Transit sales tax option heads to full Senate

August 4, 2009 

The Senate Finance Committee today approved an amended version of House Bill 148, which would authorize Triangle counties to pay for transit improvements with a half-cent local sales tax, a property tax hike in Research Triangle Park, and a hike in car registration fees.

Triangle leaders are pushing for the half-cent option to pay most of the cost for an ambitious plan to add hundreds of buses to the roads and lay more than 50 miles of light-rail tracks over the next 25 years.

The measure goes to the full Senate for a floor vote Wednesday. If the bill passes second and third reading, it will return to the House -- which gave 75-40 approval in April -- for concurrence on a minor amendment added in the Senate Finance committee today.

The measure gives Wake, Durham, Orange, Guilford and Forsyth counties the option to hike the sales tax a half-cent per dollar -- if approved first by the county commissioners and then by voters in a referendum -- to help finance transit construction and operations. It also gives rural counties the option of a quarter-cent transit tax.

It allows an increase in the Triangle of the $5 car registration fee that helps pay for transit -- raising it to $7 now and to $8 next year. And the measure empowers Research Triangle Park landowners to increase their property taxes by 10 cents per $100 to help pay for transit.

Even if the General Assembly approves the transit tax local option this summer, Triangle transit backers are not expected to push for a local referendum vote this year. The expected state tax hike and the continuing recession would provide a chilly climate for proposals to increase local taxes too.

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