On one side, you have a senator talking about how there are “two North Carolinas” and how it’s time for policy that will bring prosperity to all areas of the state. On the other side, you have a member screaming “Socialism!” Senate Bill 369 would change the way sales tax revenue is distributed among the counties – mostly benefiting poor, rural counties at the expense of large wealthy ones. It’s causing politicians to say and do some very strange things and is making for interesting political theater.
The bill is the work of Sen. Harry Brown (R-Onslow), who is responsible for the “two North Carolinas” quote. Clearly, he’s channeling his inner John Edwards. Now those are fighting words when said about any Republican, but here, I’m with Harry Brown. The rural parts of this state are in trouble and the legislature needs to use every tool in their toolbox to fix them.
Some, mostly politicians who represent urban areas, don’t agree. Joel Ford (D-Charlotte) denounced the Senate’s plan as “socialism.” A month ago, Ford was one of only two Democrats to vote for the magistrate recusal bill, so perhaps he’s planning a switch to the party that crusades against socialism all the time. Ford and a number of other urban legislators are joined by some on the Libertarian Right who freak out at the idea of the government getting involved in redistribution. But a purely libertarian perspective would argue that the government has no business collecting sales tax at all. The government is already involved, so why not make the system more fair for the rural areas?
One thing that’s for sure is that there’s going to be winners and losers as a result of this bill. Small, rural areas are going to come out ahead (for once). Generally, the urban counties are going to lose. The hardest-hit will be Dare County, a coastal county that relies a lot on tourists paying sales tax for income. But most of the counties inland in eastern N.C. will gain, which presents an interesting conundrum for someone like Rep. Pat McElraft (R-Emerald Isle). Her home county, Carteret, is the larger of the counties she represents and another one of those coastal resort places that stands to lose from passage of this bill – more than 15 percent of its sales tax revenue, as a matter of fact. But her other county, Jones, would see a revenue gain of 163 percent. How does she vote?
One person who’s indicated they’d vote against this, whose vote will matter quite a lot, is Pat McCrory. Given McCrory’s past job as mayor of Charlotte, his siding with the urban areas of this state are understandable. He says the bill would harm the ‘economic engines’ of the state – the job creators, if you will – and NC can’t afford it. He adds that it will ‘decimate’ travel and tourism at the beach and that his dog Moe was particularly aggrieved by the bill. From these remarks, one can gather that if the bill comes to his desk, McCrory will veto it, which means the Senate would then have to attempt an override. It certainly looks like we could be in for yet another clash between the governor and Mr. Berger.
(PoliticsNC is a blog and news site developed by political consultant Thomas Mills with the creative and technical support of Amanda Underwood. The goal is to provide a reasoned voice in the political debate at a time when throwing rocks and calling names is far more popular. For more news, commentary, and blogs, go to www.politicsnc.com.)