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County Leaders Brace For Proposed Half-Cent Sales Tax Increase

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RALEIGH, N.C. — County leaders throughout the state are preparing to take what could be a risky political plunge. A half-cent sales tax could go into effect as early as Dec. 1.

Unlike many county boards meeting Monday, the sales tax issue is not on Wake County's agenda, but some say it will have to happen soon. They need money to replace funds withheld by Gov. Mike Easley to ease the budget crisis.

"This is a way for the Legislature to say, 'We didn't increase taxes. The cities and counties did,'" said Don Carrington, vice-president of the John Locke Foundation.

Easley withheld $333 million in tax money usually distributed to cities and counties to shore up the state's budget woes. State lawmakers could have raised taxes to replace the money cities and counties lost.

"They chose not to do it, and they sent it back to the local counties," said Wake County Commissioner Betty Lou Ward.

Ward is among those who lobbied for the option to add a half-penny per dollar to the local sales tax. The Wake County Board met Monday, but members did not talk about raising taxes. Board members wanted to iron out how the funds would be disbursed throughout the county before they vote on it, but some believe they cannot wait long.

"I understand it has to be done a month ahead of time for it to actually be in effect, and so if we're going to do the major shopping season of the year, I think we're going to have to move forward with it," Ward said.

The timing could not be worse for commissioners throughout the state who are up for re-election in November.

"What choice do we have? No one relishes the fact that we raise any kind of tax," said Breeden Blackwell, chairman of the Cumberland County Commissioners.

"Some people will understand that their local government didn't really have a choice and hold the Legislature accountable and maybe vote out their incumbent," Carrington said.

The executive director for the State Association of County Commissioners said he expects that by the end of the week, 50 county boards will have voted in favor of raising the local sales tax a half-cent.


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