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This morning’s Greensboro News & Record lets the Tea Party wing of the General Assembly (and Rep. Bert Jones in particular) have it this morning. In an editorial entitled “April Foolishness,” the N&R juxtaposes the convention champions’ supposed fondness for limits on power with the General Assembly’s recent attacks on local government:

We thought the state legislature convened in Raleigh.

Last week, it apparently met in Fantasy Land.

How else to explain the House Judiciary I committee debating for an hour whether North Carolina should join the call for a “Convention of the States” to discuss amendments to the U.S. Constitution that would limit the federal government’s power?

“I think there is a wide agreement among Americans that we need to place some constraints on the federal government,” said Rep. Bert Jones, the Reidsville Republican who sponsored House Bill 321, one of two bills calling for such a convention. “Are we going to depend on Congress to say, ‘It’s time to limit ourselves’?”

The convention would reconsider amendments involving term limits for Congress, fiscal restraints and limits on “the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.” “I look at this as an intervention of the states, just as if you have a drug-addled family member,” Jones said, sounding proud as punch.

That’s rich. Even as state lawmakers overreach with constant meddling into the affairs of cities and counties — changing the makeup of local boards and councils, including Greensboro’s, and making partisan power grabs for airports and water authorities — the political pot has the gall to call the kettle black and grouse about “federal overreach.”

Read the rest of the editorial by clicking here. Would that lawmakers had before passing their outrageous assault on voters in Wake County.

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"Healthywealthy" by threestooges.net. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb via Wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Healthywealthy.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Healthywealthy.jpg

“Healthywealthy” by threestooges.net. Licensed under Fair use of copyrighted material in the context of Healthy, Wealthy and Dumb via Wikipedia

No, this post is not an attempt to personally disparage the folks running North Carolina government. Rather it is an attempt to conjure up an image that captures the impact of the decisions that state leaders have been inflicting of late on their brethren and sistren at the local level.

As some readers will recall, The Three Stooges were an outlandish and slapstick comedy trio that had a long run in the middle part of the last century. In one of the trio’s recurring bits, one Stooge (usually Moe – pictured on the left) would slap or punch the second Stooge, who would then, in turn punch the third member of the group. The third and most hapless Stooge would then turn beside him and find that he only had thin air to punch.

Sadly, this comedy bit pretty well captures the essence of what’s going on in North Carolina government right now: Whether it’s the McCrory-Pope team or the General Assembly that starts the punching, the ones left flailing at thin air are local governments.

For the latest classic example, check out the bill under consideration in the state Senate during the waning days of the 2014 session that would hamstring local governments in their ability to raise local sales taxes for important needs. While Senators sought to alter some of the the impacts of the bill last evening, it still promises to have a deleterious impact — especially on big counties like Wake and Mecklenburg. And, of course, this comes on the heels of several previous haymakers in which state leaders have slashed state support for locals.

The bottom line is that the overarching policy of the current conservative state leadership when it comes to local government is this: We’re all for local control that’s closest to the voters — except when we’re not (i.e. any time anyone at the local level even thinks about doing something — like raising taxes to provide essential public services — with which we disagree). SLAP!!!

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ICYMI, the editorial page of the Greensboro News & Record pulled no punches this weekend in an editorial excoriating state senators for their last minute proposal to hamstring local governments when it comes to use of the sales tax for public services and structures at the local level. Here’s an excerpt from “Oddest idea yet”:

Republican state senators canceled a floor vote on a confusing sales-tax bill Thursday until they could get their stories straight. Which means it might not return.

Of all the heavy-handed directives the legislature has pushed down on local governments in the past couple of years — airport and water system takeovers, de-annexations, local redistrictings, elimination of privilege licenses — this one might be the most illogical.

The measure, which originated in the Senate Finance Committee without notice Wednesday, was presented as a means of giving counties additional tax flexibility. With voters’ approval, they could add to the local sales tax, designating revenue to schools or transportation projects.

But the strings attached tied everything in knots.

The legislation put restrictions on how new revenue could be spent — for education or for transportation, but not for both. It put a cap on the local sales-tax rate. And, perhaps most baffling, it required that if a county raised the sales-tax rate, it would have to raise it all the way to the cap….

The half-baked sales-tax bill, which also includes unrelated provisions boosting economic development efforts, was yanked from the calendar before the Senate adjourned for the weekend. Senators will return to Raleigh Monday, but the wacky sales-tax proposals ought to vanish as quickly as they appeared.

For more information on the proposal in question, click here for succinct summary.

NC Budget and Tax Center

Local communities across North Carolina are already feeling the impact of recent tax policies and budget decisions made by state policymakers. A recent news article quotes a Pitt County commissioner lamenting disapproval with the state pushing off on local governments what they should be funding. Indeed, the tax plan passed last year results in self-imposed budget challenges today that will continue for years ahead, resulting in continued state funding cuts to core public investments that serve as the foundation of economic prosperity.

We at the Budget & Tax Center have traditionally talked about the net revenue loss under the tax plan, but that masks something important that happened when policymakers overhauled the tax code. The tax plan passed last year shifts responsibility for funding core public investments to local governments, in part, by recapturing some of the shared revenue from state sources that went to local governments to meet their obligations.

One example of this shift was the decision to repeal and eliminate the allocation of a portion of corporate income tax revenue dedicated to the School Capital Building Fund (SCB Fund), created in the late 1980s to assist local governments in meeting their public school building capital and technology equipment needs. Prior to the tax change, a portion of revenue generated from the state corporate income tax went to the SCB Fund. That practice ends under the tax plan. Over the next five years, this tax change takes away $382 million from local governments who used the revenue to improve education facilities in their communities. Read More

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Blatantly contradicting past passionate positions is nothing new for the current conservative leadership of the General Assembly. Whether it’s the abandonment of their once deep concern for transparency in budgeting or their amnesia when it comes to political gerrymandering,  the folks running the show on Jones Street today can do a “180” on a supposedly principled position faster than you can say “Mr. Pope is on line one.”

This week’s classic case in point is the issue of “local control” and the once deep concern that conservatives supposedly had for assuring that as much power as possible be vested in the governmental bodies that were “closest to the people.” As it turns out, this formerly fervent belief was really more like a rough guideline — especially when it comes to the matter of local governments imposing the business taxes that they see fit.

Today, editorials in both the Wilmington Star-News and Fayetteville Observer rightfully take the General Assembly to task for their recent action in advancing a bill that would cap local privilege license fees on all businesses at $100.

Here’s the Observer: Read More