NC lawmakers OK sending transit sales tax option to voters

| 8/19/2009

Intended as an alternative to getting behind the wheel during rush hours, a bill on its way to the governor’s desk in North Carolina would allow voters to decide whether to expand mass transit throughout the state.

The state’s House voted 73-40 to sign off on changes to legislation that could put millions of dollars in new taxes and fees into public transit systems throughout the state. The vote cleared the way for HB148 to advance to Gov. Bev Perdue’s desk. Senate lawmakers voted 35-9 to approve it.

If signed into law, voters in each county would decide whether to increase their sales taxes and vehicle registration fees. The earliest the question could appear on ballots is 2010.

In five urban counties – Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Orange and Wake – voters could increase local sales taxes by a half cent. The 94 other counties could raise sales taxes by a quarter cent. Vehicle registration fees would also increase by $2.

Mecklenburg County is excluded from the proposal because the area already has a half-cent transit tax.

Supporters say the tax would provide a significant lift on a 25-year regional plan to add 300 buses in the Triangle counties and link Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill with light-rail tracks.

Critics say now is not the right time to pursue higher taxes. They cite the economic recession.

Others point out the local sales tax option follows the General Assembly’s passage of a one-cent sales tax rate increase. The additional revenue is intended to help balance the budget.

To view other legislative activities of interest for North Carolina in 2009, click here.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

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