While Republicans in the state legislature debate a socialistic sales tax redistribution scheme that would make Marx and Lenin proud, it only exacerbates the growing divide between metro and rural regions of our state.
The socialistic sales tax redistribution plan passed in the N.C. Senate last week is nothing but an effort to divert attention away from the programs that have been taken away from rural areas of the state.
Urban and suburban counties have long been supportive of balanced growth and have traditionally supported efforts to make sure we have “one North Carolina, where all citizens can enjoy the bounty of this wonderful state.” That means we must have some programs that are specifically designed for rural areas. One size does not fit all.
Here’s a 17-point plan to help rural N.C. succeed in today’s economy.
- Roads Funding – Modify STIP – Return hundreds of million taken from rural roads that were allocated under the last (TIP) Transportation Improvement Plan. Rural designated funds transferred to urban and suburban areas based on “facts,” as determined by DOT, have resulted on priority rural projects becoming impossible to build. We must put back in place balanced growth and transportation philosophy’s that recognize rural highways drive job creation.
- Undertake Medicaid expansion. Rural hospitals, major employers in local communities, are barely surviving and need the help of Medicaid funding. These are our tax dollars we send to Washington and so we do not like to see them go to rural parts of other states. Without adequate funding, the readmission penalties mandated under the ACA are driving up cost and putting rural hospitals out of business. It’s time to move on Medicaid expansion.
- Return the portion of the corporate income tax contribution to Public Schools Capital Fund, which helped rural counties disproportionately. If the lowest possible rate takes money from rural schools, make sure everyone understands.
- Change the rural school building assistance financing back to where the original lottery legislation had it. The initial distribution has been helpful in building rural schools in the past and could be again.
- Fund the Jobs Development Investment Grant Program (JDIG). While rural areas do get some projects, many rural folks work at JDIG supported facilities in the urban and suburban areas. More importantly, with each JDIG grant, a significant set aside for rural infrastructure is established. No JDIG, no rural infrastructure fund, no economic development.
- Rural infrastructure investment. When the state legislature closed the Rural Center, many of its functions to help local communities access funding for water and sewer service was stopped. We need the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the N.C. Commerce Department to develop programs to help rural communities fund these programs so they can compete for economic development projects.
- Refund the Golden Leaf program. Return to the rural counties the $200 million in diverted funds transferred to the general fund in the last three years. These funds from the tobacco court settlement were meant to support the tobacco-dependent counties and not the entire state. The urban counties have always supported the mission of Golden Leaf. The foundation has proven highly effective in working with rural county governments and the Department of Commerce; let them do their job.
- Expand rural connectivity and broadband access. The Rural Center created the effort, along with the Golden Leaf Foundation and MCNC, to bring rural broadband and fiber optic cable to every rural school house. Saying the words “rural connectivity” does not create it.
- Pass rural new markets legislation. This is a rural economic development bill that allows tax credits, which are designed to provide business financing in areas that big banks ignore. This program is designed for rural lending enhancement and has been successful in a number of other states.
- Property tax equality. Do not pass pending legislation letting developers avoid property taxes for improvements until they start selling lots. Many rural projects that since 2008 sit idle with streets and sewer in place could be taken off rural counties tax rolls. Rural areas cannot afford any more favors.
- Return the research and development credit. The ability of agriculture, a major industry in our state, to have access to the research and development labs at N.C. State University and N.C. A&T University as well as the private sector give our farmers a competitive edge in research in the global agriculture economy. To tell these private sector companies we do not support their research for new and better crops and livestock is an unwise course. There are other farms states that would love to take what we have built, and the industries that go with it.
- Encourage solar and wind development. A $50 million dollar wind farm is terrific for a county tax base and puts little pressure on services while helping fund schools. North Carolina is a leader in this industry; do not kill this primarily rural industry.
- Invest in Historic Tax Credits. Historic Tax Credits have been widely used in rural and small town North Carolina. The elimination of this targeted credit, which has been used to save many old manufacturing plants, has been very helpful to rural areas. The redevelopment of many lagging downtowns with private capital will not continue without this credit. Please return this credit rather than give poor counties someone else’s money.
- Stop shifting the tax burden. Shifting services and taxes to local property taxes payers should stop. Drivers Education, road maintenance, education funding cost have all been traditional state-level expenses. Being forced to raise rural property taxes to pay for these items just makes our areas less attractive to economic development.
- Restore the North Carolina Teaching Fellows Program. Rural areas experienced tremendous benefit from the state’s teaching fellow program. This scholarship program educated 8,500 students who committed to staying in teaching, often in rural areas, for four years after graduation. A little more than 80 percent were still teaching in year five in rural counties, an outstanding result. Many rural teachers spent 30 years in schools as a result of this program. Return it for the welfare of the children of rural North Carolina.
- NO on constitutional amendments. Drop the idea for a constitutional amendment to cap corporate and individual Income taxes. These measures have been particularly devastating to rural areas where these laws have passed. This is just a new way to shift cost back to the counties… creating many unfunded mandates. See item 14.
- Energy independence – Just last week, the USDA announced $63 million worth of grants (your and my tax money) for renewable energy across the United States. North Carolina, because of our leadership role in solar and wind, received $48 million of those grant dollars to develop, largely rural projects, adding to the tax base. One day earlier, the NC Senate passed a budget provision to bar federal energy grants for clean energy. Duke Energy has a rural strategy for renewables, as do many private investors. This eventually creates massive, long-term new taxable facilities in rural counties. This is a concrete way to help rural counties, focus on renewables.
There’s a better way to govern our state.
Rep. Susi Hamilton represents Wilmington in the General Assembly. She is a member of the NC Main Street Democrats group, whose mission is to promote common-sense policies that improve the day-to-day lives of our citizens through a platform that is attractive to pro-business, Main Street voters.