We’ve heard of the Republicans’ “War On Women,” “War On the Poor,” “War On the Unemployed,” the Uninsured. But not much has been said about the “War on Cities,” which is really a “War on Local Government” waged by the North Carolina Republican legislature.
It started three years ago when a legislator from Henderson County decided it was time to take over Asheville’s billion dollar water system. He decided to create an authority with equal power in Asheville, Buncombe County and parts of Henderson County, so he ran a bill to force it, including a legislative study commission on which there was little representation from Asheville. He hadn’t asked the Asheville City Council if they wanted to give up their Asheville water system that was paid for and maintained by the water users in Asheville and for which they had issued bonds. Or the people of Asheville that owned the system. The Asheville water system had sold water to surrounding counties since its inception and, it was agreed, had done a good job.
Having accomplished that, the next year the Republican legislature, stripped Asheville of its airport. Not content with that, they decided to take over the Charlotte Douglas International Airport and take it away from the city of Charlotte.
High on those victories (which are still in the courts, wasting taxpayers’ money), they went after Guildford County where they redistricted the county commissioners, again without asking Guildford County if they wanted to be redistricted which it distinctly did not. Then they went after Wake County Schools by rewriting the districts, again against the wishes of the school board.
So why stop there? Freshman Republicans forced the Sanford City Council and school boards which had been non-partisan, to switch to partisan elections, again without a request or permission from those jurisdictions or voters. In fact, a Republican school board member came to the legislature to plead them to not turn a harmonious, effective non-partisan board partisan. She was so angry that she actually changed her party affiliation.
As if that show of force – bullying really – was not enough, the legislature this year decided to strip cities of one of their sources of revenue: the privilege tax. A privilege tax is a fee levied on businesses in a city to help pay for necessary services. A mom and pop might pay $100 while Wal-Mart might pay $1,000. True, the fees were all over the map and varied by type of business, amount charged, and different in every municipality across the state. The Republicans decided to make it a flat tax of $100, so that the big businesses would pay the same as small businesses. How fair is that? Then they just did away with it entirely.
Cities need those funds to pay for police and fire services, libraries, parks, etc. and without them, they will have to raise taxes. Fayetteville will lose over $1 million, Charlotte over $3 million, Durham $2.2 million, Raleigh $7.9 million.
Our cities are increasingly being squeezed by mandates that are put upon them by the legislature while their revenues are being taken away. The Republicans like to brag about cutting taxes, but what they are doing is passing them on down to those least likely to afford the cuts.
The legislature can do this because cities and counties can’t pass any law without getting permission from the legislature which can essentially do whatever it wants to our cities.
All this by a party whose motto is keeping government out of our lives and supporting local control.
Ellie Kinnaird is a former state senator and mayor of Carrboro. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org