Given the anti-local government that has set in over the General Assembly the past couple years, it was refreshing and, yes, a little bit surprising to see positive movement for a change that would allow towns and cities to enact their own quarter-cent sales tax in an effort to recoup some of the funding and growth opportunities the legislature has taken away.
The bill filed by none other than the House of Representatives’ Finance Committee chairman Jason Saine, automatically garners clout among legislators because a member of the majority leadership was the person who proposed the idea.
Looking back, the General Assembly has eliminated the ability of towns to apply fees to business licenses. They have so severely limited the ability of towns and cities to annex land that it is virtually impossible. All those moves mean towns must find ways to provide services with less money. Those moves have hurt the ability of towns to plan for future needs and maintain the fiscal responsibility taxpayers expect and that the Local Government Commission demands.
A small bump in the sales tax likely won’t bring large sums of new money into the towns that choose to take advantage of it. And, to be sure, some towns will choose to forego that revenue stream because their constituents see it as a tax increase.
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But it does, to some degree, restore the ability of towns and cities to maintain some control over their destinies.
In North Carolina, towns and cities are creations of the state. Legislators can impose laws that impact towns and cities in both good and bad ways.
For many years, one of the most successful lobbies on Jones Street were local government leaders. Many of those in the legislature had come up through local government and were familiar with the challenges towns face.
In 2014 a lot of that changed. Local lawmakers were not the favorites of their elected state leaders and trying to talk the legislative leadership down off a ledge proved more of a challenge than it ever had before.
With this proposal local leaders have another chance to make their case that this is an important opportunity for the towns they represent as they try to provide the best services they can for the people who elected them to office.