We’ve written this before, but it bears repeating: In public power towns, electricity rates are too high in part because elected leaders like to use electricity profits to keep property taxes low.
This practice punishes the poor most because they are most likely to live in homes that are not energy efficient. In East Smithfield, we have heard residents of the smallest houses bemoan monthly power bills in excess of $700.
It’s unconscionable that poor East Smithfield residents or poor residents of any public power town pay unnecessarily high electricity bills so that their affluent neighbors residents can enjoy artificially lower property taxes.
That’s poor public policy, but politically, it’s predictable, because in Johnston County, town councils and boards of commissioners look more like their affluent constituents than their poor ones. So naturally, they’re going to try harder to appease the affluent, who fret more about property taxes than electricity rates.
Even in Smithfield and Selma, which have moved to cut electricity rates, the motives for doing so weren’t all about aiding the poor. Smithfield wants lower electricity rates to be more competitive when it comes to attracting new businesses and families, not necessarily aiding existing ones. And while Selma moved specifically to bring relief to families, the author of the motion had a political motive. Councilman Tommy Holmes is running for reelection and no doubt hoped to gain politically from lowering rates in advance of the November election.
But Selma Councilwoman Jackie Lacey had no such motive. She’s not up for election in the fall, so when she cast the deciding vote in favor of cutting rates, she was a casting a vote for Selma’s poor.
Public power towns in North Carolina need more leaders like Jackie Lacey.