Editorial: Legislators leave local governments hanging

Jun. 22, 2013 @ 01:46 AM

It’s all but certain now that local governments will have to fly blind into the start of the new budget year.

House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenberg, said Thursday that the General Assembly likely would pass a resolution next week to let the state keep operating under the terms of the current year’s budget even after June 30, the end of the fiscal year.

That’s an option that municipalities can’t take without incurring significant pain for either themselves or taxpayers.

That means that when the Lenoir City Council convenes at 4 p.m. Tuesday, it’s going to have to adopt a budget and a tax rate without knowing for certain what the specific consequences will be, only what the range of possibilities are. City officials will have feedback from local legislators and others about what appears likely, but as anyone who has watched the General Assembly over the years knows, if you give them enough time legislators can do almost any goofy thing – “goofy,” in this case, being to gut the budgets of local governments without significant study or provisions to help those governments adjust. So no matter what city officials have been told as of Tuesday afternoon, the final outcome in Raleigh will remain in doubt.

By now you probably are familiar with the term “unfunded mandate,” generally a reference to something that the federal government requires states to do without providing a means to pay for it. This legislature has created a need for a new term, and we propose “defunding mandate,” which will be defined as when the state takes away money that municipalities had been using to provide their services. (The term “defunding mandate” doesn’t really have a great ring, so if you come up with something more pleasing to the ear, please send it to us.)

What exactly do legislators think is going to happen?

Nevermind, we know what they think: that the voters aren’t really paying attention, and all that the typical person will remember by the 2014 election is that the legislature cut taxes, not that the cuts are the reason for that person’s hometown laying off staff, cutting services or raising the property tax rate.

But don’t think that Tillis and his allies in the legislature aren’t sharing the pain. Two weeks vowed to stop shaving until a budget bill is complete.

They’re all heart.