RALEIGH — Voters had no say before Alamance County commissioners decided to place a $2.4 million tax hike on the ballot, but they have plenty of good reasons to question that tax hike now. That’s the assessment John Locke Foundation researchers make in a new Regional Brief.
Alamance commissioners want voters to approve raising the local sales tax rate by 0.25 cents. It’s the equivalent of a 1.9-cent property-tax rate increase.
As voters cast their ballots, JLF experts ask them to consider why the same commissioners who supported a tax-hike referendum rejected a public hearing on the issue. The new report also questions the need to add to the local tax burden.
“County commissioners want this $2.4 million tax hike, but they don’t know how they would use the money,” said Dr. Michael Sanera, JLF Director of Research and Local Government Studies. “They also didn’t want to hear how their constituents would like them to use the money — or whether those constituents thought it was a good idea to pursue a sales-tax hike in the first place.”
“Plus Alamance County commissioners are asking voters to trust them with this additional revenue, even though they don’t have a strong record of fiscal responsibility,” Sanera added. “Since 2006, payment on debt has grown faster than any other area of government operations except education.”
Sanera examines Alamance commissioners’ push for a sales-tax hike with the help of report co-authors Joseph Coletti, JLF Director of Health and Fiscal Policy Studies, and Dr. Terry Stoops, Director of Education Studies.
“The three county commissioners who voted to approve a tax referendum also voted against a public hearing on the topic,” Sanera said. “Public input might have helped them, since the three do not agree among themselves how to use the money, nor do any of them agree with County Manager Craig Honeycutt.”
It’s also unclear how a sales-tax increase would affect Alamance County voters’ tax burden, Sanera said. “Two of the three commissioners who supported the sales-tax referendum said property taxes would not rise, but none of them offered to reduce property taxes to make the overall impact of the higher sales tax revenue-neutral. This has all the appearances of a straight-out money grab from taxpayers.”
Even if commissioners agreed on a purpose for the new funds, nothing would bind them to pursue that goal, Sanera said. “This money would go to the county’s general fund,” he explained. “By law, commissioners could spend the additional revenue for any legal purpose. Voters simply can support or reject a sales tax increase, not specific projects.”
Since the General Assembly decided in 2007 to give each North Carolina county the chance to seek voter approval for higher sales or land-transfer taxes, voters have rejected higher taxes 68 times in 85 tries.
“Citizens at all levels — federal, state, and local — are frustrated with excessive and wasteful government spending,” Sanera said. “They believe they are not getting value for their tax dollars. County spending is no different. Alamance County voters have a chance to send commissioners a clear message Nov. 2.”
Michael Sanera, Terry Stoops, and Joseph Coletti’s Regional Brief “A Question of Trust: Alamance County commissioners don’t trust voters; can voters trust them?” is available at the JLF Web site. For more information, please contact Sanera at (919) 828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, contact Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].