McKissick votes for sales-tax cap

Jul. 23, 2014 @ 06:56 PM

One of Durham’s legislators, Sen. Floyd McKissick, was the only Triangle senator to vote Wednesday for a bill that could make it harder for Wake County to join Durham and Orange counties in financing a regional transit system.

McKissick, a Democrat, said he supported the bill because he favors the expansion of local-option sales-tax authority it would grant 94 of the state’s counties.

He also doesn’t think the measure’s cap on local-option taxes will be an effective barrier to Wake’s participation in transit development, given that its county commissioners would retain the option of seeking voter approval for up to a half-percent sales surcharge.

“That right and prerogative has not been eliminated,” McKissick said.

The bill would, however, essentially bar Wake from floating a half-percent transit levy if it also obtains voter authorization for a surcharge benefiting public schools. Wake commissioners have floated the possibility of doing just that, as soon as this fall.

A school levy of a quarter percent would mean that Wake leaders could raise sales taxes for transit by only an identical quarter percent, too little, legislative staffers say, for Wake to join Durham and Orange in a regional system.

The potential trade-off drew opposing votes on the Senate floor Wednesday from Sen. Mike Woodard, D-Durham, Sen. Valerie Foushee, D-Orange, and most of Wake County’s Senate delegation.

The exception there was Sen. Neal Hunt, R-Wake, who left before the vote. He made it clear beforehand while he opposed the restrictions on his county’s government, he also had no taste for the rhetoric of the Democrats who were fighting them.

Woodard said the measure’s supporters had attached it to a revamp of a business-incentive program and the expanded rural-county taxing authority to make sure there was a “spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.”

“The fact is the medicine in this bill got no less bitter to swallow,” Woodard said. “It is set up as a false construct.”

He added that the measure will wind up “choking off” economic development in the Triangle by inhibiting the region’s work on transit.

McKissick did vote for an amendment, offered by Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, that would have allowed Wake the continued ability to do a half-percent cent surcharge for transit and a quarter percent for education, as Durham has done.

Afterwards, McKissick said he’s spoken to N.C. House members who believe the restriction “will likely be addressed” in that chamber with the addition of an amendment like Stein’s.

The bill as reworked in the Senate has to go back through the House and also get Gov. Pat McCrory’s signature before it can become law.

McKissick also noted that nothing in the Senate proposal bars Wake County from asking for expanded taxation authority in the future.

“This body that I’m a part of has changes in its membership every two years,” McKissick said. “So I’m hopeful and optimistic that if there’s a need in the future, a strong and coherent case can be made for a community to do otherwise.”

He added, “If you’ve got 94 counties out there that can benefit, you have to be open to trying to help those 94.”