Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sales tax referendum could still happen

In an odd twist, the N.C. Senate bill to kill Mecklenburg County's proposal on raising the local sales tax could technically allow the voter referendum to proceed as scheduled.

The Observer's David Perlmutt and Jim Morrill accurately reported that the bill caps local sales taxes at 2.5 percent. Mecklenburg's is already 2.5 percent, so it could not be raised another quarter-percent as five Democratic commissioners envisioned.

So the bill kills any sales tax hike in Mecklenburg -- but it doesn't necessarily kill voters having their say in a November referendum on whether they'd like the sales tax raised. The result just couldn't be acted upon. But it could capture the sentiment of the voters. The plan called for (though didn't legally require) the resulting money to go to teacher raises, community college salaries, the arts and libraries.

The bill, which the Senate is expected to approve today, says in part: "A board of county commissioners may not direct the county board of elections to conduct an advisory referendum on the question of whether to levy a local sales and use tax in the county as provided in this Article on or after August 1, 2014."

But Mecklenburg commissioners already did so, back in June. So they beat the Aug. 1 deadline.

It's possible senators intended to say that no referendum could be held after Aug. 1. But one could argue that what they actually say in the bill is a bit different.

With the bill written this way, Mecklenburg commissioners would have to decide whether they want to still hold the referendum, even if they are prohibited from actually raising the tax if voters say they want to. All kinds of political considerations would go into that calculus. One might ask whether it's worth the expense of holding a referendum just to make a point.

It's possible, we suppose, that Sen. Bob Rucho, who is pushing the bill, will recognize this loophole or unclear language and offer an amendment on the floor today to close it. The Senate convenes at 10:30 a.m. UPDATE: The Senate has delayed debate on the bill until Monday.

-- Taylor Batten


Anonymous said...

Im all for a higher sales tax esp. with the influx of illegals. Its the only way to have them paying into all the govt services this country provides.

Garth Vader said...

The arena bundle referendum demonstrated exactly how much politicians listen to the will of the people.

The people voted the bundle down by a 57-43 margin and the political weasels still built all the projects.

Garth Vader said...

Hey didn't your previous editorial lambast the NCGA for "wasting taxpayer dollars" regarding the "Choose Life" license plates? And yet now you're suggesting the county commissioners waste taxpayer dollars to put a non-binding sales tax referendum on the ballot.

Ghoul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cornelia said...

I suppose this is an opinion piece because Taylor is interpreting the law. Otherwise it would be a news story, quoting the referendum's two lawyer sponsors' interpretation of the piece of legislation.

The Observer Editorial Board said...

Garth, I'm sorry you didn't read the whole piece. It does the opposite of what you suggest: It explicitly questions the wisdom of spending money on the referendum.

The Observer Editorial Board said...

Yes, Cornelia, the name of the blog is O-pinion. It publishes opinion. My opinion, and that of county attorney Marvin Bethune, is that the legislation can be read a couple of different ways.