Opinion

Charlotte does not have ‘highest tax rate'

“Pat McCrory is trying to have it both ways,” said Jerry Meek, a Fayetteville lawyer who chairs the N.C. Democratic Party. “His city has had the highest tax rate in the state for seven years running and now McCrory wants to be a fiscal conservative. That's like drinking Slimfast and eating ribs.”

Spiffy quote. Wrong information.

Here are the facts.

Mr. Meek quotes a John Locke Foundation study that did say, “Charlotte continues to top the list of cities with the highest local government costs in North Carolina, according to a new report from the Raleigh-based Center for Local Innovation.”

But Mr. Meek apparently failed to look beyond the quote. The report reaches that conclusion by combining city and county taxes. Mecklenburg County's tax rate is relatively high, for reasons we'll address in a minute. Charlotte's isn't.

The property tax is the main revenue source for N.C. cities. In 2007-08, Charlotte's property tax rate was .4586 cent per $100 property valuation. That's lower than the rate in, for instance, Mr. Meek's Fayetteville (.5300). It's also lower than the rates in Greensboro, Winston-Salem, Durham, Greenville, Salisbury, Hickory, Chapel Hill and Rockingham, to cite a few.

Charlotte raised its property tax rate only once in the past decade. Mayor McCrory vetoed the increase, but City Council's Democrats overrode his veto.

Now about the Mecklenburg County tax rate: Why is it high?

One reason is that Mecklenburg residents want services and are willing to pay for them. An example is the half-cent county sales tax for mass transit. It was imposed with strong bipartisan support in a 1998 referendum. It was reaffirmed by a 70-30 percent margin in a countywide vote last year. Other urban areas needing mass transit improvements are clamoring for authority to levy a tax for that purpose.

Another reason is that the state government – run by Mr. Meek's Democrats – doesn't adequately fund the services it is responsible for.

Some examples:

Mecklenburg County is about to spend more than $300 million to build a new jail. One reason is that the present one is packed with prisoners awaiting trial. The state provides too few prosecutors and courts to handle the caseload.

The state is responsible for teacher pay, but its one-size-fits-all salaries are too low to attract and keep good teachers in Mecklenburg County. So the county has spent millions to supplement the state's funding.

A “fiscal conservative,” to use Mr. Meek's term, knows there's nothing conservative about neglecting community needs. Our city and county – and many others across this state – have raised the money to meet local needs.

The state, by contrast, has inadequately funded courts, highways and teacher salaries. That's neither liberal nor conservative. It's irresponsible.

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