NC Budget and Tax Center

Orange County voters approved sales tax increase to support transit

Transit supporters in the Triangle have yet another victory to celebrate this morning. Nearly 59 percent of voters in Orange County approved adding a half-cent sales tax increase to the local sales tax rate to expand public transit investments, including additional bus routes and service hours and new light rail. This approval came on the heels of a successful sales tax referendum in Durham County last year. Whether Wake County will follow suit is up in the air and largely dependent on whether County Commissioners will give voters a choice in 2013 to decide.

With this approval, voters are acknowledging that transportation policies that favor highway investments over public transit are no longer sustainable amidst rapid population growth, widespread traffic congestion, and climbing gas prices and vehicle emissions. This approval also sends the message that most voters agree that investments in public transportation pays dividends. Specifically, accessible and affordable transportation creates healthy, connected neighborhoods by improving access to employment, education, and social opportunities—a win for both residents and local businesses.

With this approval also comes great responsibility for the local policymakers making the land-use plans around the bus routes and light rail stops. We must be certain that these vital investments benefit everyone in these counties. This sales tax increase will fall more heavily upon lower-income residents due to its regressive nature, and as a result, it is important that lower-income residents—folks that disproportionately use public transit—benefit from the expanded services. This result diminishes without proper planning across policy silos, according to national research. In order for transit investments to benefit all residents and for transit to be successful, transit plans should be coordinated with affordable housing policies before transit stations become operational.

Indeed, this is a victory for transit supporters but there is more work to be done to ensure that these investments build greater transportation equity in the Triangle.


  1. Carolinas Association For Passenger Trains

    November 7, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    lets hope “the new urbanist” Pat McCrory pushes hard for public transit and passenger rail for all of NC and ignores the likes of Rick Killian. With unemployment so high a lot of people cant afford to keep cars on the road.

  2. Jack

    November 7, 2012 at 3:57 pm

    Good for Durham and Orange counties and their vision of future transit.

    When it was time for the Wake County Board of Commissioners to either approve or not approve the half-cent sales tax, for improved public transit in the Triangle, the commissioners killed the possibility of the half-cent sales tax that isn’t even an across the board tax. Significant and critical items for daily life are exempt, such as food and medication.

    What they killed with their 4 to 3 vote was a public hearing in preparation for the proposed tax being placed on the November 6 ballot. If this is an expression of smaller government in our lives then I do not welcome the actions of a few over the many.

    As the four anti-public-transit Wake County Board of Commissioners forces their social engineering agenda on the people of Wake County I hope they understand that the true powers that be are the people at election time.

  3. cw

    November 12, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Yes…nothing like more taxes to put out a welcome mat. This Light rail plan had TTA all over it. The student s were snowed at meeting were opponents were not invited. Rumors of current service being cut abounded. The Tag Taxes were never mentioned (but those new resident kids who never registered their cars are now being scrutinized and they will now pay as well).
    The 88% of monies collected will serve a select elite minority and the larger district will get nothing but a tax increase…in the 4th highest taxed county in the state and the Highest taxed municipality.
    Agenda 21 kids…

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