Candidates for governor criticize each other’s support of tax increases

jfrank@newsobserver.comSeptember 22, 2012 

With tax reform on the table, the candidates for governor are arguing about each other’s record on the issue.

Both Walter Dalton, as a six-term state senator, and Pat McCrory, as a seven-term mayor, supported tax hikes numerous times in the past.

Dalton repeatedly supported state budgets in the past decade with temporary hikes in the sales tax and personal income tax as well as a host of other taxes ranging from cigarette and alcohol purchases to satellite television and telecommunication systems. McCrory and his Republican allies – who are spending millions to air television advertisements highlighting Dalton’s tax record – estimate the total bill through the years for the taxes Dalton supported reaches well into the billions.

Dalton acknowledged his record but pivoted to note that he also voted to cut taxes, saving billions for taxpayers over time, most notably voting in 1998 to eliminate the sales tax on food, eliminating the so-called “marriage penalty” and doubling the child tax credit.

“I have always tried to do the right thing and be the pragmatic politician and not an ideologue,” Dalton said. “I have voted to raise some taxes, but I also voted to eliminate a lot of them.”

Earlier this year, Dalton supported a three-quarter-cent state sales tax increase to boost state education spending, but he dropped his proposal a month ago amid criticism from Republicans.

But McCrory is not immune from criticism on taxes. In 1998, three years after being elected mayor, McCrory championed a half-cent sales tax to expand Charlotte’s mass transit system, a $463 million project. The city’s voters approved the extra tax and in 2007 McCrory successfully spoke against a referendum to repeal it, which voters rejected.

Democrats highlight how the transit tax helped give Charlotte the highest per capita tax burden of any city in the state for nine straight years when McCrory held office. But it’s not an entirely fair critique because the total includes some county taxes, said Michael Lowrey, a policy analyst for the conservative John Locke Foundation, which published the rankings.

In 2002, McCrory also pushed to build a new downtown arena using existing hotel taxes and corporate contributions, even though a year earlier voters rejected a non-binding referendum to increase the car-rental tax hike to build the arena and two other projects.

Later in 2006, he advocated for a hike in the hotel tax to build the $200 million NASCAR Hall of Fame.

McCrory defends the taxes for the projects, saying it was responsible spending. And like Dalton, McCrory would rather focus on the tax hikes he fought, including vetoing the 2006 budget, which included what officials called the city’s first property tax increase in 20 years.

“I vetoed a rental car tax increase in Charlotte,” he said. “I vetoed a property tax increase in Charlotte. I vetoed budgets that increased taxes.”

Frank: 919-829-4698

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