Leading from the Left

Friday, February 27, 2009

Op-Ed From the Citizen on Taxes

Good editorial in the current issue of the Carrboro Citizen. It's well-reasoned and thoughful. I certainly learned something: Freedomworks.org, which is behind the Orange County "tax revolt" is closely affiliated with Dick Armey and the Republican Party. Interesting....

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Thursday, February 26, 2009


Margot Lester and Rich Fowler have a good article in this issue of the Carrboro Citizen about the effect of property revaluations. Check it out.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

New Blood, New Voices

I attended the annual Hillsborough precinct meeting on Tuesday night. It was my first since moving to Hillsborough in the spring of 2007. It was a great meeting.

We elected an 18 year old precinct chair, Matt Hughes! A senior at Cedar Ridge High School, Matt is Student Body president and will be attending UNC-CH in the fall. Only minutes after getting elected chair, Matt was already introducing resolutions on issues he cared about: voting rights for residents of US territories, the job responsibilities of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the county's property revaluations. He did a stellar job explaining the issues and defending his position.

It's heartwarming to see a fresh face and new voice entering Democratic Party politics. Every political organization needs new energy to bubble up from the grassroots. It keeps us on the top of our game.

Congratulations Matt!!

Monday, February 16, 2009

On Taxes

I've been hearing quite a bit from citizens about county taxes. In recent months people who normally are willing to bear higher taxes to support community values--such as good schools and environmental protection--are expressing genuine concern at the county's high tax rate. These folks have been clear that they don't want taxes to increase for the time being.

One constituent sent this op-ed to me. It was thought-provoking and worthy of sharing with you all here on my blog. While I don't agree with all of this writer's positions, he makes a very strong case for pausing and reevaluating where we are. And while his arguments focus on the county tax rate, the same points could be made about municipal tax rates which have also risen exponentially.

As I've stated before in this space, I believe the county commissioners should not raise taxes this year. Indeed, we should adopt a revenue neutral rate--that is, lower the tax rate to reflect the increased values people are seeing since the revaluation.

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Chris Fitzsimon has a good piece today on how the federal stimulus bill may not have to reach we'd been hoping for. Read for yourself here.

The Orange County Commissioners, in consultation with the two school boards and our own staff, have come up with a list of shovel ready projects that may be appropriate for stimulus funds. But, as Chris points out, there needs are great and their may not be enough money to fund many of these projects. For example, Medicaid needs alone will eat up an enormous portion of the funds the state receives from the federal treasury.

Time will tell how much money we get here on the local level; but it is safe to say our needs far outweigh the available funds.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Poverty in Appalachia

I grew up in Eastern North Carolina. Lots of poverty. There was a wrong side of the tracks and a right side of the tracks, and everyone knew the difference though nobody could remember ever being told. It was just one of those things you simply knew.

And until Mexicans started arriving in the early 1990's, there was a black side of town and a white side of town. Segregation, de facto though no longer de jure, hadn't really been wiped out during the Civil Rights era. It simply hunkered down and kept it's mouth shut. Latino immigrants are starting to blur racial lines that have been cemented in for four centuries.

I remember riding past the homes of the poor, wondering what life was like on the inside. Some of them were no more than shacks: tar paper, plywood, rusty tin roofs, occassionally a piece of corrugated tin nailed to the side of a house to cover a hole, smoke billowing from the chimney ("was this their only heat source?").

Poverty in Eastern North Carolina is something we lived with; it simply was. I've heard that if you sliced North Carolina off at I-95, then the eastern counties would be the poorest state in the nation. I believe that.

My memories of those days bubbled up last night and this morning after watching a great piece last night on ABC about poverty in Appalachia. Nothing had prepared me for what Diane Sawyer reported during her hour long 20/20 documentary last night. Much of what I thought I knew about poverty in the South, poverty in America, flew out the window.

I woke up this morning haunted by the images of teeth rotted out by Mountain Dew, drug-addicted mothers, parents walking 8 miles each way every day to study for their GED, the young football star illegally digging coal along the side of the highway so he could keep his family warm, the same star sleeping in his car so he could attend a better high school, the shacks and lack of food, the lack of hope, ever-present drugs and crime.

Sawyer's piece is disturbing. She shows us a side of America we like to think doesn't exist; poverty of the magnitude that could only occur somewhere else--in third world countries, 'over there.' Sawyer reminds us that we have alot of work to do closer to home.

We here in North Carolina need to re-commit to fighting poverty in our portion of Appalachia. While the Sawyer piece focused on the hills of Eastern Kentucky, many of the same stories could be told in western NC. When we drive through the mountains, we see natural beauty. But hidden under that beauty, in the hollers and in the hills, is something ugly and wretched--poverty and hopelessness.

We can do better.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Foy's Challenge

Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy, in his annual "State of the Town" address, urged the creation of a linked, regional transit system. Yup, Kevin, it's about darn time we took the next step. TTA is an excellent resource locally, but it's only the beginning. The Triangle won't truly be a world class region until we master the transit challenge. Read more about Mayor Foy's statement here.

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Sunday, February 01, 2009

Valuing Orange County

I've received a number of emails from citizens concerned about the revaluation of property that is currently underway in Orange County. Many worry that the revals will lead to significant jump in the taxes they'll pay this year. The level of discomfort seems to be higher this year than in years past due to the current economic downtown and the stresses the recession is placing on our citizens.  It's not hard to understand why; we're all worried about the economy and what the future holds.

Orange County, like all counties in North Carolina, periodically revalue property. This is done to keep up with changes in values so properties can be taxed appropriately. It's standard operating procedure and a necessary responsibility of local government.

Here's how we can help taxpayers deal with the new property values:

The County Commissioners, as well as town leaders, should lower property tax rates this year to reflect the increased values.   What local governments have done in the past, and I certainly support it, is to lower the tax overall tax rate to a level that would bring in the same amount of money as would be raised under last year's property tax values.  

This would mean that the average tax payer would pay the same property tax they paid last year.  In other words, they new rate might be, say, 87 cents instead of our current 99 cents.  But based on the new valuations you'd pay, on average, the same amount in property taxes as you paid last year.  Now, I need to be completely clear.  On average tax-payers would pay the same amount as last year.  But some properties rose in value more than others.  So, some tax payers might pay a little bit more and some a bit less.   

The BoCC hasn't made a decision yet, but I fully expect us to lower the tax rate this year to reflect increased values.  It's the only fair thing to do.