Name as it appears on the ballot: Matt Calabria  

Age: 37

Party affiliation: Democrat

Campaign website:

Occupation & employer: Attorney, Wallace & Nordan LLP; Incumbent Commissioner

1) In your view, what are the three most pressing issues facing Wake County? If elected, what will you do to address these issues?

Managing COVID-19 and its impacts will be our defining challenge for the next few months.  Assuming, however, that COVID-19 subsides early in the next term, here are my top three issues.

First, Wake County must continue to increase its support for public education.  In my first two terms as a Commissioner, I voted to increase county support for public education by more than a third, which included substantially raising local teacher pay. I also voted to make Wake County the first county in the state to put local funding toward SmartStart, and I have been one of the county’s leading advocates for combating childhood hunger in our schools. In addition to building on these efforts, I hope to provide needed teaching supplies and hire more school counselors and social workers.  I will also push for further decreasing the school-to-nurse ratio and will work to ensure that our schools have what they need to educate safely and effectively amid COVID-19.  Lastly, as we continue to grow, we will need to build and renovate our facilities to keep up with a growing population and create good learning environments. 

Second, the Commission should continue expanding affordable housing options. This includes not just increasing our affordable housing stock but working with municipalities to enact forward-thinking planning and zoning ordinances.  As a commissioner, I have worked to pass the county’s first comprehensive affordable housing plan, to create a standalone housing department, to provide more supportive housing, and to decrease veteran homelessness.  Next term, I want to expand on these efforts and to collaborate with municipalities to make housing more affordable overall.

Third, Wake County should better address economic development and economic mobility. I am proud to have spearheaded several efforts aimed at improving the economy: greater incentives for small businesses as well as companies who commit to paying a living wage; supporting numerous entrepreneurship efforts; and the creation of a Wake Tech program that provides paid apprenticeships and scholarships to students enrolling in “critical need” professions such as HVAC maintenance, electrician, and cyber security.

Of course, more must be done.  The vast majority of the businesses we survey say that access to talent is the number one priority when choosing where to grow.  Competing for a smart, cutting edge workforce requires us to prioritize education, transportation, open space, and the development of vibrant downtowns.  We should also work to expand opportunities for working class families to become upwardly mobile. I have worked hard to lead by example by authoring a living wage ordinance for county workers, working to enact our first paid parental leave policy, and even creating programs that provide worker training, life skills courses, and GED classes to folks in our jail. In my next term, I will endeavor to improve opportunities for upward mobility so that everyone can take advantage of our prosperity.  I will also work to ensure that growing companies–and startups, specifically–have access to capital and other supports that they need to succeed.

2) Do you approve of the way the Board of Commissioners is running? Why or why not? Are there specific votes the board has taken to which you take exception? Please explain. 

Yes, I approve of the way that the Board of Commissioners is running.  This board has accomplished major advances when it comes to support for public education, the expansion of affordable housing, improvements in workforce development and the delivery of human services, passage of a $2.3 billion public transportation plan, and the build out of our libraries and parks systems.  Although we saw some disagreements and an ultimate compromise associated with the parkland that is now the Hilltop Needmore Town Park and Preserve, the board has functioned with relatively little acrimony.  I have almost always sided with (and advocated for) the direction in which the board has chosen to go, and I’m proud of that voting record.  Certainly there is more to do, but I believe building on these achievements is the correct path forward for our county.

3) Wake County is by most accounts prospering. What do you think the county has done effectively? What policies would you like to see put in place so that it continues to grow going forward?

Wake County continues to prosper in large part because we made smart investments in our people and our infrastructure (see above).  We would do well to continue on that course by recruiting top employers, creating cutting-edge jobs, and maintaining our quality of life.  However, we should redouble our efforts to ensure that people from all walks of life can participate in that prosperity.  We are one of the most desirable places to live in the country, but we rank poorly when it comes to economic mobility.  Therefore, in addition to investing in affordable housing and workforce development efforts, Wake County should engage in a comprehensive, community-centered dialogue about what we can do to provide economic opportunities for underprivileged populations.  In doing so, we should ensure that there is diversity in the jobs that we work to create (not just high-end, six-figure jobs), and we should consider expanding programs that help justice-involved populations reintegrate into the workforce.

4) With that growth comes challenges related to sprawl, transportation, and affordable housing, among other things. In your opinion, what have the county’s successes been in managing this growth in recent years? What about its failures? What would you do differently?

Managing growth has been–and will be–perhaps the defining challenge in Wake County.  Since I took office in 2014, my colleagues and I have worked hard to catch up on a school construction deficit.  We also made great strides by passing an historic transit referendum; adding hundreds of new affordable housing units every year; increasing job training opportunities; and raising wages for teachers, first responders, and others to ensure that we can effectively compete in the job market.

We must continue to foster manageable growth by continuing to build new affordable housing.  We must also link our public transit buildout (bus and commuter rail) with our development ordinances and affordable housing goals so that we can create dense, vibrant centers throughout Wake County.  This will allow us to stem needless sprawl while preserving the character of many of our more rural areas.  Lastly, we have got to partner with our 12 municipalities to help them put in place transportation, planning, and affordable housing policies that will give us the best chance of success as a county.

5) In 2018, voters approved more than $1 billion in bonds for school construction, parks and greenways, and Wake Tech. This came on the heels of a 2016 sales-tax referendum to fund the county’s transit plan. And the county has raised property taxes every year since 2014. Do you worry that residents are going to feel overtaxed?  

I always worry about residents being overtaxed, especially those on fixed incomes or who have additional challenges that the tax system under state law is ill equipped to address.  But I also believe we have been appropriately vigilant about finding efficiencies wherever we can, and it has been important to do what is necessary for future generations to prosper.  When I first ran for office–and every time since–I’ve done so on a platform of making smart investments in our people and our community.  In recent years, the commission has done just that, making record improvements in many areas, including and especially in the amount of support we provide to public education and in affordable housing.  These advances will pay financial and moral dividends for years to come.

The year I took office (2014), the property tax rate was approximately 58 cents per $100 in property value.  Now it is approximately 60 cents. The county also did not raise property taxes in 2020, which was the right decision especially considering the impacts of COVID-19.

6) As a result of the recent revaluation, property values in the eastern part of the county have increased significantly, putting pressure on some low-income households in gentrifying neighborhoods who may be unable to keep up with their rising taxes. What can the county do to ensure that long-time residents can remain in their neighborhoods? 

This issue is made more difficult because state law greatly constrains our ability to create many kinds of tax programs or relief.  Any solutions therefore have to come in other forms.  Among them, the county should be a convener and a catalyst for forward-thinking planning and zoning laws.  By managing density and creating vibrant urban centers where appropriate, we can better address the financial pressures on households.  However, almost all of our growth is in municipal jurisdictions (and therefore outside county jurisdiction).  We must therefore work collaboratively with our municipal partners to enact appropriate measures.

We can also stem increases in cost of living by making sure we provide efficient and robust services.  For example, as we expand our public transportation system, that in some cases will decrease the need for some families to own a second car, decrease fuel costs, etc.

Obviously all of these decisions require us to actively solicit feedback from–and listen to–affected community members.

7) In 2018, commissioners voted to add a penny to the property tax—about $15 million a year—for affordable housing. Do you believe this is adequate? What strategic investments would you like to see? 

The landmark amount that commissioners allocated was appropriate for the time.  It fueled major changes in our housing apparatus, which are still underway: creating a stand-alone housing department, developing a proactive system to identify and preserve naturally occurring affordable housing, building record numbers of affordable housing units, expanding support services, creating rental and utility assistance programs, etc.

At that time, committing funds much above that amount might have risked taxing citizens without the apparatus to thoughtfully, appropriately spend the money.  The amount of money available, therefore, has not necessarily been the sole limiting factor since that allocation.  Of course, now that we have put much of our infrastructure in place, our housing program will need to be reassessed in future years to determine its adequacy, especially as we continue to see housing shortages.

8) County officials often say that schools are their number-one priority, and schools account for the lion’s share of the budget. Do you believe the county is properly balancing school funding with its other responsibilities? Should the county be spending more on its school system? 

Because the school system is how we educate our future employers and employees, and because the school system is one of our largest employers, an investment in the school system is an investment in our community.  Our school system had been in dire need of additional support, due in large part to a General Assembly that is unwilling to make good on its obligations to fund a strong public education system.

While the county is appropriately balancing school funding amid other priorities, we will need to explore additional improvements in the future.  Those investments should be informed by the needs articulated by the school system, as they have been historically.

9) Three years after voters approved the transit plan, how do you see the future of public transportation coming together in Wake County? What sort of things would you like the county to do differently? Are there any new initiatives you’d like the county to try? 

Our transit system has made major strides as a result of the passage of the 2016 transit referendum.  Among them, we are making good progress on tripling bus service and building out our bus rapid transit (BRT) lines.  We have also greatly expanded our on-demand transit service for elderly and disabled residents–something that I have long advocated for.  In the next term, I’m looking to see greater progress on commuter rail, which by nature has been very planning-intensive to date.  I also want to see us continue to explore initiatives that solve the “last mile” problem and assist our residents in getting to and from stops on major transit corridors.

10) Are there any issues not covered by this questionnaire that you would like to address? 

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Comment on this questionnaire at

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