Wake Ed

August 5, 2014

Groups react to vote rejecting Wake County sales tax referendum

A poll from Public Policy Polling, a Democratic-leaning firm, showed strong support for a referendum for a quarter-cent sales tax for education and that the four Democrats running for the Wake County Board of Commissioners all lead the Republican incumbents.

The decision by the Republican majority on the Wake County Board of Commissioners to reject holding a Nov. 4 referendum to raise the sales tax rate to fund higher salaries for teachers could impact this fall’s elections.

A new poll from a Democratic-leaning polling firm shows strong support for holding the referendum and that the four Democrats running for the Wake County Board of Commissioners all lead the Republican incumbents. Monday’s decision to not schedule the referendum is being praised by conservatives and criticized by liberals.

According to Public Policy Polling, 61 percent of the people polled said they’d support a referendum for a quarter-cent sales tax for education while 30 percent said they were against the referendum. PPP polled 586 likely voters between July 23-24.

In the individual races, Democrat Jessica Holmes had the biggest lead with 50 percent. Republican Commissioner Rich Gianni, who was appointed earlier this year to fill Tony Gurley’s seat, had 38 percent.

Democrat Sig Hutchinson led Republican Commissioner Joe Bryan 45 percent to 41 percent.

Democrat Matthew Calabria led Republican Commissioner Phil Matthews 43 percent to 39 percent.

Democrat John Burns led Republican Commissioner Paul Coble 47 percent to 44 percent.

Republicans hold a 4-3 majority on the board of commissioners. If Republicans lose a single seat this fall, Democrats would take the majority.

“To the gentleman that indicated that the voters will have a chance in November to let us know whether they agree with our decisions,” Gianni said Monday before the vote on the referendum. “I think that’s true. I’m willing to shoulder that responsibility.”

Democrats criticized Monday’s decision.

"Regardless of how we do it, Wake County must find a way to compensate our teachers fairly and treat them like professionals,” Burns said in a statement Monday. “That is beyond dispute. It is disappointing to hear my opponent, Paul Coble, follow the state legislature by playing partisan politics at the expense of our kids.

Commissioner Sullivan’s motion deserved more than a party line rejection. It deserved fair debate and consideration. It’s time to stop the political gamesmanship and start taking care of our kids."

In a statement Tuesday, Wake County Democratic Party Chairman Dan Blue criticized both the vote on the referendum and the decision by Republicans not to allow Democratic Commissioner Betty Lou Ward participate via phone Monday.

“The County Commissioners had an opportunity today to give Wake’s citizens a choice on how to fund teacher pay in the county,” Blue said in the statement. “Instead of putting the question on the ballot, they embraced the state’s budget as an adequate solution. This is the same budget that the Senior Chairwoman of the House Finance Committee, a fellow Republican, wouldn’t support because she didn’t think it was sustainable. Fortunately, there still is a referendum on protecting our public schools on the ballot this fall; in fact, there are four of them, and all four are running countywide.

Even more embarrassing was the GOP majority’s treatment of fellow Commissioner Betty Lou Ward. Despite the County Attorney’s recommendation to allow Ms. Ward to participate by phone after a recent stay at the hospital, they refused saying her illness was ‘not an emergency’. They denied this common courtesy to the Board’s longest serving member, even though her vote would not have been determinative. Wake County deserves better.”

Monday’s decision on the referndum is also drawing reaction from the left and the right.

“Republicans on the Wake County Commission just hitched their wagon to the General Assembly which is hugely unpopular,” said Gerrick Brenner, executive director of Progress North Carolina Action. in a statement Tuesday. “Wake voters want County Commissioners who will stand up to state lawmakers who are undermining public education. They don’t want Commissioners who take their cues from a state legislature which is driving teachers out of the state and out of the profession.”

But Donna Martinez praised the vote in a Tuesday blog post on the John Locke Foundation’s Right Angles blog.

“Hats off to the conservative Republicans on the Wake County commission who voted to protect Wake taxpayers from the usual tax-and-spend intent of the liberal Democrats on the board,” Martinez writes. “The vote was 4 to 2, rejecting the idea of a November ballot referendum to hike the sales tax.”

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The WakeEd blog is devoted to discussing and answering questions about the major issues facing the Wake County school system. WakeEd is maintained by The News & Observer's Wake schools reporter, T. Keung Hui.

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