Anyone who has grown up in or moved to this region in the last 10 years has to be frustrated with the lack of monetary support allotted to Mecklenburg County from state and federal funding. As a recent example, after federal stimulus funds were delivered to the state for shovel-ready projects, newly elected Governor Perdue announced that the state would speed up the completion of I-485 around Charlotte. However, subsequently, priorities were “reconsidered,” and the project has since fallen far behind other projects and programs. What had seemed to clearly be a shovel-ready project, was handed back to us by the state as a shovel of something else.
Throughout its history, this state has been governed by a rural dominance over state programs and priorities. That rural influence affects funding formulas and state distributions of financial resources. Politicians from rural counties and districts have consistently controlled the state legislature and, as a result, state departments and agencies. Their control made a lot of sense when tobacco, furniture and textiles supplied the predominance of revenues in state coffers.
But the population and economy of North Carolina has changed dramatically over the last 10 years. Tobacco, furniture and textiles have been replaced by utilities and service industries including banking, finance, real estate and technology. Urban growth has been especially rapid. Hopefully, these demographic changes will finally recognize the Charlotte regional area for its fair share.
During 2010, the U. S. Census will be taken across North Carolina and the entire United States as is mandated every 10 years. Individual participation in the census is required by law because census data are used to distribute Congressional seats to states, to make decisions about what community services to provide, and to distribute over $300 billion in federal funds. The data also impacts the apportionment of seats within the state legislature and, as a result, the spending on state programs and projects.
I predict that the results of the upcoming census will radically impact the nature of politics and power within North Carolina in fundamental and permanent ways. More than 50 percent of North Carolina citizens now live in just 13 counties along the I-85 corridor. The new tally of population growth will demonstrate how the population has shifted toward urban areas. Growth between Charlotte and Raleigh will shift the balance of power and influence in the direction of urban areas, urban institutions and urban priorities and away from the traditional rural dominance.
Change will not come easily, nor will it come quickly. It will take several years before the political district boundaries will be redrawn to the new demographics of the population. It will take even more years before those districts elect new representatives to the state and federal government. Nevertheless, the increased number of elected officials along the I-85 corridor in North Carolina will ultimately affect the distribution of federal and state funds in the direction of urban areas.
Careful planning and forethought by visionary leaders will expedite, improve and enhance the opportunity to bring change to keep up with the rapid growth and the increased burdens of transportation, education, health care, safety and welfare in our urban areas. While we need greater support now, it simply will not happen until urban interests have greater power over priorities and resources.
Outside of Mecklenburg County, many believe that Charlotte has enough of its own resources to solve its ambitions and needs. They feel that the “great state of Mecklenburg” can raise its own revenues. They don’t understand that we are only looking for our fair share of what we contribute to our state’s economy. Is that asking too much?
It is time to put things in balance.