Originally posted 2:22 a.m., July 19, 2014
The North Carolina Senate appears to be serious about a measure that would prohibit counties from calling sales tax referenda for use toward both transportation and education.
Under the proposed bill, counties would have to choose between the two.
“What the General Assembly is discussing is pitting education against transportation,” said Orange County Commissioner Penny Rich. “The problem with that is that transportation is always going to be the loser, because we value education so much in our county.”
On Wednesday, a State Senate Panel approved a bill by voice vote that could prevent Wake County in joining Orange and Durham Counties in using sales taxes to fund public transit.
The proposed measure would allow counties to raise taxes by referendum on a sales tax for either education or transportation, but not both.
The Durham Herald-Sun reported that Republican Sen. Rick Gunn of Alamance said that it would force counties to make a “clear decision on priorities.”
The bill would also cap local sales taxes at 2.5 percent.
Voters in Orange and Durham Counties have elected to raise taxes for both education and transit, and both currently have a 2.75 percent sales taxes in place. They would be exempt from the bill.
But Rich sees trouble ahead when it comes to forming transportation partnerships between counties in the future.
“Wake County has been discussing a transportation tax, and they are part of a group that is Wake, Durham and Chapel Hill to supply public transportation to our groups, and to get people moving, either with light rail or buses,” said Rich.
She also said that the ramifications for Orange County and all North Carolina counties go far beyond immediate consequences. She called the Senate bill another “divide-and-conquer” tactic
“There are big ramifications, because when the General Assembly is taking away the governing power of the county as they’re doing in this bill – and they do it in the first bill, and it gets by – then there’s no telling what they do down the road.
“So even though we say that we don’t have ramifications because we have our sales tax in place, it really is a grab,” she said. “It’s a grab for power.”
The late-session bill was supposed to go to the full Senate for a vote on Thursday, but was delayed until Monday.