I am a true believer in the thought process that the best government takes place at the level closest to the people. I’ve seen many governmental structures, and the best ones place local officials in control of most every aspect of government that the people see on a daily basis.
There is no better example of Raleigh power grabs than recent attempts to change the way sales tax revenues are distributed in North Carolina. Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown’s first proposal to do this simply would have converted local sales taxes into a state tax.
Now Brown has fashioned a plan that would continue to call the sales tax “local” and distribute revenues to counties in a manner based 50 percent on population and 50 percent on point of sale.
First of all, the tax isn’t local. The law allows counties to levy these sales taxes for the purpose of creating revenue. Then the state distributes them. My issue with that is simple — why is the state involved at all? It’s a local tax, meant to create revenue to support local services.
I would argue that the state should never have its hands on monies garnered through a local tax. If it must touch them for the purposes of collection, then all revenue earned in a county ought to be returned to that same county. After all, it’s called a local tax.
Dare county’s manager said that there are about 300,000 people visiting his county at any given time. These people buy food, drinks and souvenirs. They also utilize Dare County services while making those purchases.
The state collects a 4.75 percent sales tax on those sales. The revenues from that 4.75 percent sales tax are Raleigh’s. Then Dare County tacks on some additional “local” sales taxes. It would seem like lawmakers in Raleigh think this is theirs as well, and under North Carolina law it sort of is.
I’ve seen many different tax structures in the various places I’ve lived. Some places have municipal income taxes, most have property taxes and others rely even more heavily on sales tax revenues.
Whichever way revenues are created, folks in the state capitol keep their hands off it. Local governments impose the taxes, collect the taxes and use the taxes to fund local services.
One local official said of local governments here in North Carolina, “we only exist because Raleigh lets us.” Additionally, I’ve heard remarks such as, “eventually I see sales tax going away entirely as a local revenue source. It will just become another state tax.” Clearly that’s what Raleigh wants. Brown’s sales tax distribution plan, especially in its initial form, is proof of the fact that in the eyes of some lawmakers local governments exist only to support the initiatives of Raleigh.
Local officials also complain about unfunded mandates that come from the state. This is no more apparent than in our school systems. The state may be pulling funding for driver’s education, but they’re telling schools to continue to provide the service. All the while, lawmakers are trying to snatch locally levied taxes to send them here, there or wherever.
Another example of the state over-stepping is on a simple matter — the school calendar. Surry County residents elect school boards to ensure that the school systems are being properly run and are accountable to students, people and, most importantly, the taxpayers.
However, school board members aren’t even allowed to decide when school starts. Surry County Schools Superintendent Travis Reeves says that creates problems for kids trying to take college courses and those at the Early College. It also creates problems for taxpayers, because services must run on two different calendars. That means an extra few weeks of us footing the bill for transportation, nutrition and other services.
Another prime example of unnecessary “oversight” from Raleigh can be seen in 911 Board funding. The state should simply allocate a proportionate amount of revenue that is garnered from a tax on all phone lines to the county for the purpose of running our 911 center. We don’t need Raleigh saying exactly what to spend it on. We have local officials who can do that.
I see county commissioners, superintendents and city officials when I go to the grocery store, the winery or the park. Thus, they are accountable to me and other residents on a daily basis.
I also want the money I pay into the local tax system, be it through property, sales or any other tax, to stay here in order to provide the key services upon which I rely like police, fire, education and emergency services. Local officials can do a better job of watching my money because they are accountable to me every day, not just every election day.
Andy Winemiller is a staff writer at the Mount Airy News. Andy can be reached at (336) 415-4698 or [email protected]