RALEIGH — Mayors from North Carolina’s largest cities met Thursday at the downtown Raleigh Convention Center to sketch out common goals for the upcoming session of the General Assembly.
Municipal leaders are paying close attention to how the legislature’s Republican leadership will tackle issues such as deregulation and tax reform.
One major difference this year is that the mayors will have one of their own in the governor’s mansion. Republican Pat McCrory was mayor of Charlotte for 14 years and was a founding member of the N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition, the bipartisan group that sponsored Thursday’s daylong event.
“Having been a mayor himself, having been a part of this coalition, he understands the issues that are facing urban cities,” said Durham Mayor Bill Bell, a Democrat. “I would hope that he would be sympathetic to concerns we might raise, and I suspect he will.”
Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane, an Independent who endorsed President Barack Obama, said she also believes McCrory’s mayoral background gives reason to believe he will be cognizant of the needs of cities.
Among the issues discussed Thursday was transportation funding, and how the state can better prioritize which projects get funding and when. The mayors will also be watching closely for any legislation that may alter annexation laws or issues related to urban growth and development.
City leaders have expressed concerns that the General Assembly may craft a budget that reduces state assistance to large municipalities and leaves them scrabbling to fill large holes in their budgets.
McFarlane said House Speaker Thom Tillis, who spoke to the coalition during a morning session, promised that wouldn’t happen.
“Speaker Tillis committed this morning that they’re not going to balance the budget on the backs of cities and counties,” she said. “That’s good news for us. Unfunded mandates are always troubling, because someone still ends up paying.”
For now, the coalition’s members remain optimistic that they will be able to work effectively with both McCrory and the Republican leadership in the legislature.
“As a Democrat, this was a frustrating election, but every second we spend thinking about that is time we could have been working to make things better,” said Chapel Hill Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt. “I’m hopeful everyone will be able remove politics from the areas we can’t afford to get wrong.”