Wake commissioners voted Monday against a referendum that could have raised the county's sales tax by a quarter-cent to generate about $28 million to go toward public schools.
Some Wake Commissioners wanted to hold the vote because the General Assembly might limit their ability to raise sales taxes. Lawmakers want to cap the local sales tax rate to 2.5 percent. The measure would allow some of the large urban counties, including Wake, to bypass that requirement if they levy a quarter percent tax this November.
The sales tax bill is currently hinging on negotiations between state House and Senate leaders.
Wake Commissioner Caroline Sullivan said it's a shame that the board voted against holding a referendum this November to increase the tax rate by a quarter-cent.
“There is a huge problem with teacher recruitment and retention all over the country right now, and we need to remain competitive, as the biggest school system,” Sullivan said. “We have to hire the most teachers, so we need to make sure that Wake County is a competitive place to come teach."
Others Commissioners argued that the state is already offering an average seven percent pay raise for teachers. But Sullivan and others retorted that the pay raise isn’t significant for veteran teachers; many of them will receive a 1 to 3 percent raise.
Wake Commissioner Paul Coble contended that the county already offers the largest teacher pay supplement in the state and that referendums “don’t typically pass in North Carolina.”
“I'm not sure I want to ask the taxpayers to start paying additional fees just because we want to keep up with Mecklenburg and Guilford,” Coble said. “If we're going to do that, then why don't we raise our property tax while we're at it?”
Guilford and Mecklenburg counties are holding referendums this November to raise sales taxes to provide more funding for public schools.
Cobble added that it’s uncertain whether or not the extra revenue would even go toward teacher salaries.
“It simply takes $28 million and hands it to the school system without any requirement that they do anything with it,” he said. “We think they’re going to use it for teacher pay, but there’s no requirement for them to use it for teacher pay.”