Opinion

Wake County’s tax hike may make problems worse

Are you getting a 10% raise?

Know anyone who is?

Me neither.

But that didn’t stop the Democrats who run Wake County Board of Commissioners from raising our taxes by double digits Tuesday night.

It’s no surprise. Democrats have raised taxes aggressively since winning control of the board in 2014. Still, the 10.1% rise is a brazen high point even for these tax and spenders, who approved more money than County Manager David Ellis had requested!

The lone dissent came from Commissioner Sig Hutchinson, who voiced a similar concern while opposing last year’s budget. “To me it does not represent responsible government,” he said. “I believe it is too much, it is too fast and it will negatively impact our seniors and vulnerable community. I do believe in incremental tax increases, but I believe this is too much.”

Hutchinson is right, with this caveat: The board should consider the impact of its policies on all taxpayers. Focusing only on “vulnerable” communities suggests the left’s you didn’t build it view that all money belongs to the government, that tax rates do not reflect what government takes, but what it lets us keep. It assumes that taxpayers serve the government, which decides how much to spend and then sends us the bill.

In fairness, more than half the increase will finance taxpayer approved bond issues. These include the $548 million for school construction, $348 million for improvements at Wake Tech and another $120 million to expand parks and greenways.

Let’s also stipulate that the other items financed by the tax hike – for health and safety and libraries – are public goods.

But it’s also true that the same could have been said about a 50 or 100% increase. Government can always spend money.

The question is whether it’s wise and necessary to increase spending by four times the rate of population growth — Wake County’s population grows by about 2.5% per year.

Maybe we can afford it. The economy is strong. But note that the Democrats who ran the General Assembly increased spending faster than population growth in the years preceding the Great Recession, forcing draconian cuts in response to the downturn.

What they now dismiss as Republican tight-fistedness is another name for prudence.

That’s only one of the cautionary facts we should recall when assessing these tax hikes.

The Wake commissioners and their supporters argue that our rates are lower than many comparable communities in North Carolina and around the country.

That’s true. But it’s also a major reason why people are moving here. The deep blue states of New York and Illinois, for example, have seen more than 11% of their residents flee for cheaper pastures since 2001.

Most people do not relocate because of government services. They move for jobs and a better quality of life associated with affordable communities. They can leave just as quickly as they came.

Democrats also argue that we need to raise taxes to address inequality. “Equity” is now the buzzword du jour to justify new spending on schools, transit, etc.

What they don’t acknowledge is that the greatest inequality in the country — not only in terms of wealth, but also educational outcomes — is found in high tax bastions of liberalism including Washington, D.C., New York and San Francisco.

Instead of fixing the problem, many leftist policies make it worse.

To see the path Wake County is headed down, look at few miles over to Orange County. As UNC Professor Michael Jacobs has shown, high taxes and a cavalcade of progressive policies have made it one of the most expensive, least diverse and most unequal places in North Carolina.

That’s our future unless the voters finally say “enough!”

Contributing columnist J. Peder Zane can be reached at jpederzane@jpederzane.com.

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