Woody White is seeking a second four-year term as a New Hanover County Commissioner. He’s competing against six other Republican candidates for one of three open seats in the March 15th primary.
In June of 2015, White voted against the proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2015 / 16, which ultimately passed in a three-to-two vote. The commissioners who approved the budget, as well as staff members who recommended it, say the two-cent property tax increase pays for voter-approved bonds. Woody White insists that the hike was – and is – unnecessary.
"We have debt always falling [off]. We have debt always coming on. And you can manage that in a more appropriate way. And by the way, we had organic growth of nearly $11 million in sales and ad valorem taxes… new cash, in terms of the savings account additions, ad valorem tax – just organic growth in the values, people spending more money in a recovering economy. We had more money last year than we had the year before."
White signed a pledge in 2014, created by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, to never raise taxes.
If he’s reelected, White says he’d like to consolidate more services with the City of Wilmington and put a sharp focus on reducing crime because of its direct impact on economic development.
Q & A:
RLH: When Chairperson Beth Dawson, who is a Republican, delivered her state of the county address earlier this month, you and two other Republican candidates issued what you called a Republican response. That’s a pretty clear demonstration of the depth of the division on the Board. Why do you think this has happened and how do you think members of the public feel about that?
WW: I hear from an awful lot of them all the time. And overwhelmingly, in some of the polling that I look at and in some of the responses I get on the phone and in email, I have people thanking me for standing up and saying things. It’s not fun to sit there and point out to your colleagues sometimes that they’re wasting money or that they’re adopting welfare policies that they have no business adopting or that they’re raising taxes unnecessarily.
The harder job is to articulate counter points of view, because over time, Rachel, the accumulation of this government growth and all the money we spend – it matters. Maybe not on one budget or one budget item or one trip to a conference or this or that, but you look at it in five- to ten-year increments, it’s tremendous.
The average citizen, twenty years ago, had $196 of county debt. This year, they have over $2300. Over a 1000% increase. That’s unsustainable.
RLH: You have also been, also, very publicly critical about the travel policy that’s currently in place for New Hanover County Commissioners. In fact, you’ve tried a couple of times to change that travel policy to – what?
WW: Well, to make the commissioners live under the same rules the county makes its employees live under. You’ll remember that Commissioner Zapple, Commissioner Dawson, and Commissioner Barfield all decided to live under a separate set of rules than their employees, and that’s wrong. It sets a bad example. Congress does that, and it’s just wrong. They shouldn’t do it. And I’ve never said that we shouldn’t allow some travel. We ought to allow some travel. People all across this country have changed their travel habits relative to their vocation. You know, if you used to travel for a real estate license, or continuing [education] for legal or medical, or whatever your permit or license might be, you’ve toned a lot down with the internet, with webinars, with go-to-meetings. We all have. County government hasn’t really looked at it and made any changes.
RLH: You’ve talked about why you didn’t want to raise taxes during this last budget process. Is there a circumstance in which you would? You signed the Grover Norquist Taxpayer Protection Pledge – and for those listeners who aren’t familiar with that, can you just tell us what that is?
WW: Just pledge not to raise taxes, to bank on organic growth in ad valorem and sales tax. We’re going to have growth over time. It’s just the way the basic economy works. And I don’t sign things if I don’t mean them. And I committed not to raise taxes. I committed to make the tough choices.
Does that mean we’re going to have to say "no" sometimes to this new program or this new expansion? Yes, it does. But that’s what leadership is about – making those choices.
Fundamentally, if we get back to our core mission, keeping people safe, making sure the Sheriff has what he needs – enough guns and enough people to keep us safe, that we have the best schools we can possibly afford, then the other stuff – we can manage the budget with the other stuff.
And so your question: is there ever a time I would see the need to raise taxes? Not that I can see, and I know an awful lot about this budget and I know an awful lot about the debt that’s coming on in the next six years.
RLH: Thanks so much for joining us today, Woody White.
WW: Thanks so much for having me in here.