Raleigh, N.C. — Goldsboro Mayor Al King says North Carolina city officials are "very much concerned" by lawmakers' decisions to limit their power.
King, the president of the North Carolina League of Municipalities, was one of hundreds of local officials in Raleigh for Town Hall Day, the league's annual advocacy day. He said this year's turnout was the highest ever.
"We are very much concerned about what’s coming out of the legislature. Some of things that are coming out are not good for cities," he said, ticking off the repeal of the privilege license tax, limits to local authority in the new natural gas drilling law along with other changes this session.
Cities weren't consulted about many of those changes, he told WRAL News.
"I think it’s a matter of educating our legislators, letting them know, ‘What you’re doing doesn’t really work for our city,’ and that one size does not fit them all," he said. "We’re all different."
King said he thinks there are a number of reasons why lawmakers are moving to limit cities' authority.
"I think there are a lot of people who are now in – elected officials who are now making rules at the state level who don’t really understand what goes on in municipalities," he said. "They talk to a few people who are upset, and they make decisions based on what those people have told them" without checking to see what the situation actually might be.
It's a far cry from Republicans' pro-local-government stance when the party was in the minority, he added, partly because lawmakers tend to isolate themselves in Raleigh.
"They deal with a very small number of people on a regular basis. But municipal officials, we are there where the rubber hits the road," he said. "When I go to Starbucks or go get gas or wherever, I’ve got citizens that I’ve got to answer to, and that’s the way it should be. We know best about what our citizens want. There’s no question."
Goldsboro lost more than $4 million when legislators forcibly de-annexed territory the city had previously annexed and extended services to. He said the state offered no compensation for the loss to local taxpayers.
Still, King said he's hopeful more dialogue between cities and their lawmakers may help mend that troubled relationship.
"What I’m doing now is trying to get more of our elected officials and managers and people who are familiar with running municipalities to come and talk to legislators, their legislators in their communities," he said. "Sit down and talk to them and explain what you want. They don’t know until we tell them."
That tactic seems to be working on the topic of the privilege license tax. The repeal is expected to cost cities and counties more than $60 million statewide, and some have warned they may have to increase property taxes to make up for the hit.
Legislative leaders agreed to put off the repeal until July 2015. They and the governor have promised city leaders they will come up with a solution before then to help cities bridge the revenue gap.
Other conflicts from last year, however, remain unresolved, from the seizure of Asheville's water system to an attempt by legislators to take oversight of Charlotte's airport away from that city. A court halted the latter, while a legal fight continues over the former.
Still, Republican leaders don't think they've crossed the line, and they scoff at the idea that they're waging "a war on cities," as critics have claimed.
Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, says "there's no ax to grind."
"Sometimes, municipalities can go off the deep end," Hunt said. "If the cities need to be curtailed in some of their activities, then it's perfectly appropriate for the state to do it."