Editorial: Legislators are picking your pocket

Jun. 09, 2014 @ 09:59 AM

The leaders of the General Assembly like to brag that they have cut taxes.

What they hope you won’t notice is that over the past few years they have gradually ramped up the pressure on local governments to raise property taxes. Little bit by little bit, the state keeps either pushing unfunded mandates on local governments or taking away revenue sources that local governments relied on for many years. Even in this year’s “short session,” ostensibly held for budget adjustments rather than new initiatives, they can’t stop themselves.

The legislature had barely convened last month before it rammed through a measure to eliminate business privilege license taxes, an entirely local tax with no effect on the state budget, potentially costing municipalities $62 million a year once the law takes effect in 2015.

Last week we learned that officials from counties across the state gathered in Raleigh to ask the legislators to please stop sucking up ever-larger portions of lottery revenue. When the lottery was first created, a state law mandated that 40 percent of the proceeds from the lottery be sent to counties for school construction, and as recently as fiscal 2009-10 that amount was being distributed. But every year since then, counties have received less — down to 20.7 percent in the current fiscal year, according to the N.C. Association of County Commissioners and a press release from Caldwell County.

The General Assembly has sucked away about $5 million just from Caldwell County alone, County Manager Stan Kiser said in the press release. The statewide total comes to $300 million.

And, of course, last year the legislators did away with the law mandating the amount of lottery money that should be sent to the schools.

Additionally, the state Senate has proposed eliminating state funding for teacher assistants in second and third grades, which Senate leaders say local officials could “choose” to keep funding with local money —you know, that money from the magic pot that keeps on giving whenever local officials need more money. In Caldwell County, the cut would eliminate funding for 50 teacher assistants, Superintendent Steve Stone told the county commissioners Tuesday at a budget hearing, adding, “We wouldn’t be able to sustain that.”

Also Tuesday, Stone and Ken Boham, the president of Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute, told the commissioners that they are hearing from their sources in Raleigh that legislative budget writers seem to want to push down to the counties the responsibility for paying for worker’s compensation insurance for school and college employees.

Boham said that the worker’s comp change would save the state $600,000, but it would cost CCC&TI alone $99,100. If it happens this year, he said he would have to “come back to you and let you know I just received a $99,100 unfunded mandate.”

But even if it doesn’t happen this year, he said, he has been told that it eventually will.

All of these changes are going to hit you where it hurts. Either the services of your local governments and schools are going to have to be cut, or your property taxes are going to have to be raised. That appears to be what state legislators want. Do you?