According to this report, the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners recently discussed asking the state legislature for authority to raise county taxes without first getting the approval of county voters. Unsurprisingly, the Commissioners voted unanimously in favor.
At its annual conference Friday, the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners discussed asking the legislature to give counties approval to increase the sales tax by 0.25 cents without having citizens vote on it first.
Of the 81 counties represented at the conference, not one voted against it. The head of the association said they have wanted this control for years.
Yes indeed – county commissioners do enjoy exerting control over their subjects. Also unsurprisingly, citizens did not respond very kindly to being “controlled” in this manner.
Voters in 14 Piedmont counties said “no” to a sales tax increase back in November, but not letting the voters decide on a tax proposal brought responses of “outrageous” and “ridiculous” from several passers-by Friday night.
“We, the people–we’re the ones getting taxed, so we should have some sort of say in what’s going on,” Meagan Craig said.
One of the Commissioners defended their lust for greater control over their citizens:
“The demand on our social services, mental health, jail population up, those expenses continue to rise, so the question is, how do you pay for it?” Skip Alston, Chair of the Guilford County Commission, said.
According to this narrative, county governments are merely responding to the “demand” for public servies, especially in light of these dire economic times. This narrative breaks down, however, when you look at spending trends for counties during times of lesser “demand” for social services.
Similar to my findings in this article that showed state spending ratcheted up during healthy economic times featuring less demand for government services, county governments also ramped up spending during prosperous years.
For instance, from the years 2003 to 2007, North Carolina enjoyed low annual unemployment rates under 5.5%. But according to NCACC reports, total county government spending spiked by a whopping 36% from FY 2002-3 to FY 2007-8.
In short, county commissioners embarked on a spending spree simply because they had the money to spend. Now that they’ve dug themselves a hole due to their unsustainable commitments, they want to force-feed their citizens tax hikes to quench their thirst for spending other people’s money.
My suggestion is for county commissioners to instead use their meeting time to discuss long-term strategies of fiscal responsibility, especially how to show restraint during solid economic times when their coffers are flush with revenue.