tourist destinations, such as state aquariums, the zoo, and multiple state parks.
North Carolina’s aquariums were first established in 1976 and now operate in four locations: Fort Fisher, Pine Knoll Shores, Roanoke Island, and Jennette’s Pier in Nags Head. The aquariums have 146 full-time employees and had a total budget of $11.9 million last year, $7.2 million of which came from state appropriations. According to DENR, aquarium appropriations have decreased by 24 percent in the past five years, while revenues from all other sources have shown a 45 percent increase.
North Carolina’s marine jurisdiction includes nearly 1,000 square miles of open ocean and 3,600 square miles of coastal rivers and sounds,more estuarine waters than in any other state. The division of marine fisheries employs 273 full-time employees and operates under a total budget of $26.4 million, of which $15.8 million comes from state dollars. Other sources of income are recreational licenses (13%), commercial licenses (9%), and Federal grants (17%). The largest expenditures are concentrated in fishery management plans (40%) and marine patrol (30%).
Museum of Natural Sciences
This downtown Raleigh museum employs 149 full-time workers and operates under a total budget of $12.8 million, almost all of which comes from the state’s General Fund. Over 1 million visitors walked through the doors of this museum in 2013, making it the state’s second most visited cultural attraction.
State Parks and Recreational Areas
North Carolina is home to 39 state parks and recreation areas, 20 state natural areas, seven state lakes, four state rivers, and four state trails. The total budget for this division is $48 million, with $40.8 million coming from state tax dollars, and it employs 458 full-time workers and more than 500 seasonal staff. State parks also generate revenue from camping and swimming fees, facility rentals, food and retail sales, operating contracts for marinas and restaurants, and pier permits at state lakes. The per capita expenditure for the North Carolina state parks system is $3.46, much lower than all neighboring states. Additional funds also come from the NC Parks and Recreation Trust Fund, which allocated $11 million in FY 2013-14.
NC Zoological Park
The NC Zoo opened in 1974 in Asheboro and now hosts nearly 750,000 visitors annually. The NC Zoo employs more than 390 staff members, 231 of whom are full-time employees, and operates with a total budget of $18.4 million. State tax dollars account for $10.7 million of the zoo’s annual budget, and while state appropriations have decreased by 14 percent since 2008, the zoo has been able to increase its other revenues by 26 percent during the same time period.
Here are some of the other spending items found within the Natural and Economic Resources budget for FY 2014-15:
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