I’ve had several folks ask me about my suggested and rejected changes to the recent Democratic Party resolution supporting the 1/4 cent sales tax increase (Orange County Dems: Thanks for the Considerationâ€¦).
This is a terrible year to raise any tax yet the Orange County Board of Commissioners (BOCC) decided 4/5/2011 (VIDEO [my comments at 48 minutes and 103 minutes]) to hold another referendum, at a cost of $105K to $125K ($85K election +$20-40K “education”), trying to succeed where they failed just 6 months ago.
I and others appeared before the BOCC arguing that 1) scheduling the vote this year amounted to “vote shopping” and didn’t serve their professed commitment to “small-d” democracy:
â€œI do understand that thereâ€™s a need for the revenues sooner rather than later,â€ said Chapel Hill resident Will Raymond. â€œThe turnout is not representative of what the impact is for this tax. Youâ€™re looking at dis[en]franchising the rural voters. In terms of integrity of the process and confidence in the process, it feels a little bit like youâ€™re doc[k ]shopping, youâ€™re vote shopping. The reality is that the referendum did very well down in the municipal areas.â€
Not only did the referendum pass overwhelmingly in the cities last time, but turnout in the rural districts will likely be low, Raymond said. And, according to Orange County Board of Elections Director Tracy Reams, off-year general elections typically boast a lower turnout than presidential primariesâ€”something to the tune of 25 percent compared to 40 percent, respectively.
â€œDoing it in November just doesnâ€™t feel very democratic,â€ said James Barrett, Chapel Hill resident and member of Orange County Justice United, adding he supports the increase. â€œI think, as we see changes around the world, itâ€™s important to make sure that everyoneâ€™s engaged in voting. We have a much greater opportunity to do that in May than we do in November.â€
“Putting this on the municipal elections is a bad idea … the reality is [that] this did very well in municipal areas,” said Will Raymond, a Chapel Hill resident. “You’re vote shopping.”
2) that the County would be better served by altering the proposed allocation from 50% economic development/50% to education to 33% economic development/66% human services:
Will Raymond said that two-thirds of the tax should go for human services, where the real need is since Orange County is creeping toward an 18 percent poverty rate and the county has cut back on some of the services it provides to citizens who need the most help.
“The only way I’m going to support this is if I see a significant portion going to the human services deficit,” Raymond said.
By the way, that was doc, as in doctor, shopping and not “dock shopping” as reported.
If the County used 2/3rds of the anticipated revenue, $1.6+ million, for human services the impact on existing programs would be significant. Further, the County would finally have funding to address the emergency housing problem they long offloaded to the Interfaith Council (IFC).
Allocating $1.2+ million to bolster the multi-million dollar school budgets ,though, will not go as far. When you review last year’s proposed educational expenditures the contrast between priorities is stark – repaving running tracks versus bolstering our burdened community health service.
As of tonight (Tues. 4/19/2011), not only will the sales tax appear on the ballot (with a non-binding commitment to the proposed 50/50 split) but the BOCC has floated the idea of adding an additional 1/2 cent sales tax bump to fund regional transit initiatives (including light rail).
That’s an 3/4 cent increase from the current 7.75% to 8.50%.
That could drop to 8.25% if the requested extension of a “temporary” State sales tax hike, currently 1 cent, passes the Republican controlled legislature at Gov. Perdue’s suggest 3/4 cent rate . If that extension fails and both referendums succeed, the new Orange County rate would be lower than today – 7.5% – a possibility the BOCC might leverage to sell the bump to voters.
Last year the BOCC responded positively to a critique of the vagueness of their proposed economic development spending priorities by providing specific projects with fairly well established cost structures. One example – extending sewer and water service into 2 of the economic development zones. I expect them to develop a similar list of very targeted expenditures to fix creaking critical physical infrastructure at the schools.
That said, I don’t plan to support the tax because it further burdens folks during a worsening economic downturn, because scheduling it during an off-year election appears to be “gaming” the electoral process and because the allocation doesn’t address escalating demand for critical core services.
Of course, I remain open to the possibility that my mind could be changed by the BOCC’s new advocacy program.
Below is my revised resolution merged with the original: