Macon County News Reporter Brittney Raby interviews Congressman Mark Meadows for FHS' RedOnline class.
Macon County News Reporter Brittney Raby interviews Congressman Mark Meadows for FHS’ RedOnline class.

Brittney Raby – Staff Writer

Although Washington D.C. sits 536 miles from Franklin, Congressman Mark Meadows continues to make it a priority as a member of the United States House of Representatives to stay in touch with voters across the 17 Western North Carolina counties he represents. Rep. Meadows has spent the week in his district with the focus on “A day in the life of,” teachers, law enforcement officers, retail workers, and others throughout the 11th congressional district.

“The idea actually came from my wife when we were talking about ways to spend more time with the people who keep things moving in our district,” said Meadows. “I wanted to go out and walk in their shoes. I truly believe that in order to get a better understanding of what the people in our district need and want, I need to live it like they do.”

This isn’t the first time Meadows had rolled his sleeves up and experienced things firsthand, from delivering boxes for UPS to volunteering in classrooms, any time Meadows makes the trip from Washington to the 11th district, he urges his staff to schedule opportunities for him to meet with constituents.

Tuesday morning, Meadows stopped at Franklin High School to speak to Penny Moffitt’s journalism class on the importance of local newspaper and media relations while he is in office. After leaving Franklin High School, Meadows travelled through the district to Swain County to meet with Swain County Sheriff Curtis Cochran to discuss rural law enforcement needs. The rest of his day included meetings with hospital staff in Cherokee, working on his customer service at REI in Buncombe County to get a dose of the retail workers in WNC.

“There is no better way to stay in touch with the people in Western North Carolina to take the time to see things from their point of view,” said Meadows. “This is just a small way for me to try to do that.”

Touting the importance transparency and staying connected to the district, Meadows explained that by being present in the district he represents isn’t just important to keep in touch with voters and to hear their concerns, but it also makes it easier to build relationships with county leaders.

“Weeks like this allow me to get in front of county leaders and meet with people like the sheriff and see what they need and better understand the ‘why’ behind it,” said Meadows. “One example is with the PILT funding (Payment in Lieu of Taxes).”

PILT funding means around $150,000 in revenue for the Macon County School system, and over the last few years Congress has reauthorized those funds on a year-to-year basis, which Meadows says places a burden on county budgets.

“Most people think that ‘government’ are the elected officials closest to them,” he said. “So when there is a problem, whether it be a neighbor’s barking dog or an opinion on Iran’s nuclear weapons, people turn to their local officials to handle it, making it that much more important for me to have a relationship with those officials so I can stay in the loop. The PILT funding is a huge deal for Macon County and one of the reasons I am as involved as I am is because Macon leaders made sure I was aware of the impact it has.”

Last fall, Meadows has introduced legislation to change the way Congress authorizes funding such as PILT so counties can better budget. The bipartisan PILT and SRS Certainty Act, introduced along with Congressman Jared Polis (D-CO) in July, called for the reauthorization of the Secure Rural Schools Program (SRS) for five years and extend and provide funding for Payment In Lieu of Taxes (PILT) for five years at an annual level of $450 million.

“I strongly believe that authorizations and funding levels for both programs should not be determined on an annual or short-term basis,” Meadows said. “Our local governments and school districts are burdened with the responsibility of supporting surrounding federal lands, absent a substantial tax base and they should not be left in a perpetual state of uncertainty. All 17 counties in North Carolina’s 11th district, which I represent, rely on SRS and PILT funding and they should not be harmed because they are home to federal lands. This is a commonsense bill that will fulfill our government’s commitment to mitigating lost tax revenue experienced by counties, while offering long-term certainty for municipalities and rural schools.”

Meadows is the only congressman from the Eastern United States who sits on a Western caucus, and he said he does that specifically because of PILT. “Most of the federal lands are in the western United States, but my Congressional District has as much federal lands as most western districts so it’s important to be involved in that aspect of protecting those funds.”