Monday, March 02, 2015

Battle brewing in North Carolina over governor-backed package that benefits urban businesses

The rural-urban gap in North Carolina has been growing in recent years, with the majority of state funds for new businesses going to companies that build in urban areas, Gary Robertson reports for The Associated Press. As a result, a high percentage of new jobs are in the Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham areas. That has helped those areas grow to representing 20 percent of the state's population, which has helped them gain a stronghold in the state legislature.

But because a large number of Republican rural lawmakers won elections in 2014, tides could be turning. Rural lawmakers are questioning why the state's unemployment rate has fallen to 5.5 percent, while most rural areas are at or above 7 percent, Robertson writes. Rural Sen. Andy Wells (R-Catawba) told Robertson, "There’s not a rural-urban split. There’s a Raleigh-Charlotte versus anybody else split."

The debate is expected to heat up this week "over an economic incentives package filed in the House and sought by GOP Gov. Pat McCrory," Robertson writes. "The awards cap on Job Development Investment Grant awards, the state’s primary economic incentives tool, begun in 2003, rises in the measure. That’s something McCrory says he needs to compete with other states in recruiting big business. But non-urban lawmakers surely will notice 86 percent of the monetary value of JDIG awards has gone to companies building in Mecklenburg, Wake and Durham counties in the past two years, according to legislative staff."

"The measure also appears to end the potential tax advantage for a manufacturer to build a huge plant in non-urban counties by offering the break statewide," Robertson writes. Through 2013, companies building in rural areas only received 9 percent of JDIG money, says a report by North Carolina Justice Center. Ferrel Guillory, the Program on Public Life director at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told Robertson, “Republican legislators who represent these rural and outer suburban districts find themselves being asked to vote for a package of incentives that are largely going somewhere else, but the governor wants it because he’s a statewide elected official." (Read more)

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