Local Politics

Schools, Transit Might Compete for Sales Tax Funds

Posted March 19, 2008 3:50 p.m. EDT
Updated March 19, 2008 4:45 p.m. EDT

— To fund school construction and renovation projects, some Wake County Public School System leaders are suggesting a quarter-cent sales tax increase.

A transit committee has already said it wants to increase the sales tax to help pay for a transportation plan to alleviate crowded roads and interstates. If education and transit compete, one might not get funded. Or, some are advocating a higher tax for both of those priorities and more.

New schools are being opened on year-round calendars to try to accommodate growth by fitting more students into each building.

“There is a trade-off – mandatory year-round or higher taxes,” said Wake County School Board Chairwoman Rosa Gill.

If the answer turns out to be higher taxes, they could could come in the form of a sales tax. Voters could decide on a quarter-cent hike as soon as November.

“You’ve got two competing, very important issues,” said Wake County Commissioners Chairman Joe Bryan. “It would be nice to have, like, a penny for progress, where you did education, transportation and open space, and you had enough to get these things done.”

That idea has gained traction with some local leaders.

“Both education and transportation are priorities for our region, and I think they deserve equal billing,” said Raleigh City Council Member Mary-Ann Baldwin.

A penny sales tax increase is in the idea stages. It would take approval from the state Legislature to get it on the ballot.

“If we do go to the Legislature, I’m sure it wouldn’t be until the long session (2009),” Baldwin said. “Normally, in the short session, they deal with less-controversial issues. I think we need to be thinking that far ahead and start planning for that.”

WRAL called several legislators to ask about the idea. One said it was premature to talk about the possible tax hike without hearing a specific plan.