Scott Sexton at the Winston-Salem Journal raises an important concern about county sales tax promises. Forsyth County commissioners say revenue from a proposed quarter-cent sales tax increase will go to teachers, but
under a strange (and correctable) quirk in state law that pertains to such things, county officials can’t commit explicitly to spending the dough on teacher pay.
All they can do is pinky swear that’s the path they’d take, cross their hearts and hope to get re-elected.
Mecklenburg County voters are asking similar questions about a proposed “arts tax” on the ballot in November. Even the Charlotte Observer’s editorial board acknowledges there are two critical questions
One is informational — the language on the ballot, which is dictated by state statute — tells voters only that they would be approving a sales tax increase. The other obstacle is trust — commissioners aren’t bound to spend the money in the agreed-upon distribution, and voters have a right to be wary of county officials who not long ago wanted to move a new soccer stadium ahead of other unfunded parks projects.
There is precedent from other counties that county commissioners often find sales tax money too tempting. No matter how specific the promises, voters need information about how the money is being used to hold commissioners accountable. Buncombe County’s abuse of its sales tax approved in 2011 did not come to light until 2018, by which time county commissioners had diverted $15 million from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College to the county operating budget.
Erik Spanberg in the Charlotte Business Journal notes that the Arts & Science Council will effectively become a government agency regardless what voters decide on the tax.
As the referendum approaches, commissioners are making changes to the grant-making arts umbrella group. In September, they agreed on a framework to revamp the ASC by installing members of City Council and the commissioners board as part of the ASC board. The political bodies would also appoint ASC board members and implement increased public reporting.