Voting NO on 2011 Orange County 1/4ct Sales Tax

I did a recent WCHL 1360 commentary reiterating my reasons for voting NO this year for Orange County’s .25% sales tax bump.

Basically, it comes down to a lack of fairness and skewed spending priorities.

For some odd technical reason, my commentary isn’t posted on WCHL’s website. I have a copy here (MP3) for readers who have requested one.

This Nov. 8th, I will be voting NO on Orange County’s ¼ cent sales tax.

Promoters promise us increased jobs, better schools and possibly even a deferred property tax increase.

But we know that any positive impact on jobs or revenues from improved County economic zones will take time – it is a real stretch to claim near term benefits in this down economy.

Suggesting the quality of local education is at risk and linking the tax benefits to our popular schools is certainly a clever sales tactic. But lets be honest, the $600,000 going to the schools is a raindrop in a sea of spending.

On the other hand, if 2/3rds had been dedicated to restoring prenatal and dental care services – to back-filling State cuts in mental health, housing and hospice care – the impact of that $1.6M would have been tremendous. Not a drop but a bucket of help.

As a parent, I understand that the example you set is more important than the words you use – that do as I say and not as I do – is a sure path to undercutting trust.

It’s a lesson so many candidates and local officials seem to have forgotten.

Holding this costly single issue vote during an off-year election was a calculated divisive tactic to minimize the impact of our rural neighbors who have already demonstrated a distaste for further taxes.

As the Chapel Hill News noted, the County’s effort to get the message out appears to have gone over the line from legally allowed education into outright advocacy.

Both undercut our democratic principles.

This is why even if all the revenue raised from this sales tax went to human services, I would still vote NO this year.

Because, as we teach our kids, the ends do not justify the means.

To summarize:

Targeting revenues to human services should have been priority. If defeated, I will ask the Board of Commissioners to consider changing the mix of funds to 1/3 economic development and 2/3 critical human services.

The campaign to “sell” increase wasn’t conducted properly.

Scheduling referendum vote in off-year election instead of county-wide election amounts to “gaming” the democratic system. The County Commissioners were clearly “vote shopping”, recognizing that if they got the same level of support in the municipalities as 2010 and if rural voter turnout was 25% less than May’s primary – which is what the local Board of Elections predicted – they would get their way.

I’ve consistently supported access to the vote – super-precincts, same-day registration, early voting – and defended voter rights – fighting Voter ID Act, etc.

I’m not going tacitly support an attempt to disenfranchise our rural voters this year.

The “education” campaign has clearly over-stepped legal bounds and strayed into clear advocacy.

  • Improper school district endorsements: fliers sent home with students essentially endorsing referendum, website promotion.
  • Video ad which over-emphasized benefits of tax and downplayed negative impact of tax was certainly not even-handed.
  • Assistant County Manager suggesting only choice was either pass sales tax or suffer a $.02 bump in the property tax rate to fund plans (there are other options to finding funds).
  • BOCC members, who have every right to support the referendum personally, not distinguishing “official” from “personal” support – including comments during public meetings.

I spoke before the Commissioners this year about the advocacy vs. education issue when they were discussing a plan to try the referendum once again. They acknowledged the problems with last year’s “education” campaign – stumbling into advocacy (which is not allowed under NC law) and said they would do better this round. I suggested they invite a wide spectrum of folks who had both promoted and opposed the previous referendum to review County “education” materials and evaluate their balance. Unfortunately, the County not only didn’t try to do an initial “sniff” test of those materials but went way beyond the trespasses of last cycle.

In the end, each voter will have to decide if they are willing to support the “ends” despite the clearly inappropriate “means” to get there.

I’m not, which is why I will vote NO this year for the referendum.



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