It's almost heretical, perhaps, to say that there might be a bigger story coming out of last night's BOCC meeting than the 751 South hearing and non-vote.
And, OK, a late agenda item added at a BOCCer's request may not ordinarily qualify as such momentous news. But on the other hand, I've been amazed at the lack of news coverage on this particular story. (Pro-jo's: if there was a story on this that came out while I was on one of my recent exoduses to the Deep South, my apologies.)
If the idea of a local-option sales tax sounds familiar, it's because it's heretofore been floated with respect to a half-cent levy dedicated to transit.
But this wouldn't be the transit tax -- a measure which elected officials nervous about passage have said wouldn't appear before November 2011 at the soonest.
Instead, it would be a general levy to the County coffers, to the tune of almost $8 million per year in the full FY2012.
And to one Commissioner Joe Bowser at least, it's a tax that could provide bridge funding for the schools -- and just might set up an unexpected debate between transit and teachers.
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There's been very little if any discussion on this in the public realm, but this item popped up on the agenda for this past Monday night.
It didn't make it to a vote on Monday, after the meeting hit the midnight hour and required a unanimous vote to be continued on past that hour per board policies. Ellen Reckhow refused to authorize the continuation of the meeting, leading to the meeting's scheduled resumption this Thursday evening, July 29. (Only for this and other agenda items -- the 751 South series is off until August 9.)
That lack of a continuation led to bickering between Bowser and Reckhow, bickering that showed some of the tensions underlying the debate.
Bowser was visibly angry at the deferral of the discussion, noting that the BOCC had to vote on the item by August 1 to get it on the fall ballot. He accused Reckhow of trying to stall the item out of a fear that its passage could impact the success of next year's transit tax.
Whether that (or the need for sleep) was the motivator, Bowser may not be far off on his assessment there.
After all, there's little doubt that elected officialdom wants a fall 2011 transit tax vote since it's an off-year cycle when political activists turn out; and in places like Durham Co. and Orange Co. and even the City of Raleigh, that's likely to favor the left.
This fall could see a more conservative turnout, given both typical mid-cycle backlash against the party holding the White House as well as the new right phenomenon seen in local politics.
But even with a sympathetic electorate, will voters be willing to vote for a tax increase two cycles in a row?
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There's another interesting point about this tax discussion.
If your correspondent heard the discussion right -- and, God love my wife, someday she might let me get rid of our 2001-vintage original TiVo and get a device that isn't blessed with visual and audio static -- the tax was actually a Commissioner-added item to the agenda, proposed by Joe Bowser.
Now, Bowser's usually been a skeptic on taxes and fees, from his concern over rising water and sewer rates to his spring 2009 drilling of Durham Public Schools officials over the then-seemingly-modest budget cuts proposed.
But in this past spring, public outcry over school cuts and the marches on 200 E. Main led by the Umbrella Coalition and others led Bowser to become the biggest supporter perhaps of increasing property taxes to help meet school funding needs, even if the commish technically voted against the budget in opposition to a half-million dollars for new County positions.
Yet in his comments last night, Bowser made it clear -- a vote for the levy this fall would be a vote for local school funding.
If commissioners didn't support the levy, he opined, they'd essentially be voting to cut teacher funding, given this spring's difficulty and the end of federal stimulus dollars for DPS and other districts next spring.
Bowser has his fans as well as his distractors (and they don't seem to mix much.) But even the latter have never denied his political shrewdness.
And here, he's clearly thinking a year ahead on next year's school debate -- and just maybe, working to cement his positioning as a champion for schools funding and education.
This one ain't over. Stay tuned.