Editor’s note: This is part one of a look at Wilmington’s 2018 legislative agenda.
WILMINGTON — The tense political climate of Capitol Hill is pervading in state and local politics, but what how does that attitude affect Wilmington?
According to the Assistant to the City Manager for Legislative Affairs Tony McEwen, the actions – and inaction – of larger governmental entities at both the state and federal level have direct impacts for the city and its residents.
Tensions are high across party lines, and national level upsets like the recent loss by Roy Moore for the race for a Senate seat left vacant by when Jeff Sessions became attorney general have caused questions of party stability.
Regardless, McEwen believes Wilmington will fare well this political season. The new year will bring in another election season and McEwen says that means stability, especially at the state level.
“It’s going to be a pretty tumultuous year politically and electorally, so I think both sides are careful not to do anything that would distract from their attempts at getting elected or reelected. I don’t think they (politicians in Raleigh) are going to do anything that would attract the ire of voters … that I think works in our favor,” McEwen said.
McEwen said, more so this year than in the past, politicians are focusing on suburban voters as opposed to municipalities, leaving cities to their own devices. For the first time since he has worked for the City of Wilmington, the city is focusing more at the federal level as opposed to the state.
“(As) opposed to some years in the past where cities have had a lot at stake, I think that, for the most part, city issues are probably going to be safe,” he said.
McEwen has gave city leaders a presentation on the city’s legislative agenda for 2018 during a City Council workshop. The first item of city interest is to, “continue to oppose legislature that undermines local government authority.”
This also means to oppose legislation that could hinder the ability for the city to collect revenue, he said.
“We had something called a privilege license tax, it’s a very small tax set upon businesses locally … they (General Assembly) took away our right to charge a business the privilege license tax. It took $2.4 million away from our budget on an annual basis. That is something we have had to recoup through other ways,” McEwen said.
The statewide legislation affects residents because the city was forced to do one of two things, cut services or increase their cost, he said.
Elections at the municipal level are another item of concern for the City of Wilmington. There are current bills at the state level that could potentially change how cities and towns elect their leaders.
Currently municipal elections are held on odd years in Wilmington, and throughout most of the municipalities in the state – but legislation has been introduced to the General Assembly that would change the precedence.
“During odd-numbered years (so as to alternate with statewide general elections) most municipal elections are held to elect the governing officials (mayor, city council, town council, etc.) of cities, villages and towns across North Carolina. Not all municipalities will have an election in a given odd-numbered year,” according to the North Carolina State Board of Elections.
The City of Wilmington has been working to oppose any changes to municipal elections, like requiring cities to elect leaders during even numbered years, or requiring partisan elections.
While there are positive aspects of changing the election system for municipalities, like the fact more voters would take part in municipal elections, local elections are inherently different than larger, federal elections, McEwen said.
“This is a system that has been in place all this time, it has always worked, council would question some of the motives of making this change at this point … Local governance and elections are just different, it is not a partisan thing … I find that local government is very serious government, it’s where the rubber meets the road, nobody is sitting here talking about who is democrat or republican — this is about getting your trash picked up, this is about making sure police officers respond to emergencies,” he said.
Check out part II, the federal legislative agenda, Saturday morning
Michael Praats can be reached at Michael.firstname.lastname@example.org