Iâ€™m not sold. Not yet.
Orange County government is sitting on the verge of actually accomplishing something it hasnâ€™t been able to do easily in years â€“ raise additional revenue.
With a quarter-cent sales tax referendum sitting on the ballot in what is primarily a municipal election cycle, the odds arenâ€™t bad that voters in the towns along with those of us unincorporated types in the southern part of the school district will sign off on raising sales taxes.
The odds are a lot better than last time around when the referendum lost by a squeaker. But right now, as things stand, Iâ€™m voting it down.
Pardon me for being a villain, but I think there are better ways to fund the things on the laundry lists for school construction and economic development than adding a generic, across-the-board tax on the good people of Orange County.
I donâ€™t fault the people trying desperately to guarantee a new revenue stream for things the state has cut, and I certainly donâ€™t think raising money to spur job growth is bad, but there are sound, reasonable ways to get at both that donâ€™t involve another â€“ albeit small â€“ regressive tax hike.
While youâ€™re busy un-friending me on Facebook, let me tick off a few concerns:
The addiction to sales taxes
North Carolina has been sales-tax happy for more than a decade now, using them for school construction, hurricane relief and, well, you name it. A small family like mine isnâ€™t hurt much by them, but larger families and really anyone who buys retail, including small businesses stocking up at Costco, get hit.
Who gets the economic-development money?
The pitch is that half of the money raised will go to economic development (or for you people in Carrboro, economic sustainability), mostly in the form of infrastructure. The county would really like to get a full array of utilities to its economic-development districts along the interstates and U.S. 70, and thus be able to better recruit new industries. But which industries? How much do they pay? What other incentives are going to be offered, and whoâ€™s making the calls?
Iâ€™m troubled by an infusion of tax dollars into an economic-development effort that doesnâ€™t seem to have found its footing yet. Thereâ€™s been a change in leadership and direction, and while a lot of good thought has gone into how to do economic development right, in the recent past, consecutive big deals, from a giant retail development at Buckhorn Road, to a new UNC airport to the ever-illusive big-box store, were sold as the future.
Recruiting is a murky business and we have not been all that good at it. My sense is Orange County is never going to compete in a straight-up incentives game as long as Alamance, Durham and Chatham are our neighbors. What sells Orange County are our schools and our quality of life.
So why not just support the tax hike for the portion that goes to schools?
The short answer is that we have bonds for that. They work really, really well. Weâ€™ve passed school-construction and -repair bonds in this county without batting an eye. It is how weâ€™ve funded many fine schools. You probably drive by one every day.
Bonds also have the added benefit of fitting the money to the task â€“ you only sell as much as you need to at any one time. Also, have you looked at interest rates lately?
Iâ€™m not happy about what the General Assembly did to education this year, but we can pay for things we need here in Orange County without relying on a regressive tax strategy.
I think a lot of people assume like me that the quarter-cent sales tax hike is in lieu of a property-tax increase or in lieu of floating a bond, which likely would mean a property-tax increase down the road.
I would vote for a bond in a heartbeat and take the hit in my annual tax bill simply because it seems a little more fair and a little more transparent.
A quarter-cent hike wonâ€™t mean a lot to my family. But Iâ€™m not sold that itâ€™s a necessity to do what we need to do as a county and a community. If you supporters can convince me otherwise, you got another vote. You may not need it, but it couldnâ€™t hurt.