North Carolina authorizes sending transit sales tax option to voters

| 9/2/2009

Intended as an alternative to getting behind the wheel during rush hours, a new North Carolina law allows voters to decide whether to expand mass transit throughout the state.

Gov. Bev Perdue signed into law a bill that could put millions of dollars in new taxes and fees into public transit systems throughout the state. Previously HB148, the new law lets voters in each county 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 for Charlotte’s light rail. Now all counties have the opportunity to raise funds to buy public buses, expand van pools and help attract federal funds for commuter and high-speed regional train service.

Supporters say the tax would provide a significant lift to 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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