Some North Carolina civic leaders must feel they’re trying to listen to someone talk out of both sides of his mouth. Only it isn’t a person. It’s state government.
From one side comes the rhetoric of the Republican leaders of the General Assembly, who seem to have added a war against urban areas to their long-standing war against the poor (cutting unemployment, stifling Medicaid expansion). Now legislative leaders have put a hole in city budgets and are orchestrating a change in local elections to better the chances of Republicans winning in urban counties.
For example, they did away with the ability of local governments to collect privilege taxes from businesses, relatively small levies that enabled cities to cover expenses such as roads and public safety, both of which, by the way, benefit business development. The loss of the privilege tax will cost municipalities $62 million this year, says legislative staff.
But Republicans in the legislature think “tax” is a four-letter word, and some of them no doubt don’t like the fact that the state’s urban areas are more likely to vote Democratic.
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What the mayors of those municipalities say, and have said to Gov. Pat McCrory, is that they’ll have to raise local taxes to make up for the lost privilege tax revenue or cut services. McCrory has tried to reassure them he’s going to come up with a plan to help them make up the money. But he has not done so, though he says he’s working on it.
Governor opposes tax shift
The governor seemed to side with towns and cities as well on another contentious financial issue at a Raleigh meeting of the League of Municipalities this week. He said he opposed a plan from Republican legislators to redistribute sales tax revenue to rural areas of the state, which would be another crippling expense to cities. The maneuver appears to be yet another urban versus rural issue stirred up by the GOP. The governor’s position is that he “wholeheartedly” opposes the sales tax gambit.
And to boot, McCrory doesn’t believe state lawmakers ought to be meddling in how city council members are elected in Greensboro or county commissioners are elected in Wake County. Republican legislators appear ready to redraw local district lines in Greensboro and Wake County in a way that will give Republican candidates an advantage.
As a former Charlotte mayor, McCrory is more attuned to the need for independence in localities and for the need for the legislature to mind its own business. But as governor, he’s up against members of his own party in the General Assembly who seem to relish in brushing him off.
McCrory asserts views
It’s refreshing, frankly, to see McCrory standing up for his own viewpoints and for cities and towns. Perhaps he realizes that standing aside and keeping quiet are only going to reinforce lawmakers’ clear lack of respect for him.
The governor has nothing to lose here. He, after all, was elected statewide, which the members of the General Assembly were not. He campaigned, twice, not as a radical but as a pragmatic conservative who believed he could bring people together.
GOP leaders in the General Assembly seem not to care whether anybody comes together outside of their own caucus. That attitude only widens the fractures in state government and is enlarging the state’s rural-urban divide.
Mayors and other urban officials know, for example, what it means when House Speaker Tim Moore and Phil Berger, president pro tem of the state Senate, tell them they’re listening but show little interest in acting on the viewpoints of urban leaders or even talking about compromise on issues of concern.
That kind of attitude causes a backlash – even from a governor of their party.