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League Bulletin

January 30, 2015

After a two-week break for legislative leaders to organize, the General Assembly returned to work in earnest on Wednesday. The day included only brief floor sessions, but legislators filed 28 bills on that day. Very few of the initial pieces of legislation had direct effects on municipalities. HB4 Clarify Unmanned Aircraft System Law makes clarifications to earlier legislation affecting the use of  drone aircraft. One of the early bills garnering the most attention would eliminate automatic payroll deductions that allow state employees to pay dues to the State Employees Association of North Carolina. Read more about the restart of the legislative session here.

Meeting a day before the start of the legislative session, the interim Joint Legislative Transportation Oversight Committee took a pass Tuesday on making formal recommendations regarding moped regulations. Instead, committee co-chair Rep. John Torbett predicted individual legislators would introduce bills that contained some of the regulations suggested by the N.C. Department of Transportation (NCDOT) at Tuesday's meeting, which included a recommendation to require all moped drivers to carry insurance. Due to the strains placed on law enforcement responding to accidents involving mopeds, the League members prioritized moped registration and insurance requirements as one of their legislative goals last session. In response, legislators passed a bill that took the first step of requiring moped vehicle registration. That same bill also directed NCDOT to make further recommendations for moped regulation for the 2015 legislative session. Some of these other NCDOT recommendations included:

  • A prohibition on mopeds operating on roads with posted speeds above 45 mph
  • A requirement for moped drivers to hold a driver's license or state-issued identification card
  • A prohibition on operating mopeds if the operator was denied a driver's license due to medical reasons, or if the State had otherwise revoked or suspended that driver's license
  • A requirement to title mopeds along with proof of insurance

The moped insurance requirement was approved by the Senate last session, but ran into objections from House members, prompting the NCDOT study presented Tuesday. Contact: Erin Wynia

Burlington was the scene of the League's second in a series of regional meetings on the future of municipal finance, a meeting once again offering insights into the financial plight of North Carolina municipalities in an uncertain world. The meeting series, A Path Forward: Vibrant Cities Today and Tomorrow, continues to draw media attention, including this story from the Burlington Times-News. This op-ed from League President Ronnie Wall also was published in the Greensboro News & Record.

A panel of municipal officials from the region provided numerous storylines about the challenges faced by their individual municipalities. Elkin Town Manager Lloyd Payne discussed how, when Elkin saw a textile mill shut down, it lost not only jobs and taxpaying residents, but saw its property tax base shrink when the shuttered mill building was re-evaluated for tax purposes. Residents continued to demand the same level of services, he said. In that same vein, Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan called loose leaf pick-up "the third rail" of politics in Greensboro, citing it as an example of the services that residents in the city have come to expect. Roxboro Mayor Merilyn Newell noted that her city must constantly weigh whether additional investments in a 65-year old water treatment plant are wise for a facility that may not be viable in the future.

All of the panelists called for legislators and state policymakers to give municipalities financial options that empower their municipal boards and let them take on the political consequences for those decisions. Morrisville Town Manager Martha Wheelock said a key concern going into a new legislative session are policy prescriptions that pit cities against counties, and urban areas against rural areas.

Prior to the panel discussion, Chris Nida, the League's Director of Research and Policy Analysis, gave a wide-ranging presentation covering state tax policy, local revenue sharing, demographic trends, comparisons to other states regarding taxes and services, and the legislative history leading up to the pending repeal of the privilege license tax. Among the points made in the presentation: Municipalities receive only 36 percent of local sales tax distributions while 75 percent of sales occur within municipalities; low income tax states like Texas generally have much higher property taxes than North Carolina. 

The League would like to thank the panelists for participating, President Wall for providing opening remarks, Second Vice-President Bob Matheny for moderating the panel discussion, and everyone who attended. Your participation in these events is critical to help the public understand the role of municipalities in providing services to residents and in promoting economic growth. We would also like to thank Rep. Ralph Johnson of Greensboro for attending, and the City of Burlington -- and particularly City Clerk Renee Ward -- for hosting this event. Look for an announcement about the site of our next meeting in coming weeks. Contact: Scott Mooneyham

Reps. William Brawley of Matthews and Jason Saine of Lincolnton will serve as senior chairs of the House Finance Committee. Their appointments to lead the key House committee were among the House committee assignments announced this week by House Speaker Tim Moore. In a written statement, Speaker Moore said he made the choices for 37 committees and subcommitees with "great scrutiny." Rep. Paul Tine of Kitty Hawk, who recently switched his party affiliation from Democratic to unaffiliated, was named co-chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation. Find all of the House committee assignments here.
As the legislature began the 2015 session in earnest, a coalition that includes the League held events this week intended to promote alternative, sustainable funding sources for transportation. The Coalition for a Prosperous Future, led by the NC Chamber, met on Tuesday and followed up with a news conference on Wednesday to tout ideas for new transportation funding streams. NC Chamber President Lew Ebert said the time has come for state leaders to find a solution to a system of road-building finance that cannot be sustained. Coalition members and policy experts specifically worry that the state's gas tax, which funds most transportation needs, cannot keep pace with those needs as cars become more fuel efficient and more of them run on alternative sources of energy. Read more about the coalition's efforts here.

Google announced this week that Charlotte and the Raleigh-Durham metropolitan area will be among those where the company rolls out high-speed fiber optic cable. The Google service, offering speeds about 100 times faster than a typical broadband connection, is currently operating in three metropolitan areas nationwide. The roll-out is expected to occur over a long period of time. Besides Raleigh and Durham, the other Triangle area municipalities where the service will be offered are Chapel Hill, Cary, Carrboro, Morrisville and Garner. Read news coverage of the announcement here.

Elsewhere on the broadband front, 38 municipal officials from around the country signed a letter urging the Federal Communications Commission to support local choice when it comes to how municipalities bring high-speed broadband to their residents and businesses. The letter comes as the FCC considers petitions from the City of Wilson and Chattanooga, Tenn., urging the commission to pre-empt state laws that restrict municipal-owned broadband systems. A ruling is expected next month on the petitions. The signers of the letter included Wilson Mayor Bruce Rose and Salisbury Mayor Paul Woodson Jr. The League filed public comments this summer in support of Wilson's petition. The letter was delivered to the FCC as it made changes to definitions of what constitutes broadband service, a move expected to expand the areas that are considered "unserved." Read more League coverage of the petition to the FCC here.

Legislators are indicating that they want more details before backing Governor Pat McCrory's plan for a $1 billion transportation bond. The plan, though, is a hot topic in the Legislative Building, and one that legislators are mulling. News accounts indicate that lawmakers' concerns about the proposal cover a range of issues. Some legislators worry about whether the state can take on the additional debt, even though the legislature has been cautious about borrowing over the past few years. Debate may also ensue over whether to put the issue before voters in a bond referendum or to turn to special indebtedness like certificates of participation to avoid a vote and move more quickly.

League members approved three separate legislative advocacy goals calling for bonds or other means of financing transportation and infrastructure improvements in ways that benefit municipalities. Read previous League coverage about the governor's call for a transportation bond here.

Governor Pat McCrory will deliver his biennial State of the State address next week. Governor McCrory will address a joint session of the state House and Senate on Wednesday at 7 p.m. Within the Legislative Building, there was speculation that the governor may unveil parts of his economic development plan, which he is calling NC Competes. The governor indicated last week that he would soon be releasing the plan, which he hopes will allow North Carolina to better compete with other Southeastern states for larger manufacturing plants.

In the District of Columbia, Airbnb has worked out a deal where it is collecting local hotel taxes on the short-term homeowner rentals that it is arranging. The move comes as municipalities in North Carolina and other states continue to grapple with regulation of Airbnb and similar web-based companies that allow homeowners to turn their homes or rooms in their homes into temporary or makeshift hotels. The Washington Post's Wonkblog reports that the deal will mean the taxes are remitted straight to the district's coffers and could mean millions in additional revenue for cities that are reaching similar agreements. The service, though, is still generating plenty of questions about whether it potentially undermines zoning requirements and could damage property values in residential neighborhoods. Read more about Airbnb and its arrangement in D.C. here

Local political party officials have chosen replacements for departing legislators Sen. Earline Parmon and Rep. Edgar Starnes. Forsyth County Democrats chose Rev. Paul Lowe Jr. to replace Senator Parmon, while Caldwell County Republicans chose Cedar Rock Mayor George Robinson to replace Representative Starnes. Mayor Robinson had previously served in the state House in the 1980s and early 1990s. Gov. Pat McCrory must make the appointments to finalize them. The League congratulates the new legislators and wishes them well in their new roles.