Big-Government Conservatives Set Sights On Cities

There's more to the madness in North Carolina than voter suppression efforts and bills to allow an official state religion. Gov. Pat McCrory's legislature is steamrolling Democrats and Republicans alike.

The legislature is debating a bill to forcibly transfer the city of Asheville's municipal water system and 22,000-acre mountain watershed to a state-controlled regional authority, leaving a huge hole in the city's budget. The bill's author, state Rep. Tim Moffitt, R-Buncombe, and Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, have connections with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, is on ALEC’s board of directors. They have cities in their sights.

My op-ed appeared in the Asheville, NC Citizen-Times on Friday.

Asheville watershed with Blue Ridge ParkwayAsheville Water System Burnett Reservoir with Blue Ridge Parkway above. Photo by David Oppenheimer - Performance Impressions

State Senator Tommy Tucker, R-Waxhaw, told a publisher at a recent hearing, “I am the senator. You are the citizen. You need to be quiet.” Some politicians don’t want to govern. They want to rule.

Forcibly regionalizing water systems, for example. Buncombe County Republican Reps. Tim Moffitt and Nathan Ramsey, and Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, tell constituents their water bill addresses a unique situation in Buncombe County. The words Buncombe and Asheville appear nowhere in it.

In fact, House Bill 488 is not about Asheville, McGrady told colleagues on the House floor. (We’ll come back to that in a minute.)

If Buncombe’s situation is unique, why is the legislature forcing unwanted solutions on cities across North Carolina?

Because “Raleigh knows best,” Rob Christensen wrote in the Raleigh News and Observer. Sanford Republican Rep. Mike Stone insists that Sanford change its town council and school board elections to partisan races.

Sanford’s mayor objects. She asked if townspeople could at least vote on it in a referendum. Not a chance.

A radio program affiliated with Central Carolina Community College criticized Stone’s bill. Stone’s office e-mailed the school “questioning the station’s radio programming, budget and source of funding.”

The school placed the show on “indefinite suspension.”

Rep. Bill Brawley, R-Mecklenburg, co-sponsored a bill with Moffitt and Ramsey to transfer Charlotte-Douglas airport to a regional authority. Brawley has a reason. Cities are “arrogant.”

Brawley, former Co-Chair of the House Select Committee on Public-Private Partnerships (P3), and House Speaker Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, want to add High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes to I-77 north of Charlotte.

The GOP-led Iredell County Board of Commissioners and Widen I-77 (a citizen’s group) oppose the plan. They contend that letting a P3 charge fees for 50 years won’t solve congestion and will cost more than normal lanes. (Video.)

Brawley’s own Mecklenburg County Republican Party passed a resolution opposing toll lanes.

For a sense of how a P3 works, Google “Chicago parking meter debacle.”

Remember those St. Patrick’s Day parades in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” and “The Fugitive”? Now, Chicago must ask permission to close streets and must reimburse P3 investors in Abu Dhabi. For 75 years.

Chicago has the highest parking rates in North America. Prices have increased five years in a row.

(Rep. Moffitt, the other former Co-Chair of the House Select Committee on Public-Private Partnerships, promises that privatization won’t happen under his House Bill 488.)

Now about that bill. If regionalizing infrastructure is “a good outcome for all,” as Reps. McGrady and Ramsey wrote recently, why did Speaker Pro Tem Paul “Skip” Stam, R-Wake, insist that Wake County be protected from House Bill 488?

“I wouldn’t agree to turn over the assets of Apex and Cary to Raleigh,” Stam told a committee meeting.

“It’s really a local bill, but it’s phrased generally to attempt to get around the (state) constitution.”

So the House approved some clever amendment language to exempt Wake from House Bill 488. And to get around the state constitution, without mentioning Wake County by name either.

Unconstitutional. Unwanted. By force.

That’s how this clever legislature rules.


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