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Senate majority leader erases Union County in pursuit of Charlotte sales taxes

Republican Sen. Harry Brown of Onslow County said tax changes being considered by the General Assembly, including a proposal to tax homeowners on canceled mortgage debt, would create more revenue for North Carolina. Losing the revenue would hurt working families, he said.
Republican Sen. Harry Brown of Onslow County said tax changes being considered by the General Assembly, including a proposal to tax homeowners on canceled mortgage debt, would create more revenue for North Carolina. Losing the revenue would hurt working families, he said. Charlotte

In rolling out his sweeping proposal for redistributing the state’s sales tax wealth, Senate Majority Leader Harry Brown on Monday mentioned that citizens in poor rural counties are subsidizing wealthy rural ones when they drive to the bigger cities to shop.

Their sales tax revenue, he suggested, should follow them back to their home counties rather than staying at the point of sale, as much of the sales tax revenue does at this point.

He pointed to Mecklenburg and Anson counties as one example of this unequal, unfair relationship. He noted how in cities like Charlotte, “large shopping malls and commercial centers lure their rural neighbors to drive in and spend their hard-earned sales tax dollars out of town.”

“Lure” them in? Really?

Mecklenburg receives $193 million annually in sales tax returns, he noted, while “its neighbor Anson County” receives just $2.8 million dollars.

In one sentence, he wiped Union County, with its booming Charlotte-driven suburbs of Weddington and Waxhaw, off right off the map.

Why? Because Union County, and many other rural but increasingly suburbanized counties, benefit from being part of a larger, growing urban area.

That reality undercuts the oversimplified farm-versus-city case he and other rural lawmakers are hoping to build. One wonders what he would say to the many Charlotte taxpayers who constantly call for new taxes on out-of-county and out-of-state commuters to help pay for the strain they put on Mecklenburg’s roads and other infrastructure.

Many rural areas of our state are struggling badly, and some tweaking of the sales tax system could help. But it hardly seems fair to do so without taking into consideration the cost of the (city taxpayer-financed) infrastructure rural residents use when they access malls and other urban-suburban offerings.

The antagonistic us-against-them approach Brown and others in the Senate displayed in rolling out their sales tax and job development plans hasn’t been helpful.

At the very least, let’s hope the anti-urban resentment and rhetorical overreach embedded in his Anson County example don’t hold sway when these issues are decided.

Eric Frazier

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