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ICYMI, the editorial page of the Greensboro News & Record pulled no punches this weekend in an editorial excoriating state senators for their last minute proposal to hamstring local governments when it comes to use of the sales tax for public services and structures at the local level. Here’s an excerpt from “Oddest idea yet”:

Republican state senators canceled a floor vote on a confusing sales-tax bill Thursday until they could get their stories straight. Which means it might not return.

Of all the heavy-handed directives the legislature has pushed down on local governments in the past couple of years — airport and water system takeovers, de-annexations, local redistrictings, elimination of privilege licenses — this one might be the most illogical.

The measure, which originated in the Senate Finance Committee without notice Wednesday, was presented as a means of giving counties additional tax flexibility. With voters’ approval, they could add to the local sales tax, designating revenue to schools or transportation projects.

But the strings attached tied everything in knots.

The legislation put restrictions on how new revenue could be spent — for education or for transportation, but not for both. It put a cap on the local sales-tax rate. And, perhaps most baffling, it required that if a county raised the sales-tax rate, it would have to raise it all the way to the cap….

The half-baked sales-tax bill, which also includes unrelated provisions boosting economic development efforts, was yanked from the calendar before the Senate adjourned for the weekend. Senators will return to Raleigh Monday, but the wacky sales-tax proposals ought to vanish as quickly as they appeared.

For more information on the proposal in question, click here for succinct summary.

Lunch links 2

It’s only Tuesday but another week of obstruction and political hostage-taking by American conservatives is well underway. As I noted in last Wednesday’s Weekly Briefing column on the far right’s nullification/secession movement, however, there’s a heck of a lot more than just the Affordable Care Act these folks want to repeal. Ari Berman at The Nation has more on this subject in a new article published online today.

And speaking of obstructionism, conservatives in the U.S. Senate continue to block numerous qualified individuals from even receiving up or down votes on their nominations by the President – whether it’s half-year long blockade on Congressman Mel Watt’s nomination to serve as head of the Federal Housing Finance Agency , Richard Burr’s stonewalling of Jennifer May-Parker’s nomination to serve as a federal judge in the Eastern District of North Carolina or the ongoing filibuster to prevent three highly-qualified Obama nominees from serving on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  Happily, Senate Majority Leader Reid has filed a cloture petition on the filibuster of D.C. Circuit nominee Patricia Millett. Let’s hope it works.  

And speaking of maddening delays of the kind that would make cable providers proud, Read More

North Carolina’s transportation system helps form vital social and economic structures by connecting people to services, jobs, and other opportunities across the state and beyond. Although North Carolina has been known as the Good Roads State, its transportation system is under considerable pressure due to aging infrastructure, increasing demand, and declining revenue sources that are failing to keep pace with rising costs to maintain and improve the system.

Just last August, the North Carolina Department of Transportation confirmed that there is a large and growing gap between transportation needs and funding. They released a report estimating that the state is facing a $60 billion shortfall for transportation improvements through 2040, and that the state needs to come up with $32 billion just to keep the status quo. Ultimately, legislators control the purse strings as well as revenue options so solving this budget shortfall is largely up to them. Read More

Just out from the NC Budget and Tax Center:

MEDIA RELEASE: Low-income North Carolinians’ needs must be at forefront of public transit plans
Plans should evaluate where low-income individuals – transit’s most reliable customers – live and work

RALEIGH (December 12, 2012) – The success of new and expanded transit in North Carolina will be largely dependent on how well the transit system retains and reaches its most reliable customers – low-income North Carolinians – according to a new report. Read More

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. Read More