RALEIGH – At the founding of the state of North Carolina, the governor and other state offices were elected to single-year terms. I’m starting to think that taxpayers would greatly benefit if we went back to annual election cycles rather than voting state or local politicians into office for years at a time.
Yes, the cost of actual holding annual elections would be high, and the usual suspects would bleat about all the campaign dollars that candidates would have to raise. But this year’s round of local budget debates has proven without a doubt the importance of keeping our elected officials on a very short leash.
With few exceptions, counties across North Carolina, facing recession-driven slackness in revenue collections and Gov. Mike Easley’s withholding of local shared revenues, have avoided tax increases. Many cities and towns, on the other hand, have raised taxes. How come? Perhaps there is some rational-sounding budgetary reason for this, but I suspect it just comes down to the fact that county commissioners are up for reelection this year and municipal officials are not.
For example, Guilford County “found” millions of dollars in a reserve account and balanced its budget without a property tax hike (see here). But Greensboro raised its taxes (see here) and High Point approved big increases in water and sewer charges (see here).
Similarly, Person County avoided a tax hike (see here) while the county seat of Roxboro hiked its property tax rate by more than 8 percent (see here). And while the Triad counties of Randolph and Davidson cut positions and trimmed programs to keep their tax rates stable (see here), their major cities of Asheboro (see here) and Lexington (see here) pushed their tax rates up several cents.
You can see the same pattern in communities from the mountains to the coast. County commissioners, terrified of facing the voters this fall having raised their taxes, are looking to other solutions to bridge their budget deficits. Some of their actions constitute real savings. Others are smoke-and-mirrors designed to get the county through until a non-election year, when tax increases are more salable. But at least they feel the need to pose as fiscal conservatives. Many mayors and city council members apparently aren’t even going through the motions.
One additional advantage of annual elections for all state and local officeholders is that the resulting political fireworks would guarantee me a steady stream of material for my Daily Journal column. Plus, the campaign finance reformers and good-government dwebes would pitch a fit. Folks, it’s a winner all around.