For someone who doesn’t consider himself “a politician at all,” as Sen. Chuck Edwards told the Council of Independent Business Owners during a Feb. 26 virtual meeting, the Henderson County Republican has his hands in many goings-on at the N.C. General Assembly. The third-term state senator, who also represents the eastern third of Buncombe County, estimated he was currently working on about 40 bills.
None of those bills, Edwards told the Asheville-based trade group, involve changing the way occupancy tax revenues are allocated to the Buncombe County Tourism Development Authority. While he acknowledged that there had been bipartisan agreement a year ago about allowing more of those funds to be spent on community needs instead of tourism marketing, he said that the economic fallout of COVID-19 had changed his thinking.
“This is not the time to talk about redistribution in any manner,” Edwards said. “The tourism industry has just been destroyed.”
His comments came just weeks after Democratic Sen. Julie Mayfield, who represents the remainder of Buncombe County, told Xpress she was optimistic that TDA reform would pass before the end of the year. (See “Stay awhile,” Feb. 17.) “[Edwards] will be involved, and his name will be on the bill. He will likely be the primary cosponsor,” she said on Feb. 4.
Mayfield had proposed reducing the percentage of occupancy tax revenue devoted to marketing from 75% to 66%, with the percentage for local capital projects that attract visitors boosted from 25% to 33%. Edwards did not address other aspects of Mayfield’s proposal, such as expanding the TDA board or broadening allowable uses of the Tourism Product Development Fund.
In other developments of particular interest to Western North Carolina, Edwards said he had introduced Senate Bill 100 on Feb. 15, which would withhold state funding from cities and counties that cut law enforcement budgets over a certain threshold. If a local government were to reduce law enforcement funding by more than 1% compared to the rest of its budget, he explained, the state would reduce its support on a dollar-by-dollar basis to match that cut.
Edwards has tied the need for that bill to Asheville’s September reallocation of $770,000 away from the Asheville Police Department budget. Although that change represented a roughly 2.5% drop in funding compared with a previously proposed fiscal year 2020-21 budget, the cut was just over 1% from the police budget for 2019-20. Had Edwards’ legislation been in place last year, the city would have seen an approximately $39,000 reduction in state funding.
And Edwards said he planned to reintroduce a bill, similar to one vetoed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper in August 2019, that would force sheriffs to comply with detainer requests by federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Buncombe County Sheriff Quentin Miller has refused to honor those requests without a warrant since February 2019.