As local pressure mounts for the N.C. General Assembly to change how Buncombe County’s occupancy tax revenues can be spent, a key state lawmaker has changed his take on the matter. At a June 10 meeting of the Council of Independent Business Owners, an Asheville-based trade group, Republican Sen. Chuck Edwards said he had “come around to the way of thinking of the folks in the county” who want less of the tax to go toward tourism marketing.
That position marks an about-face from the hard line Edwards, who represents Henderson County and the eastern third of Buncombe County, drew in previous remarks to CIBO. “This is not the time to talk about redistribution in any manner,” he had said on Feb. 26.
While Edwards did not explain the rationale behind his new stance, it aligns with a proposal endorsed by the Asheville Buncombe Hotel Association, a group representing local hotel owners. Current legislation requires the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority to spend 75% of Buncombe’s occupancy tax revenue on marketing the region, with the remaining 25% allocated toward “tourism-related capital expenditures.” The proposed change would shift those percentages to two-third and one-third, respectively.
The Buncombe County Board of Commissioners also appears interested in changing the legislation. The board’s June 1 agenda listed a discussion of the county’s hotel occupancy tax policy, which had been added at the request of Chair Brownie Newman and Commissioners Jasmine Beach-Ferrara and Al Whitesides, all Democrats. The discussion was pulled from the agenda prior to that meeting and has yet to be rescheduled.
But even with Edwards’ support, it remains unclear if the changes can pass. He said that “a long-standing debate between long-term members of the Senate and House” had made his colleagues reluctant to consider any occupancy tax legislation; he did not name specific members responsible for the impasse or describe the nature of that debate.
In other news
Edwards also responded to an Xpress question about his role in denying the confirmation of Dionne Delli-Gatti, Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s pick to become secretary of the state Department of Environmental Quality. As reported by N.C. Policy Watch, Delli-Gatti is Cooper’s first cabinet-level official nomination to be rejected since Republican lawmakers voted to start holding confirmation hearings in 2017.
“Plain and simple, she was not qualified to run the department,” Edwards argued, noting that he personally led the debate on the Senate floor on the June 3 motion to deny Delli-Gatti’s confirmation. He based that claim on what he described as Delli-Gatti’s “very limited knowledge” regarding several controversial pipeline projects for which the Cooper administration had denied permits. “There’s a real war against natural gas,” he added.
However, North Carolina’s largest utility companies, which are heavily reliant on natural gas, supported Delli-Gatti’s appointment. Duke Energy released a statement backing her confirmation on June 2, as did Dominion Energy. “We have appreciated her willingness to collaborate on key energy issues and the perspective she brings as the state works together to chart a path forward,” the Duke statement read.