RALEIGH — While Gov. Pat McCrory and Senate Republicans attempt to rally support for tax bills they favor, one state representative says a provision that would allow counties to raise local sales tax rates to fund school construction is a done deal.
State Rep. Ken Goodman, a Democrat whose district includes part of Robeson County, told The Robesonian that when the state budget is finally approved, all of the state’s 100 counties will have the option to hold referendums requesting approval to increase their local sales tax by one quarter of a percent to fund school construction.
“I just learned a couple days ago that the Senate budget proposal already includes a provision to allow all counties the option to increase their local sales tax by one-quarter of a percent — if approved by the voters — for school construction,” said Goodman, who along with Robeson County’s other House representatives — Charles Graham, Ken Waddell and Garland Pierce — are primary sponsors of the local options bill that the House is poised to approve today. “I have been told that the House finance chairmen agree that because of the growing number of counties wanting to be included under the local bill that they will not challenge that provision in the Senate budget proposal.
“This is a moot issue. It’s a done deal,” Goodman said. “Any approved budget will include a provision giving counties statewide the option to increase their local sales tax by one-quarter of a percent for school construction with voter approval.”
For Robeson County, where commissioners last year passed a resolution asking the General Assembly to allow voters to decide if there should be a 1 percent increase in local sales tax to help fund school construction and construction of a new county jail, the news that there will now be another option available to fund school construction couldn’t be better.
“We definitely need this option for funding our schools,” said Ricky Harris, Robeson County’s manager. “The only other way we could fund school construction is by raising property taxes.”
Robeson County’s current property tax rate of 77 cents per $100 of property value is already one of the highest in the state.
Former state Sen. Michael Walters, of Proctorville, never filed a bill during last year’s short session seeking approval for Robeson County to hold a referendum on the local sales tax. Walters said at that time that he couldn’t get support from the Senate’s GOP leadership to move the bill.
Sen. Jane Smith, of Lumberton, in March filed a bill similar to the current House bill. Her bill was last referred to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.
Harris on Wednesday said that he has not researched how much additional revenue Robeson County can expect to receive if the local sales tax increases by one quarter of a percent. Currently, however, the county’s tax rate is 7.25, which includes a quarter-cent sales tax hike approved by voters in August 2010.
“In Robeson County the last school was built in 1983,” he said. “Currently there are 114 mobile units being used for schools.”
On Wednesday, McCrory held a public event outside the old Capitol building calling on senators to pass a House bill that would revive a state tax credit for renovating historic buildings that expired at the end of 2014.
About an hour later and a block away, Senate leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, and the chamber’s top budget-writer led the charge to urge House Republicans and ultimately McCrory to back an economic incentives bill the Senate passed this week. One provision inside reallocates how local sales taxes are distributed to counties, with more assistance going to rural counties.
“It’s a bill that I think all can live with, because it’s a give and take for both urban and rural,” Sen. Harry Brown, R-Onslow, said at the rally in front of the Legislative Building attended by 150 people. “We need to move this bill as quick as we can.”
McCrory threatened last month to veto legislation that contained an earlier version of the local sales tax redistribution, in which most of the local sales tax proceeds would be distributed based on population. Current law distributes 75 percent of it based on where sales occurred, which generally favor urban centers and vacation destinations.
Senators passed a bill Tuesday that contained both expanded incentives sought by McCrory along with distributing the local sales taxes equally based on population and points of sale. McCrory hasn’t spoken publicly about the updated bill.
House Republicans are weighing whether to accept the measure or seek change in negotiations. The Senate GOP rally also included speeches of support from a handful of House members from both parties urging their chamber’s colleagues to agree with the Senate. A strong House vote also could persuade McCrory to sign the bill into law, said Rep. Ken Goodman, D-Richmond.
“We cannot have a great state when you leave rural North Carolina behind,” Goodman said.
Goodman said that a vote on the incentives and sales tax bills could come as early as Monday, but more likely on Tuesday.
Bob Shiles can be reached at 910-416-5165. Associated Press writer Gary D. Robertson contributed to this report.