Funding Our Bubble

Chapel Hill’s bubble has been both boasted about and blasted, depending on the politics of the critic. We have a reputation of being a haven for bleeding-heart liberals, a sanctuary city in sentiment and practice, albeit not codified. But a sneak peek at the proposed Trump administration budget indicates that our bubble is about to be burst.

This could be a test of how much we’re willing to sacrifice to live up to what we say we believe to be important. If the Trump budget comes to pass, we won’t have the luxury of taxpayers across the country chipping in to support our values.

Though a detailed budget has not been brought forth, the outline made public last week reveals a spending redistribution that those of my ilk find alarming. Funding for the Environmental Protection Agency has been slashed by a third. State Department programs that give aid to war-torn countries and subsidize flights to rural airports have been all but eliminated. Public education, public transportation and public housing funding has been gutted. And the Community Development Block Grants that support our safety net of social services in the community will be snuffed out entirely.

What does this mean for the secure community we have built in Chapel Hill? If we want to preserve the quality of life measures we have tried to extend to everyone in the community, we’ll have to set our priorities, and decide to what extent local taxpayers are willing to fund them.

One of the hardest hit areas will be affordable housing, something every council member has campaigned on, in part because we know how important that is to so many residents. About 45% of the town’s public housing budget comes from HUD. And even before any cuts were announced, the town’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board had recommended a “Nickel for Housing” tax increase.

CDBG contributes about another $400,000 a year to programs like Meals on Wheels, a youth employment program and sprucing up public housing neighborhoods.

Education cuts could affect subsidies for public school pre-K, among other enrichments for our next generation of leaders.

Federal infrastructure cuts also threaten the reimbursement we hope to get by going forward with the light rail plan. Taxpayers would be on the hook for any and all shortfalls, not to mention all cost overruns.

Now is not the time to add extra financial obligations to local taxpayers. Encourage Orange County commissioners to postpone approving our involvement in light rail. We need to restore our bubble first.
— Nancy Oates

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  1. Bonnie Hauser

     /  March 20, 2017

    Real issues; real impacts.

  2. Bart

     /  March 21, 2017

    Even with people across the country chipping in to support our values (ironic since Chapel Hill has so often pontificated on issues in other places) we have high local taxes.

    So, can we please re-examine the notion that local taxpayers may have to pick up the slack? I realize the image of Chapel Hill – externally and apparently internally as well – is of a bunch of rich white folks who just want to keep our privelege.

    While there is some truth in that image, there are also a lot of people who don’t fit that picture at all – including white folks. Making local taxes even more regressive doesn’t make sense to me. Having a big mortgage is not an indicator of wealth and I have run into “house poor” people here.

    What data shoes council use to determine the wealth of citizens? Surely not property taxes.

  3. bart

     /  March 21, 2017

    What data DOES council use to determine the wealth of citizens?

    Sorry for the ridiculous typo.

    I’m wondering if a significant part of the town doesn’t spend an outsized amount of their income on mortgages. I realize we’ve talked about the rent situation (similar), but people can “qualify” for mortgages that take a significant bite of income.

    Buying an expensive home can make a family look affluent even if it takes half the income to do it.

    Any ideas?

  4. Nancy

     /  March 21, 2017

    I’m not advocating for raising taxes, only pointing out that we have to pay for the services we deem important. I just got back from talking to some students at McDougle Elementary School, and they grasped the notion of having to decide how you were going to spend a fixed amount of money: deciding what is most important to you, separating your own personal preferences from what is in the best interest of everyone in the group, and finding other ways of affording the things you want if you don’t have enough to cover everything at once. Would that all of the voters understood that reality.

  5. plurimus

     /  March 22, 2017

    The TC and County government as elected officials are responsible for identifying what we the voters deem important. I think because we are a relatively well off town and county, the process has in the past been somewhat ad hoc.

    I do worry about this “greater good” argument because the down side always seems to fall disproportionately on under represented groups. We seem to have a spotty history recognizing when the harm to the affected persons exceeds the benefits to the community. IMO we need a more formalized process with more rigorous criteria for examining options.

    Along the same lines, I also dislike the fact that a mostly transient student population can and does skew results that should be decided by the people that are left paying for it. I fear there are some elements in the town that use this feature to promote an ideology or agenda rather than fairness.

    Deciding what is most important to you can get tangled up with confirmation bias, ideology and self delusion. I hope part of the lesson is learning from consequences and critical thinking outside the “bubble”.

  6. plurimus

     /  March 26, 2017

    BTW have you read HB436?