Raleigh, N.C. — The House Local Government Committee on Thursday killed a bill that would have let local residents use a petition and referendum campaign to thwart proposed new spending over $5 million for "acquisition, erection, construction, alteration or repair of buildings" by city councils and county governments.
Rep. Michael Speciale, R-Craven, said his measure was aimed at helping voters in small counties, where even relatively modest building projects could lead to tax increases.
"If there is enough opposition, they could force a referendum," Speciale explained.
Opponents would need to garner the signatures of at least 10 percent of the registered voters in the county or city within 30 days to put the question on a ballot.
He said the legislation was inspired by the decision by a group of county commissioners in his area to spend $40 million on a new jail, a move he contended would force a tax increase.
However, members of the Local Government Committee, many of who are former county commissioners and city council members, saw the measure as impractical.
Rep. Stephen Ross, R-Alamance, argued that the referendum mechanism could slow down the purchase or construction of new buildings, which could cost cities and counties money in the long run.
"We elect city councils. We elect county commissioners. We need to let them do their jobs," Ross said.
The committee voted to give the bill an unfavorable report, which means it is dead for the two-year session.