Viewpoint

In North Carolina, Big Brother is a Republican

RR

They took away involuntary annexation. They took away the privilege license. They want to take away some of the big urban areas’ sales-tax receipts and give them to poorer counties – a 21st century Robin Hood deal that’s a financial kick in the teeth to some of our biggest and busiest cities. They arbitrarily changed the way city councils and county commissioners are elected in some areas.

Last year, they tried to take away Charlotte’s airport and Asheville’s water department. And this year, our legislative delegation followed that familiar path and tried to put Fayetteville’s own utility beyond city control.

And that’s just the tip of a nasty, dangerous iceberg that apparently wants to sink a lot of municipal ships.

What in the world is going on here? Whatever happened to the core Republican belief that the best government is the one closest to the people?

Ever since the GOP took over the General Assembly, we’ve had wave after wave of efforts to strip the cities of their ability to govern themselves. Lawmakers are messing with zoning and a host of other legal tools that cities have used to create orderly growth and attractive neighborhoods. They are taking away cities’ options for raising revenue and forcing them to do it all with the property tax. Is that the next target?

Last week, the General Assembly sent the governor a bill that prevents cities and counties from regulating the appearance of houses.

The measure effectively tosses out a portion of Fayetteville’s Unified Development Ordinance that lets the city require developers of large subdivisions to choose from a menu of design features. It may guarantee the ugly hodgepodge look that has characterized too many of the city’s neighborhoods and reduced the value of housing here.

In Pinehurst, it may be a fatal blow to the appearance codes that give the village its unique flavor – and make it so desirable to the tourists and retirees who help fuel its economy.

A bill before the state Senate will forbid cities from creating bike lanes unless they have approval from the state’s Board of Transportation. It also will kill buffer requirements that help keep pollution out of the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico river basins. Like the appearance codes, it’s clear that our lawmakers want to serve their generous donors in the development community – local control and the environment be damned.

The North Carolina Constitution gives the General Assembly broad control over municipal government. But until now, lawmakers have mostly respected the rights of cities – and their taxpayers – to govern themselves in the way they believe is best.

But that day is gone. Central government is the new way, and the lawmakers in Raleigh are calling more and more of the shots.

I might have expected big-government centralization from Democrats. But who knew that Big Brother is a Republican?

Tim White is the Fayetteville Observer’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at twhite@fayobserver.com.

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