Thursday, October 16, 2014

Guilford County Sales Tax Referendum

The following is an op-ed that was published in the Greensboro News & Record on Sunday, October 2014 concerning the quarter cent sales tax referendum that will be on the ballot in Guilford County. I was given the opportunity to write this op-ed to explain why I believe that raising taxes is not in the best long-term interest of our community.

VOTE NO: We need to spend wiser and grow the economy

There has been much debate lately on whether Guilford County voters should approve a referendum to increase our local sales tax by a quarter-cent. It is implied that additional revenue generated by this tax increase would be directed to our local school system.

Not many of us would argue against the virtue of having more revenue to spend on public education. Where there is disagreement, however, is on how to best generate additional tax revenue. There is also disagreement on whether the government is spending tax dollars as efficiently as possible.

It is easy to advocate for higher taxes, but taking such action could have negative long-term consequences. This is because high taxes slow economic growth, reduce job creation and shrink the tax base. Therefore, we should focus on growing the economy and putting more people back to work. We should increase revenue by having more people gainfully employed.

Our property tax rate in Guilford County is among the highest in North Carolina. If we raise our sales tax, we would tie 26 other counties for the highest sales tax in the state. If we were to further increase our tax burden, we would make our county less economically competitive.

Another concern with increasing our sales tax is that any additional revenue would not be lawfully dedicated to our school system. Additional tax revenue would go to the county’s general fund, and the commissioners would be responsible for determining how to spend it. While I have little doubt that the current board of commissioners would direct additional funds to public schools, there is nothing that would bind future boards to do so.

It is important to make clear that the education budget has not been cut in recent years, as some claim. At the state level, education spending has increased by nearly $1 billion since 2011. The education budget in Guilford County has increased by more than $30 million during that same time. This is not to argue that we don’t need more funding, but it disproves the claim that education funding has decreased.

Earlier this year, the state legislature created the “Education Endowment Fund,” which allows individuals and businesses to make voluntary contributions to supplement teacher pay. This is a concept that we could explore in Guilford County. It would be a creative way to help provide additional revenue to support our school system.

Moving forward, we should refrain from increasing our tax burden and focus on making our region more economically competitive. Doing this would result in more stable budget revenue for years to come. We should also work to ensure that existing tax dollars are being spent as efficiently as possible.

It is important that we provide children with the strongest, most innovative education system possible. If we focus on growing the economy, we will be able to better support the necessary funding for our school system. As a legislator, I will continue to advocate for government efficiency, economic growth and funding our schools the best way possible.

Jon Hardister is a Republican state representative from Greensboro.