Local Leaders Divided Over Proposed Sales Tax Hike

CHARLOTTE, NC — The battle over a quarter-cent sales tax increase is nearing the end. Early voting begins Wednesday, and people will decide if they want to raise the sales tax in Mecklenburg county to 7.5 percent, the highest level allowable under state law. It’s where the money will go that has some local leaders divided.

Mecklenburg County Commissioner Susan Harden (D) says the tax increase is needed to fund the arts community and education.

“We know that those investments will be made in our critically important areas, like our education, parks and cultural sector,” said Harden. “This provides funding so that our CMS students can go on field trips to Discovery Place, to the orchestra, to the Raptor Center.”

The tax hike would generate an estimated $50 million a year:

  • $24.5 million for the Arts and Science Council
  • $15 million for parks and greenways
  • $8 million for education and teacher supplements
  • $2.5 million for arts and parks in several towns surrounding Charlotte

Commissioner Pat Cotham (D) has sharply criticized the proposal, saying other priorities need to be addressed, like affordable housing, reducing crime, and transit.

“This is too important to mess up, and I believe we’re messing it up,” said Cotham. “We need to come together to solve these problems. And instead we’re going to give $25 million a year to the arts.”

An approved sales tax increase would mean tighter sources of funding for other city and county projects. City Council discussed spending $50 million to study the design for the Lynx Silver Line, which would run from Matthews to Belmont, with a stop at the airport.

The project will likely cost more than $1 billion to complete. Council member Tariq Bohkari tweeted Monday night, in part, “…There’s one thing we do know: once this quarter cent is spent on the arts, our capacity is done. #priorities”

Harden says money for large projects like the Silver Line can come from elsewhere.

“Those are undertakings that we have to look to the state and the federal levels for their support,” said Harden.

Early voting starts Wednesday, October 16 and runs through November 1. Election day is Tuesday, November 5.