- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 18, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina municipal leaders visiting Raleigh on Wednesday got more positive vibes from Gov. Pat McCrory than they did from General Assembly leaders on issues of importance to their towns and cities.

Hundreds of officials from towns and cities attending the North Carolina League of Municipalities’ state government lobby day heard separately from McCrory, Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore.

The Republican-led General Assembly has waded frequently into local government matters in recent years - including the future of the Charlotte airport and Asheville’s water services. Last week, Senate Republicans passed bills that would rework the composition of the Wake County commission and Greensboro city council. Neither change was requested by the governing body.

McCrory said lawmakers are within their purview to act on local matters. But the governor, who is a former Charlotte mayor, added that they should largely stay out of things that don’t directly involve state government unless there’s consensus back home.

“Just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should do it, and I think it sets a poor precedent,” McCrory told a gathering, earning several rounds of applause. But McCrory has little inherent powers related to so-called “local” bills, however, because they aren’t subject to his veto.

McCrory and Department of Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz said they were working hard on advocating for the restoration of the historic preservation tax credit for old buildings that was allowed to expire last year.

League members are also concerned about a 2014 law McCrory signed that repeals some local business taxes this coming July 1. Without a replacement for the funds - for some large cities it’s in the millions of dollars - some municipalities will have to consider raising property taxes. McCrory said last year that he had assurances from lawmakers they would work with towns and cities to help them make up the lost revenue.

Moore, addressing a similar crowd earlier Wednesday at the Legislative Building, said work on replacing the local money from what’s called “privilege license taxes” is on the back burner right now. The Cleveland County Republican said that’s because of pending statewide economic development and gasoline tax bills. But he said the conversation will resume soon.

The House has been more favorable to restoring the historic preservation credit. But Senate Republicans declined to extend the credit last year in part because it doesn’t fit with their philosophy that the tax code should avoid exceptions for targeted groups.

Berger, R-Rockingham, told the municipal officials he hoped the Senate would this year create a state grant program to help fund worthy projects, rather than revive the tax breaks. Berger acknowledged that there are a lot of older buildings in small-town centers “that have a real need for a gentle touch.”

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