In the 2011 session that recessed in June, the North Carolina General Assembly considered more than 200 “local” bills, ranging from makeup of local boards, fire district fees, annexations, and many other subjects. Generally, such bills have not been very controversial, because as a matter of legislative courtesy the members would defer to the local delegation and input and advice from local governing boards. Quite frequently, such bills were pro forma permission from the General Assembly because of some constitutional requirement for such permission.
But in the age of growing partisanship in Raleigh, and outside ideological forces often driving the bus, such pro forma courtesies appear to be a thing of the past. Increasingly in this session, the General Assembly has delved into local matters, including repealing annexations and other such actions, in a fit of ideological spite.
Perhaps the most egregious overreach by the General Assembly occurred with the passage of H-471: Buncombe County Commission Districts. Introduced by Rep. Tim Moffitt (R-116), this bill establishes district elections for the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, instead of the at-large elections held now. The bill was roundly opposed throughout Buncombe County, including by the County Commissioners and the other members of the legislative delegation (including Democrats Patsy Keever and Susan Fisher). Yet the bill passed both houses comfortably along party lines, and as a “local” bill did not require action by the Governor to become law. As a result, the people of Buncombe County have had foisted upon them a form of local government that they did not desire, and for which they have no choice.
Instead of such meddling in local affairs, it is time now to establish, once and for all, home rule in North Carolina. Local governments should be able to manage their own affairs, establish their own forms of local government, establish tax rates (including supplemental sales taxes), and generally go about their business without the heavy hand of Raleigh in control. We should amend the state Constitution to provide county and municipal governments with broad discretion, within a Constitutional framework, to manage their affairs.