Dependable Erection

Monday, August 04, 2008


For most of the past 10 years or so, i've heard various city and county department heads lament their budgets, stating that if they had more money, they could hire the staff they needed to perform their duties better. Similarly, our elected officials have stated publicly that they need more diverse sources of revenue than the current sales and property taxes, and scattering of user fees they're able to collect. To that end, they've lobbied our legislative delegation to seek enabling legislation giving Durham the right or the opportunity to levy several new taxes and fees.

Yet, last fall, after finally winning the right to give voters the opportunity to approve either a land transfer fee increase or a sales tax increase, Durham County commissioners declined to put either on the ballot. And this year, after what i've been told was a 15 year effort to change Representative Paul Luebke's mind*, Durham County Commissioners are ready to put a 1% prepared meals tax on the ballot. Trouble is, many of our elected officials don't seem especially eager to support it, in face of public opposition from the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.

Here's the question. If you're not willing to ask the voters to approve new taxes after a decade or more of complaining that you don't have sufficient revenues available, why should i believe you when you say you don't have the money to build more shelters and benches at our bus stops, to choose just one item from the scores of necessities that Durham neglects. Is it really a matter of revenue, or is it more the utter lack of leadership necessary to do the things that need doing in our city? That point is not so much that we need this tax or that tax enabled, the point is that our elected officials cannot continue to make the claim that their hands are tied by the lack of resources available to them, and then expect us to believe them when they're not willing to follow through when it comes time to make a difference in increasing those resources.
* Local governments in North Carolina do not have independent taxing authority. They need authorizing legislation from the state to enact new taxes. By custom, if the local delegation from the municipality or county does not unanimously support the request, it won't even be taken up in the legislature. As it stood, even with Rep. Luebke dropping his opposition, passing the legislation to put the tax on the ballot was only narrowly passed.

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  • Agreed this will be an interesting situation come November. I'm especially interested to see what position Floyd "Here on Geer" McKissick* takes...I'm imaging he will flip-flop by saying that he was in favor of letting the voters decide, when in fact he was the one that gave the tax the green light for consideration.

    Kudos to Barry for being among the first to notice the situation -- I see the N&O picked up this story yesterday.

    *Disclaimer: I am challenging him for his seat.

    By Blogger dcrollins, at 1:45 PM  

  • err, "imagining". Need more coffee.

    By Blogger dcrollins, at 1:45 PM  

  • err, "Disclosure" rather than "Disclaimer". I promise to use the Preview button henceforth.

    By Blogger dcrollins, at 1:47 PM  

  • Ok, given your disclosure, where do you stand on the prepared food tax? Are you prepared to lead on that even in the face of the Obama empowered Durham Committee opposition and that of the People's Alliance. I am very much in favor of this tax vehicle given the limited alternatives availalble to Durham. A vote for the tax is a vote for progress. So what say Yee Mr. aspiring political "leader."

    By OpenID chuckde424, at 4:59 PM  

  • OK then, let me clear -- I have been opposed to it from the start. I would consider supporting it if an exemption were made for meals under $20, or if the 2% grocery tax were reduced.

    In general I'm in favor of consumption taxes and user fees to the extent that property taxes are decreased by a corresponding amount, as I think this promotes savings and investment. However, in this case a vote for the tax is a vote against the poor.

    I further submit that the proposed beneficiaries of this tax are simply not worth the money. Durham needs more local art, not middle-brow fare of the type presented at the new performing arts center. My campaign slogan is "Keep Durham Different".

    By Blogger dcrollins, at 5:21 PM  

  • Accept my sincerest apologies if i have said or done anything to create the impression that i am interested in a position of "political leadership." I am not.

    I think Mrs D joined the Peoples' Alliance some years back. I have no idea if we have a household membership or not. I've never been to a PA meeting. And despite a couple of invitations to the Durham Committee's endorsement meetings last year during the City Council race, i am not a member of that organization.

    So i really don't care what their position on this issue is.

    Last year i introduced a resolution at a Durham County Democratic Party Exec Committee meeting to urge the County commissioners to put both tax options (transfer fee and sales tax increase) on the ballot. I think it passed, but since neither made it to the ballot, it obviously made no difference.

    I will probably vote in favor of the meals tax. I will certainly write about it some more between now and November.

    But i'm more interested in calling out our elected leaders for their lack of leadership on this.

    All i really want is a city and county government that responds to the needs of the community. I'm totally fed up with hearing about departments that are understaffed, underpaid, and overworked; about consultants who are hired at great expense to draw up grandiose plans that are filed in the back of a drawer, never to be followed up on.

    If that's what passes for leadership in this town, we're in worse shape than i thought.

    By Blogger Barry, at 5:42 PM  

  • Re-reading that comment, i see i probably wasn't clear in a couple of places. First - i'm not really concerned by the position of any of the PACs in the city on the meals tax. I can come to my own conclusions on this one, thank you.

    Second, what i was trying to say is that if my whingeing about the poor level of services provided by the city and county counts as political leadership in these parts, then we're in worse shape than i thought.

    I'm just a guy with a blog. As i've said all along, i'm astounded that anybody reads it.

    By Blogger Barry, at 6:01 PM  

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