Skip to Main Content

Lawmakers move on legislation affecting cities and towns 

By Scott Mooneyham
NCLM Advocacy Communications Strategist

The 2014 session of the North Carolina General Assembly will not be remembered for its brevity. State legislators struggled to clear away differences regarding competing budget proposals, and battled over teacher pay plans and Medicaid spending. That reality belied early predictions – based on the idea that House Speaker Thom Tillis needed a quick adjournment because of his U.S. Senate bid – that legislators would be leaving Raleigh before or by the first week of July.

For North Carolina cities and towns, the length of the so-called short session was less important than the frenzied pace of legislation, with major pieces affecting municipalities. The most significant, a measure restricting local privilege license taxes, had been in the works for a while. Well before the start of the legislative session, an interim committee of state lawmakers had been eyeing the tax. League members also chose privilege license reform as a top advocacy goal entering the session.

When the session began in mid-May, the House quickly rolled out its version of an omnibus tax law bill that would have created a privilege license tax cap of $100 per physical location. As League staff negotiated with legislators and pressed member concerns about a replacement source of revenue, the Senate approved a measure that kept the tax largely intact for the new fiscal year but would repeal it completely in FY 2015-16. It was the Senate’s version that ultimately became law, but both legislative leaders and Governor Pat McCrory committed to working with cities moving forward to find a replacement source of revenue.

While the privilege license tax garnered plenty of media coverage, the League prevailed on a number of key issues during the legislative session, one of the most important being the pending removal of a de facto moratorium on local governments’ passage of environmental ordinances. The de facto moratorium was included as part of a 2013 regulatory reform bill and represented a substantial threat to local government authority. It also undermined the ability of cities to comply with state and federal environmental programs.

Proposals to cap local property taxes and block municipal tree ordinances died as League staff and members raised objections. Other legislative successes occurred or looked likely (lawmakers appeared close to adjourning as of this writing, but had not yet done so) regarding requirements for moped registration, back-up 911 center rules, an anti-pension spiking measure, and several water-related regulatory reform measures.

The successes on the House and Senate floors were only made possible by the work that League members did outside the chamber doors. This year’s Town Hall Day saw a huge turnout, with nearly 500 municipal officials attending the sessions in Raleigh, which included a panel discussion with Governor McCrory. Members walking the halls of the Legislative Building and speaking to their legislators about League priorities made a difference in 2014.