The N.C. Legislature has been a busy place this year — so busy that lawmakers have had difficulty knowing how to vote on many of the bills proposed.
In fact, because of the avalanche of legislation rolling through the Legislature, state Rep. Bob Steinburg, D-Chowan, admitted recently that he would be unable to know the effect of each bill on individual counties. Steinburg, who is serving for the first time in elective office, told The Daily Advance in late May that he relies on input from local officials in his district to tell him how proposed legislation will affect them.
It was a lesson he learned the hard way. In one case in April he supported a bill to limit counties’ powers to restrict mobile homes in residential zoning districts. Then, after talking to local county officials about the bill’s “unintended consequences,” he changed course and began working against the measure.
“We realize that we made an error and it’s going to be corrected,” Steinburg said at the time.
Weeks later, however, he had to reconsider supporting a bill to relax a law that gives counties the ability to control permitting on local stormwater rules — rules our counties have used extensively to protect residents from flooding.
“County managers need to be on high alert, so that nobody is blind-sided,” said Steinburg, after realizing how local officials differed with his position on the stormwater legislation.
No lawmaker should vote on a bill without knowing its impact on the residents he represents. Now, at least, Steinburg should be wary of that and more vigilant about learning what’s best for his district. We urge him to use that experience on current budgeting and tax reform legislation.
He should be talking to local officials about the fiscal impact on local counties that would result from cutting income and corporate taxes, changes to sales taxes and other provisions being pushed forward in both the state House and Senate. Ultimately, he should be urging that comprehensive tax reform be put off until next year or later, after dozens of bills approved during the current session have taken effect, when lawmakers, local officials and citizens may better evaluate the new laws’ effects.
That is a much wiser course than the rush many legislators are in to approve broad tax reform without apprising its full effect on the state’s citizens. Poorly crafted tax reform could cripple the state’s economy for years to come.
We agree that the state is ready for realignment of its tax system. North Carolina’s economy has changed significantly since the current system was implemented decades ago. Unfortunately, the short-term mandate preferred by most Republican lawmakers is less focused on meaningful budgeting and tax reform than it is on tax breaks that benefit mostly the wealthy.
Steinburg and 1st District Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, should pay close attention to how well the House and Senate budgets respond to local needs — which, according to an analysis released last week by the Budget & Tax Center, is perilously out of line, The House plan, the Center reports, includes significant cuts in services and an effective tax hike for, on average, 95 percent of taxpayers — while offering large tax cuts for the wealthy and profitable corporations. Both the House and Senate budgets — we await the compromise plan — underfund education and cut allocations to programs that support children, family and rural communities, according to an analysis by the Center, a project of the North Carolina Justice Center.
If the Albemarle was home to big corporations, metropolitan residential subdivisions, mega-shopping malls and plentiful jobs, portions of the budget would be sweet music to local ears. However, northeastern North Carolina is not like that. This area depends on many of the services, jobs and other programs that exist on the side of the ledger that conservative lawmakers seem prepared to lop off.
Even the Legislature’s Fiscal Research Division reports tax reform plans in the House and Senate could cost the state $1 billion in annual revenues. And just who will be affected most by those cuts — upscale areas or rural communities? Not hard to figure that out.
Steinburg and Cook should be advocating a slowdown on tax reform and more consideration of budgetary policy that directly affects their districts.
And if either lawmaker is unsure of which budgetary policies favor Albemarle area citizens, Steinburg can certainly attest to the wisdom of dialing up local officials to find out.