North Carolina municipalities currently bring in an estimated $62 million annually through privilege taxes on local businesses. But a bill signed into law last week by Gov. McCrory will eliminate the ability of cities and towns to levy this privilege tax starting July 2015.
Republican members of the state senate have justified these cuts by stating that the inconsistently applied privilege taxes hurt economic development. The idea that any regulation or tax on a business damages economic development has become conservative dogma over the last 30 years. It’s alluring, but overly simplistic.
This ideology has become an idol. And like the ancient Aztecs, we find ourselves offering more and more sacrifices so these idols will spare us. In this case, the purse strings and authority of local governments are being sacrificed in the name of that idol known as “Business” or the “Market.”
I’m not talking about everyday human businesspeople. I’m talking about this mythical boogeyman, the idol we trot out to justify the fact that our economic policy decisions are more often driven by fear and prejudice, rather than optimism and mutual consideration.
Our collective deification of Business is a violation not only of the First Commandment, but of common sense. We forget that, unlike the gods of yore, businesses do not live in the heavens, but on earth. They are part of the economic ecosystem. So when you remove a revenue stream for local governments, those governments will have to cut back on services like filling potholes or fighting fires, the provision of which would otherwise provide jobs and stimulate local economies.
Human sacrifices didn’t appease the Aztec rain god Tlaloc; what makes us think the State’s sacrifice of local governments will appease Business?
The law ending privilege tax is just the latest in a trend against local authority. For example, a 2011 law bars local governments from providing broadband internet where private businesses are failing to do so at a reasonable price. These and other laws are designed to shift the burden of funding government from state and business sources to the local governments, all while hamstringing them from taking action inconsistent with what presently passes for conservative thought. It keeps our politically purple state behaving as red as possible.
We’re passengers to the joyride of a power-drunk political party that is enjoying complete control over state government for the first time since Reconstruction. It’s driving the state where it wants, while paying little attention to our Republican governor and less attention to citizens. Let’s hope the ride ends soon with as few casualties as possible, so that sober-minded, practical folks of all political persuasions can work together to build a stronger North Carolina – at the state and local levels.