Both sides of the debate have problems with the referenda aspects of the bill:
Those opposed to involuntary annexations who have been lobbying for changes in the law since 2008 now say the 34-page bill makes the situation worse for home and business owners.
And they say their brass ring - requiring a referendum as a prerequisite for involuntary annexations - is tarnished because the threshold for such a vote is too tall for anyone to reach. Fifteen percent of registered voters within the existing city limits and the area to be annexed would have to sign a petition seeking a vote.
And the other side doesn't want a referendum at all:
The cities and their lobbying group, the North Carolina League of Municipalities, were adamantly opposed to any referendum provision and remain so as this year's session began. They said it gives voters veto power over a city's efforts to control suburban sprawl and to create an orderly process for incorporating high-density developments that need police and fire services as well as water and sewer lines. Few people are willing to vote for something that would raise their taxes.
"What is urban in nature should be considered municipal," league lobbyist Kelli Kukura said.
Before we get into a discussion of this, we need to wipe the board clean of preconceived notions: Government is neither benign nor malignant; it is as it does.
Much of the opposition to annexation is fueled and funded by anti-government zealots who look with disdain upon the idea of smart growth and planning. They claim to represent the wishes of individual citizens, yet they seek at all turns to limit the powers of those whom the citizens choose to represent them.
This contradiction is no accident of ideologically crossed-wires, it reveals a fundamental truth: They are, in reality, only concerned about preserving a neo-aristocracy that allows private business interests free reign in shaping our society, the wishes of the people be damned.
But just as we shouldn't presume that businessmen know best, we also shouldn't presume that those who have risen to power in municipal governments always want what's best for residents, and even have long-range visions, much less pay attention to them if they do possess that trait.
So we come back to the issue of putting annexation in front of the voters in the form of a referendum. As we saw with the various land transfer tax initiatives, voters can be easily swayed by fear tactics funded by business. But another "truth" revealed in that skirmish was the inability of proponents to communicate to the voting public why that approach to revenue was the best, and what was really at stake.
Now, we can sit back and whine about how "money will always win" in the court of public opinion, but that's a cop-out. Good ideas that are well-communicated can and do win in that court more often than not, and simply the act of exposing those ideas to the crucible of the ballot "refines" them in ways that could never be achieved in a closed-door city council action.
Smart growth can't happen if only a handful of people are involved, we all need to take part.