RALEIGH — Bladen County voters can force county commissioners to honor their recent “No Tax Increase” promise as they say “yes” or “no” to a proposed $375,000 sales-tax hike. John Locke Foundation researchers question the sales-tax proposal in a new Regional Brief.
Voters will decide Nov. 2 whether county commissioners can raise the local sales tax rate 0.25 cents. The expected $375,000 in new revenue is equivalent to a 1.5-cent property tax increase.
As they cast their ballots, JLF experts urge them to consider commissioners’ recent promises as well as the county manager’s determination that a tax increase is unnecessary to meet school needs.
“Bladen County commissioners want this tax increase, even though the county manager’s budget for 2010-11 fulfills the ‘No Tax Increase’ priority that commissioners set earlier this year,” said Dr. Michael Sanera, JLF Director of Research and Local Government Studies. “When he presented his budget, the manager indicated he believed school funding in the budget was adequate — without the need for new taxes.”
Despite the manager’s recommendations, county commissioners promise to spend new revenue from the tax increase on unspecified school needs, Sanera said. Sanera examines the commissioners’ promises with the help of report co-authors Joseph Coletti, JLF Director of Health and Fiscal Policy Studies, and Dr. Terry Stoops, JLF Director of Education Studies.
“The promise to spend new tax revenue on schools is just that: a promise,” Sanera said. “Once approved, the new tax revenue, by state law, could be spent for any legal purpose. And since those revenues would go into the general fund, not a special fund, there would be no way for the public to know whether the money was spent on schools and, if so, what school needs were met.”
Commissioners’ pursuit of a tax hike sheds light on the commissioners’ ability to manage scarce taxpayer funds responsibly, Sanera said. “Commissioners unanimously decided to pursue this tax increase just a month after their manager told them the county budget would maintain the current-expense funding level for Bladen Community College and Bladen County Schools.”
Bladen commissioners claim a sales-tax increase is required to compensate for reductions in state and local tax revenue for public schools, Sanera said. “It’s important to examine the facts,” he said. “Bladen County Schools have one public school employee for every seven students and one teacher for every 14 students. These ratios match state averages.”
“Like most school districts in North Carolina, Bladen County school officials have made sizable investments in support and professional positions that drain valuable resources from the classroom,” Sanera added. “In most cases, organizational changes, particularly those at the administrative level, do not produce significant reductions in student performance. Bladen schools could make those types of organizational changes rather than seek more money.”
In addition to local funding, Bladen schools have adequate funding from federal, state, and lottery proceeds, Sanera said. “State lottery funds have allowed Bladen County to fund between six and nine additional teaching positions per year,” he said. “Like all North Carolina public school systems, Bladen County also will be the recipient of federal funds for teaching positions. Bladen will get more than $1.1 million to fund an estimated 21 teaching jobs this year. This amount alone is three times the total revenue expected from the sales-tax increase.”
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 the option 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. Bladen County voters have a chance to send commissioners a clear message Nov. 2.”
Michael Sanera, Terry Stoops, and Joseph Coletti’s Regional Brief, “An Unnecessary Tax Hike: Bladen commissioners go back on their ‘No Tax Increase’ promise,” 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].