WILMINGTON — Last year’s state legislative session was a tumultuous one, with the repulsion of the Map Act, redistricting, and the minority party’s ability to actually veto Republican legislation. But trying to figure out how exactly state-level politics affects us locally can be challenging.
Each year Assistant to the City Manager for Legislative Affairs Tony McEwen gives a ‘legislative wrap-up’ to City Council, highlighting the key issues of importance at the state level, and explaining possible impacts locally.
“The major themes of 2019 at the legislature: Budget battles, vetos and redistricting. One of the big changes in the dynamics after the 2018 election was that the Republican Party no longer had the veto-proof majority … what that means is the minority party now has a voice,” McEwen said.
More than anything else, this shifting of powers played out with the state budget, which has been an item of contention among lawmakers and the Governor.
While 2019 proved to be a long session for lawmakers with lots of back-and-forth, McEwen said there was actually very little that impacted local government.
Every year the city works to have its best interests represented in Raleigh through lobbying. One of the issues the city has been working to oppose is the redistribution of sales tax revenues.
“This is an issue that we have been tackling for quite a number of years … This came back in 2019 and I think it is probably going to come back in 2020, and this, more than just about any legislation that we’ve seen in the last decade, could have a major impact on the City of Wilmington,” McEwen said.
So what is actually at stake? Well, sales tax, at the moment, is distributed 75% to the point of sale and 25% per capita, meaning, population-based.
But lawmakers have been working to change that formula. The most recent proposal for sales tax revenue was for a 50-50 split, however, it failed in committee.
As most people know, the film industry is one of significant importance to Wilmington, and while it is not at the level it once was, the city is working to continue growth in this industry.
Last year, for the first time in several years, the state passed reoccurring funding for the film industry to the tune of $31 million. This is significant since the budget for the upcoming fiscal year is still at a stalemate, McEwen said.
While the amount might not have seemed like a lot for the film industry, it is likely there would be no funding provided this year if not for the previous year’s efforts, he said.
While the fate of the budget has yet to be decided, there was, in the vetoed budget, some incentives to the film industry including lower spending requirements and higher incentives for tv shows filming in the state.
Perhaps one of the most significant events of last year was the redrawing of legislative districts across the state. In the Cape Fear Region, changes came to the 17th, 18th, 19th, and 20th districts.
It also affected the districts for the State Senate, which, for Wilmington, is an office held by Harper Peterson.
“In 2018 Democrats had 46,500 registered voters in our State Senate district … GOP had 50,800, and unaffiliated was 58,800. The changes in 2020 with the new districts are, 49,100 for Democrats, 50,800, so the Republican registration stayed the same, and unaffiliated 61,100 … Democrats gained about 3,000 votes,” McEwen said.
This change will likely mean things will likely skew to the left in the county as a whole. This can be attributed to the fact that Senator Bill Rabon, who previously held precincts in the City of Wilmington will no longer do so.
The biggest changes came in the redistricting of the house districts across the region.
“The biggest change of any change in any district in the state geographically was House District 19. That went through the middle part of our county into all the way down into all the beach communities. Now it cuts in from our beach communities down to the Brunswick County beach communities … That was Representative Ted Davis’s old district,” McEwen said.
Representative Deb Butler also saw a major change to her district, which previously included a large portion of Brunswick County — now it is only in New Hanover County.
District 19 is now vacant and several candidates have filed to fill the newly drawn district seat.
You can watch the entire presentation from McEwen to City Council online.