Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Laying the blame

County-wide transfer tax referenda went down in flames all over the state yesterday. See some of the reaction here and here. To start, I agree with synopsis posts by Gary Pearce and Bob Geary.

Bob points out that people don't like to vote for taxes, especially if its unclear what the taxes are used for. I wholeheartedly agree. If a vote for the transfer tax were directly related to more money for schools then they would have been more successful.

Gary points out that better campaigns win. I agree with this as well. The county commissioners in each of the 16 counties that held transfer tax referenda did a terrible job selling it. I didn't see any evidence of organized pro-transfer tax campaigns anywhere. The anti-transfer tax people were definitely organized.

So is the transfer tax option doomed to fail everywhere else? Wake County Commissioner Tony Gurley said in the N&O this morning that he is wary of putting it up for a vote next year. I don't think the transfer tax is doomed to fail. It just needs to be repackaged and sold better.

PPP has done a lot of polling on this issue and here is what we have learned:

First, the transfer tax is more popular if it is explicit that the money goes exclusive to education.

Second, and most importantly, the transfer tax is more popular if voters understand that it is an alternative to property tax increases. County commissioners need to explain to the voters that if they don't raise the transfer tax , then property taxes will have to be raised. Someone has to pay for growth and the increasing costs of infrastructure. The transfer tax will be more successful if it is sold as a fairer way to pay for growth.

5 comments:

Jason Baker said...

I like to make the assumption that voters in odd-year elections are generally more informed and/or passionate than those in general elections (though I don't have any statistical evidence of this whatsoever).

If this is true (?), then it would seem to imply that folks in the even numbered year would be even more likely to see the word "tax" on the ballot, and try to find the line to mark "no" as fast as possible, especially when all they really cared about were the races on the top of the ballot. On the other hand, the horse-race reporting and media overload of the top ballot races might drown out any substantive effort to inform voters (one way or the other) about the referendum.

Thoughts?

Justin Guillory said...

That's certainly possible. Or voters in even years might be less ideological and therefore more susceptible to being swayed by the campaigns.

Who knows?

David said...

"The transfer tax will be more successful if it is sold as a fairer way to pay for growth."

No it won't Justin, because the transfer tax doesn't target those who are contributing to growth, it targets existing residents who have already paid county taxes for years. Many counties including Pender, Macon, Union, Chatham, Johnston and others tried this argument and it failed miserably.

Additionally, your arguments on giving voters a reason to support the transfer tax and those of Fitzsimon, Geary and Norwalk are just as flawed as your statement above. Voters were provided with the juxtaposition, or should I say "threat", of a transfer tax or increased property taxes and they still resoundingly told elected officials to tighten their belts rather than seek additional $. Similarly, many of the same counties listed above had school bonds on the ballot (Macon immediately comes to mind) and the voters clearly didn't buy the nexus.

You, the counties and the other proponents can continue to bury your head in the sand and refuse to accept the will of voters, as demonstrated in a overwhelming fashion on Tuesday, but it isn't going to change the fact that a tax just on people selling their property isn't a equitable, reasonable approach to some of the legitimate issues that we are facing.

The fact remains that the people spoke loud and clear. Proponents choose to ignore it at their own peril, particularly elected officials...

Justin Guillory said...

David,

I disagree. My point is that the juxtaposition between transfer taxes and property taxes was not made clear. The counties ran poor campaigns (if any were ran at all).

As for the transfer tax itself, I don't think it is a perfect method of generating revenue. I personally prefer impact fees as a way of targeting growth. But either method is more fair than property tax increases.

David said...

We'll agree to disagree then Justin.

Congratulations and best of luck in your new position.

 
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