For Robeson County, a legislative victory this week was just one step of three, and it was a bit hollow.
But, as a headline in this newspaper blared on Sunday, the bill, should it become law and it appears that it will, would be better than nothing for this cash-strapped county. Perhaps 1 million times better than nothing.
We refer to a compromise bill drafted by Sen. Harry Brown, a Republican from Onslow County, who tried to turn on its head the formula the state uses to distribute sales tax revenue. That was never going to fly, as Gov. Pat McCrory promised a quick veto had it exited the General Assembly intact. So Brown changed his proposal, and it won approval in the Senate and is being looked upon favorably in the House.
There is reason to believe that McCrory will then sign the new proposal into law.
Brown had originally hoped to distribute 75 percent of sale-tax revenue based on population, and 25 percent based on point of sale, but has modified that to a 50-50 split, which is what got the Senate nod. The state currently uses a formula of 80 percent returning to point of sale, and 20 percent based on population.
The current formula essentially redistributes wealth from poorer counties such as Robeson to richer counties like Cumberland, which then use it for infrastructure, including the construction of new schools. To repeat an example we used before, when someone from Robeson County shops in Fayetteville, they are buying a brick for a Cumberland County school. That helps explains why the last new school in Robeson County was built in 1983, and there is little hope of that drought ending without a significant property tax increase — or additional sales tax revenue.
That is why County Manager Ricky Harris went to Raleigh last month to lobby on behalf of Brown’s plan, which was then a 75-25 split, and why the Robeson County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution supporting it. Robeson County is one of more than 80 counties in North Carolina that would benefit at the expense of richer counties such as Mecklenberg, Wake and Orange, just to name three, which profit when people visit their malls to make purchases.
Robeson County, according to Harris, currently gets about $17 million in sales tax revenue, a figure that would have been boosted by $6 million to $9 million a year under Brown’s 75-25 plan. Harris hasn’t crunched all the numbers, but guesses the 50-50 deal would add bring an additional $1 million a year to Robeson County, which is just shy of 2 cents on the local property tax rate. That might at least delay for year a future tax hike locally.
The plan still must be approved by the House and then get McCrory’s signature, but the modified version probably won’t face as much resistance from the richer, urban counties.
We laugh at the objections that it isn’t fair to take that money out of richer counties to help poorer counties. Isn’t that how this country’s tax system is structured? Our tax system has always robbed from the rich to help the poor, so we find some of those who favor that method but oppose Brown’s plan to be hypocritical.
An additional $1 million a year for Robeson County isn’t much, but we will say is again: It’s better than nothing.