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LIVE LOCAL, LIVE SMALL: Time to start asking candidates the tough questions on the verge of election season

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encore is preparing to send out questionnaires to candidates, and we would love to hear what you want us to ask them.

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am starting to think the NC Legislature’s behavior is best equated with an obnoxious elementary school-aged boy Negative attention is better than no attention.

newhanoverThere are so many positive things they could be doing for our state: funding education, protecting voting rights of our citizenry, protecting civil rights of all North Carolinians, ensuring clean drinking water, expanding our access to healthcare, bringing back a well-established industry that employs thousands of North Carolinians (film!) … and the list goes on. Instead, I imagine they lie awake at night, dreaming up new ways to screw their constituency.

This is part of why I didn’t have children. I just do not have the patience to teach people about long-term consequences—more so, about the positive impact one life can have on others—in a meaningful way. Parenting takes dedication, whether for a child or the 170 adults in Raleigh.

On top of the remarkable two-year list of accomplishments of our legistlators—including that which has led 900 people choosing arrest as an only option to try to get the legislators’ attention (I guess the feeling that normally unacceptable behavior is the only way to be noticed is more prevalent in NC politics than we should be proud of)—NC has now decided sales tax must be re-distributed.

I am so upset about this.

As many readers know, businesses collect sales tax on top of the price of goods or services in NC. Last year the NC General Assembly decided events and tickets would be subject to sales tax, though they had previously been excluded. All NC businesses that collect sales tax pay the state the general rate of 4.75 percent—no matter the county in which the business resides. But not all counties have the same percentage of sales tax. In New Hanover we have 7 percent sales tax (combined state and county remittance). So, we collect and pay 2.25 percent that is, eventually, returned to our county to be spent here.

We chose, as a county, to raise our sales tax  0.25 percent a few years ago in a referendum. Therefore, of every dollar spent on goods and services in New Hanover County, an additional 7 cents is collected and remitted to the state. Of that 7 cents, 2.25 cents comes back to New Hanover County to be spent here. The additional 0.25 percent was voted in to help fund projects like Arlie Gardens, Cape Fear Museum and the library system.

What the state wants to do now is to take an extra dollar out of what has been coming to New Hanover (and other wealthy counties) and distribute the money to poorer counties. According to WHQR that could impact the county budget by $6 million a year.

About once a week I hear someone complain about paying for a library card here—or that they can’t get a library card here. My answer is almost always the same: “That doesn’t sound right; are you a New Hanover County resident?”

Then comes something along the lines of, “No, I live in [fill in Brunswick or Pender] County.“

“Well,” I try to explain, “the library is funded by county taxes, so if you don’t pay taxes here, you don’t get the benefits.”

That is not entirely true because lots of people who don’t live here use our infrastructure all the time: the roads, police, sheriff and fire response, parks, docks, etc. The reality is that a lot of people move here and realize taxes are lower in Brunswick and Pender counties, but they can be a short drive to Wilmington and enjoy the lovely cultural center that we are. Those lower taxes come with less money to spend on libraries, museums and parks.

Don’t get me wrong, I am glad Wilmington is a destination that serves the surrounding area, but part of the way we fund supporting services people enjoy is through sales tax collected on purchases at stores and entertainment venues. If we eliminate a way to support these services, we will no longer have attractions as a draw  to our area.

Besides the immediate loss of jobs it would bring, we will begin a cycle that will make no one happy: Less money to maintain attractions means fewer attractions. Fewer attractions means fewer people spending money. And less money spent means less sales tax redistributed to poorer counties that we now get to support. And it means fewer jobs, which means fewer people spending money to support our economy.

So … that projected $6 million dollar loss is just the beginning.

I am all for the greater good and looking after our less-fortunate neighbors, but we already send 4.75 percent of the sales tax to the state. Our county has been through furloughs, staff reduction, reduced hours and services during the height of our austerity measures. I cannot imagine anyone wants to go back to that (or worse). We have just gotten on the other side of the Great Recession, isn’t now the time to invest in our infrastructure and try to put a bit of a nest egg aside for when the tough times come? Can we really argue that our schools are not in need of investment?  What does $6 million look like in the county budget? How many jobs are we talking about here?

It seems strange the NC General Assembly has passed regressive taxes on the poor in this state while cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy. Yet, they cannot see a connection between those actions and the shortfall in the state budget. We lost our film industry, which put thousands of people to work—both directly in film and in retail, hospitality and food service to support that industry. Now, they want to punish us for having tourists in our region. Is this like the scene in “Batman” when the Joker sits down at the table and tells the crime bosses they are going to run Gotham into the ground? It is starting to feel that way.

Election time is coming, and we must start asking serious questions and actually analyzing answers. Are elections about platitudes and slogans, or are they about our future?  Though, we aren’t going to get a chance to change faces in Raleigh for a while, it is time to make some decisions about leadership on a local level.

encore is preparing to send out questionnaires to candidates, and we would love to hear what you want us to ask them.  But, please, read their answers carefully. Go to the forums and ask tough questions. Make a list of things that are important to you: Schools? Drinking water? Traffic? Libraries? Then ask yourself how each candidate works with people—because one person making a heroic stand on city council accomplishes nothing. A majority vote makes a change—both in making policy and electing leaders.

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Encore Magazine regularly covers topics pertaining to news, arts, entertainment, food, and city life in Wilmington. It also maintains schedules and listings of local events like concerts, festivals, live performance art and think-tank events. Encore Magazine is an entity of H&P Media, which also powers Wilmington’s local ticketing platform, 910tix.com. Print and online editions are updated every Wednesday.

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