Here we go again. The billboard industry, which never ceases in its efforts to cut down more trees, put up more signs and overrun any attempts by local governments to protect the environment and local vistas, is going all out in this legislative session – for its own interests.
In 2012 and 2013, the industry got concessions from business-friendly Republican lawmakers to get more leeway to cut trees around its signs to make them more visible and to replace old billboards with new steel structures, even in places that were not zoned for billboards.
It was so bad that the city of Charlotte, which tries to regulate signs as it should, raised a ruckus about the tree-cutting on N.C. Department of Transportation rights of way along highways. The city reported this year that the state had gotten 162 requests from billboard companies to cut down trees in the city and that 4,700 of them had been cut down.
The Charlotte Observer reported that, on Interstate 77 south of Charlotte, there had been clear-cutting of trees at the base of billboards.
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Under House Bill 304, the industry would have even more freedom to bring on the saws and could cut down native dogwoods and rosebuds as well as other trees.
But that is just the beginning. This legislation is an outrageous bow to an industry with political clout.
For example, local governments and the state DOT would have less control over the regulation of billboards, including their size and location and lighting.
Said Scott Mooneyham of the N.C. League of Municipalities, which looks out for the interest of local governments: The bill “would undermine local regulation of billboards, in both predictable and unpredictable ways.”
Indeed, this Republican-run General Assembly, supposedly overseen by the party of less government, has infringed on the power of local governments time and again. The most blatant example has been the redrawing of district lines for Wake County commissioner and school board races to skew the lines in favor of Republicans.
There have been other shots as well, such as the killing of privilege taxes used by local governments to help fund infrastructure.
So here we go again, yes. Now cities and towns, should this measure pass, would have their hands tied in trying to regulate billboards, even though the local mayors and town councils are best informed as to where billboards should go and not go in their communities.
But the industry would be in charge, as if it had some special right to override elected officials. It’s a preposterous idea, based solely on the industry’s claim that this is a “jobs bill” to make it easier for advertisers to present their businesses to the public.
It’s a jobs bill, all right. It’s doing a job on taxpayers.
It’s also going to potentially hurt the environment as more trees come down.
In addition, it would make it more expensive for the Department of Transportation to acquire billboards if DOT needed the space for a road project or something of that nature. The companies would not get compensated just for the cost of replacing their billboards. They’d be paid for the loss of “income generated by the rental of advertising space.” In other words, for the money they might have made.
Molly Diggins of the Sierra Club said, “Taxpayers shouldn’t be forced to bear the burden of compensating the billboard industry at a special higher rate.”
Republican Rep. Mike Hager of Rutherford County, a chief sponsor of the bill, rode the old horse of “free market” rights. In one of the more ridiculous lines of logic uttered lately on Jones Street, he said billboards are “no different than radio or TV or newspapers.” You can turn off a radio and a TV and recycle the newspaper. Billboards are there, at least in the industry’s mind, forever.
This legislation is bad for taxpayers, bad for the environment and bad for the state of North Carolina. Cut it down.