Blurring the lines of power

Published 7:19 pm Monday, October 29, 2018

To the Editor:

The current 2017 to 2019 North Carolina budget includes an extremely harmful provision that essentially sets up paupers prisons. Under the new rule, judges will no longer be able to make the decision on their own to waive fees. They must now provide 15 days’ notice for a hearing at which “all government entities affected” would have an opportunity to be heard. Aside from clogging up the court system, it will make it difficult for judges to provide relief for poor people who simply do not have the money to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in fees. More North Carolinians will be kept in jail for offenses as minor as unpaid parking tickets simply because they cannot afford them. This decision was a result of legislation not as a result of prudent deliberation in the courts. Does this sound like a power grab to you? Does this sound unnecessarily expensive? The state will probably spend more money trying to collect these fees than it will ever recover.

In a one-day specially convened session on March 23, 2016, North Carolina’s legislature passed a sweeping law that reversed a Charlotte ordinance that had extended some rights to people who are gay or transgender. The law passed the General Assembly and was signed the same night by Gov. Pat McCrory. Aside from the fact that it resulted in a gigantic revenue loss for the state’s economy because of cancelled events, the new law also nullified local ordinances around the state that would have expanded protections for the LGBT community. Wasn’t HB2 replaced you ask? Not really. HB142 replaced HB2 but keeps many of its harmful parts in place. For example, the new law prevents local governments from passing policies that protect people — LGBT people or anyone else — from discrimination in their jobs or in places of public accommodation until 2020. Whatever your feeling about HB2, did you send representatives to the North Carolina legislature to usurp powers from your locally elected officials?

On that subject, I’ll remind you about the business privilege tax. When the municipal privilege license was repealed in 2014, promises were made by the legislature that a source of replacement funds would come forward. Without replacement revenue, municipalities lost more than $62 million in combined income. There is little argument among municipal leaders, business owners and lawmakers that the business Privilege License tax was archaic and couldn’t be administered fairly. Never before, however, was it proposed to eliminate it without providing a substitute. The business privilege tax was originally state revenue but was shifted to municipal revenue to compensate for a previous state revenue grab from cities and towns. To date, a substitute has not been made. Many municipalities have had to reduce services, establish user fees or increase taxes as a consequence.


Kathy Smith