RALEIGH — The newest member of Robeson County’s state General Assembly delegation has put his name to two pieces of legislation he believes will help improve the county’s economic climate.
Sen. Danny Britt, a freshman Republican, is co-sponsoring Senate bills 126 and 65. One piece of legislation would increase the amount of local option sales tax revenue rural counties get from the state. The other would improve digital infrastructure in rural counties.
Robeson County currently receives $1.04 per $1 of local sales tax revenue sent to the state government. Under SB 126, Robeson receive $1.10, an increase in real terms of just under $2 million a year. Robeson County currently generates about $17 million in sales tax revenue annually.
“Basically, the idea is that the majority of folks in rural areas are not doing our shopping locally,” Britt said.
With stores in metropolitan areas attracting more shoppers from rural areas, less sales tax revenue is being generated in rural counties, and SB 126 aims to balance the tax revenue scale.
“They are getting more of our tax dollars because they are spent there,” Britt said. “We are trying to get those moneys back home.”
Under the plan, counties would be grouped into three development tiers based on four factors: unemployment rate, median household income, population growth and median house value. Robeson County is in tier one with 39 of the poorest North Carolina counties. These counties would receive $1.10 per $1 of sales tax paid to Raleigh. The 40 second-tier counties would come out even, while the wealthiest 20 counties would keep 90 cents on the dollar of sales tax revenue.
The extra money that would come into Robeson County would help fund economic development projects, County Manager Ricky Harris said.
“We have several projects going that it would help, including the BB&T building remodeling. It would just help us overall with all the projects we are working on,” Harris said.
The fight in Raleigh will be between rural counties and more metropolitan counties, Britt said.
“I’m hoping we don’t have the resistance we had last time,” Britt said. “Last time we had a governor from Mecklenberg County. I think 80 of the counties are considered rural; 20 urban. As far as the makeup of the House and the Senate, I see us getting a fight but I see us pushing it through. This definitely seems to favor the rural counties, and rural counties make up the majority of who represents us in the House and Senate.”
Senate Bill 65 would bring improved broadband capability to the state’s 80 rural counties, which would will benefit from partnerships between private and public entities that lead to enhanced internet capabilities and and access.
“The immediate gains are the doors that we open,” Britt said. “More about the doors we can open for students to have access; the doors for commerce to open. It has the opportunity to lead to a lot of really good things for rural N.C.; for opening up the access to broadband and economic development.”
The BRIGHT Futures Act, as the bill is named, incorporates physical and technological infrastructure. BRIGHT is an acronym for broadband, retail online services, internet of things, grid power, health care, and training and education.
From textbooks becoming tablet-based ebooks in classrooms and a growing demand for access to distance learning, access to reliable broadband becomes a more important part of life, Britt said.
“If you don’t have good internet access it’s difficult to do your homework,” he said.
The bill would fund improvements through state loans and incentives to private companies to develop infrastructure.
“It is really the only way to do it in rural counties,” Britt said. “The distances that have to be covered.”
There is money available for funding the loans and incentives, Britt said. The exact funding will be decided as the bill moves through committees.
Reach Mike Gellatly at 910-816-1989 or via Twitter @MikeGellatly