by Bob Geary
Word on the prospects for a 1/2-cent sales tax for transit in the Triangle after the Regional Transportation Alliance breakfast meeting this morning:
* Durham and Orange counties are looking seriously at asking voters this fall to approve a different sales tax increase — the 1/4-cent tax hike authorized by the legislature to support schools or other needs.
* Durham and Orange may wind up asking voters to approve a package — the 1/4-cent tax for schools and the 1/2-cent tax for transit. This, according to Michael Page, chair of the Durham County Board of Commissioners and Bernadette Pelissier, chair of the Orange County Board of Commissioners. Both said the question of what will be on the ballot this fall is yet to be decided.
* Wake County's commissioners will not let the voters consider either tax increase this year. The 1/2-cent tax for transit may get to the ballot in May or November of 2012, or it may get there in May of 2013 — or later. This according to Wake Commissioner Tony Gurley, who spoke in place of Wake Commissioners Chair Paul Coble.
Why Coble didn't represent the county wasn't clear. Gurley said the RTA asked him to speak a few weeks ago after failing to get up with Coble. And of course Coble is adamantly opposed to tax increases for anything, but that goes about double for transit.
Gurley said the Wake Commissioners won't block a vote on the transit tax forever, but will need to see "some degree of economic recovery in the area" before they'll let the 1/2-cent question go to the ballot in Wake.
Page and Pelissier made it clear they'd rather the three counties move together in concert, but if Wake won't go, Durham and Orange may go without them. Page said polling by Durham County indicated majority support for the transit tax hike, though it was less than for the tax hike for education.
In the background: The question of the temporary 1-cent sales tax surcharge at the state level, which expires at the end of June unless the General Assembly extends it. Gov. Bev Perdue, in her budget, asked for an extension — but for just 3/4-cent, not the whole 1-cent.
Republicans are in charge in the General Assembly, however, and they're vowing so far to kill the sales tax surcharge and cut budgets — including school and transportation budgets — accordingly. If they do, that could open the door to public acceptance of the need to levy 1/4-cent or 1/2-cent or 3/4ths of a cent in the Triangle to offset what the state's not provided any more. Imo.