A late-session surprise bill that would require counties to choose between education and public transportation if they want to use sales taxes to pay for them was delayed in the Senate on Thursday.
A vote on the bill, which first surfaced in a Senate committee Wednesday, was scheduled in the full chamber Thursday. But following a 45-minute closed-door meeting of Republican senators, the vote was postponed until Monday.
Representatives of the state’s cities and counties said they were caught off guard by the proposal, and urged senators to study its implications rather than try to enact such a far-reaching law in the final days of the session.
Sen. Bob Rucho, a Republican from Matthews, said after the caucus meeting that one or two amendments were being considered, but he said he didn’t think there were any serious roadblocks ahead.
The Charlotte Observer’s David Perlmutt reported that Sen. Jeff Tarte, a Republican from Cornelius, said there was discussion of splitting the bill into two separate pieces of legislation. The bill is comprised of sections dealing with the sales tax and with unrelated jobs stimulus programs.
Tarte said it wasn’t certain that splitting the bill could be accomplished before the legislature adjourns, and it could be left over for next year’s session.
The Wake County Board of Commissioners is expected to decide next month whether to put a referendum on the November ballot asking voters’ permission to raise sales taxes by one-quarter cent to help pay for education. Wake’s current sales tax is 2 percent.
A referendum is on the ballot in Mecklenburg County to raise the sales tax rate there by one-quarter penny, mostly to fund teacher pay raises. If enacted, the bill would prevent Mecklenburg from going ahead with that referendum, since the bill also imposes a 2.5 percent cap on sales taxes, and the county is already at that level.
Sen. Rick Gunn, a Republican from Burlington, said the intent of the bill was to allow counties to make education funding through sales tax a priority. Currently, a portion of money raised from sales taxes can only be used to help pay for public transit, and this bill would expand that to education.