The ongoing budget debate among state lawmakers in North Carolina over how to fund teacher raises may soon impact counties in the Tar Heel State looking to boost local sales taxes to help pay the salaries of public school educators.
This past week, senators in the Republican-controlled General Assembly considered a measure that would prevent county governments from pursuing extra local sales-tax revenue to fund education and transit simultaneously.
That would effectively block counties from using a local solution to the teacher-pay problem. On Thursday, state lawmakers decided to postpone further action until Monday evening at the earliest as they needed more time to consider details.
The bill would cap each county’s sales tax levy at 2.5 cents per dollar and comes as the clock winds down on the current legislative session. It still requires full Senate and House approval and the governor’s signature. The session could end as early as next Friday and the legislature still has big issues such as teacher pay raises and Medicaid to resolve.
Democrats in the legislature also continued to criticize the measure. Sen. Josh Stein of Raleigh said the Senate “thinks it should be the county commission and town council of North Carolina.”
Local lawmakers in Mecklenburg County, home to Charlotte, had previously OK’d a November ballot referendum that, if approved by voters, would raise local sales tax a quarter-cent to help fund teacher pay.
According to the Charlotte Business Journal, in Mecklenburg County, the sales tax rate is 7.25 cents per dollar with the state sales tax accounting for 4.75 cents, a standard 2-cent county rate plus a half-cent regional transit tax.
There’s a similar ballot measure scheduled for Guilford County, home to Greensboro, this fall. In August, Wake County Commissioners will consider whether to authorize a similar local measure.
But depending on what happens in the General Assembly in the next few days, all those county efforts could be for naught.
Mecklenburg County Commission Chairman Trevor Fuller told Charlotte’s WBTV-TV that the Senate bill is “anti-democratic” because “it takes away from the people the ability to decide for themselves what to do with their own money.”
The county sales tax-issue is the latest battle over local control in North Carolina, where the General Assembly and Governor’s Mansion are controlled by Republicans, who have frustrated many local officials over what they view is legislative interference from Raleigh.
In Asheville, battles erupted over who controls the airport and the water system. During the past two years, the General Assembly forced changes to the school districts in Greensboro and Raleigh in moves aimed at creating Republican majorities and, for the past 18 months, Charlotte elected officials and the region’s state legislative delegation have fought for control of Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
But with the issue of the proposed Mecklenburg County sales tax, one Democratic county commissioner told the Business Journal that he was “not surprised” that the state legislature may try to block the referendum because lawmakers “were miffed when they weren’t consulted on this.”
The Observer’s editorial board pointed out that county officials should have been better prepared for this legislative scenario:
Despite claiming to be the party of local control, Republicans in Raleigh have passed laws limiting local control over everything from billboards to business privilege taxes. County commissioners know they are operating in this political environment. They chose to ignore it – and ignore Raleigh – when proposing a new tax to give teachers additional pay and fund arts and libraries. Now they might have to start over.
As GovExec State & Local recently reported, North Carolina ranks nearly last among states on teacher pay, with salaries that are $10,000 below the national average.