If anything useful can be said to have come out of the House Bill 2 controversy, it would be a broader understanding of how limited the powers of local governments are in our state.
Before the dispute, many North Carolinians seem to think that the relationship between Raleigh and localities is and ought to be comparable to the relationship between Washington and the states. Now they know differently. While the federal Constitution recognizes a clear distinction between the enumerated powers of the central government and the powers reserved to the preexisting states or the people themselves, there is no such provision in the state constitution. North Carolina localities are created by the state and exercise only the powers delegated to them by the state.
Local governments are answerable to local constituencies, of course. And it makes sense for state policymakers to give localities significant control over their budgets, personnel, and other decisions. But the state has a constitutional obligation to protect the fundamental rights of North Carolinians from being trampled on by local governments, and to balance local preferences with a legitimate interest in statewide coherence and predictability when it comes to taxation, permitting, and other regulatory matters.
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