Archived Opinion

GOP leaders push unfunded mandate to counties

op frNorth Carolina’s General Assembly — under the leadership of Republicans for the first time in more than a century— will hopefully refrain in the future from pushing unfunded mandates onto the backs of counties and their taxpayers.

The U.S. Congress approved the Help America Vote Act so that counties could keep electronic voting machines updated and election workers properly trained. After the Bush-Gore debacle in 2000 that ended up in the Supreme Court, that seemed a wise decision. Electronic machines could have prevented the problems that occurred in Florida, problems that left Americans in limbo as to who won the presidential election.

The HAVA requires states to put up a proportional match to get federal funds to keep new voting machines working properly. In North Carolina, our leaders needed to approve a $644,000 appropriation in order to get $4.1 million in federal funds. But the GOP leadership that controlled the budget-writing process left the money out.

Rep. Jim Davis, R-Franklin, told The Smoky Mountain News it wasn’t an accident.

“We just didn’t have the money,” said Davis. “That’s not good news, but it’s what it is.”

The problem with the GOP leadership’s decision is that it simply shifted the burden to the counties, who still have to update and maintain the voting machines. And instead of coming up with $644,000, counties across the state are going to have to come up with the $4.1 million also.

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And the $4.1 million that our federal tax dollars paid into will now go to other states to use on their voting machines.

So how much did that cost county taxpayers? It was $41,000 in Haywood, $15,000 in Jackson, $17,000 in Macon and $13,600 in Swain. That’s real money that could have been used in our local schools or somewhere else. County leaders, for the most part, were perplexed at the state’s reasoning.

“(The state’s decision) had an adverse affect because it directly impacted our budget in a negative way,” said Mark Swanger, a Democrat and chair of the Haywood County commissioners. “I don’t understand why you wouldn’t take advantage of the federal government trying to going give you money. It does not strike me as a good business decision.”

The GOP leadership in this state may preach fiscal prudence, but in this case they wasted local tax dollars. Plain and simple, counties had to pay more because of this decision. The legislators could have even asked counties to pony up the $644,000 and it would have been smarter. Mecklenburg County alone will spend $400,000 to keeps its polling machines in good working order.

Next time you hear state GOP leaders say they’re working hard to balance the budget, hold onto your wallet. That may just mean another unfunded mandate coming from Raleigh.

(Scott McLeod can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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