State Sen. Harry Brown is a Jacksonville Republican, but he’s preparing to file a bill that will spread the wealth around. Brown’s bill would change the formula for how sales taxes are distributed. Right now, the formula gives a portion of the revenue to where sales transactions take place.

That’s a benefit for large, urban counties with big cities like Wake, Mecklenburg, and Guilford, which have a lot of commerce and folks driving from across the county line in order to buy things. It’s not so great for smaller, rural counties which don’t have substantial retail operations. First they lose revenue when their residents drive to the big city for their needs. Then, when it’s time to distribute the sales tax, they lose once again. It’s a double whammy.

The legislation being planned would change that, making it so the sales tax is distributed based on population. Essentially, Republicans are asking people in the wealthy urban counties to pay a little extra so that less privileged areas have the opportunity to grow and succeed. Brown is concerned that we’re becoming “two North Carolinas” and stresses that the current system is unfair. He expects there will be bipartisan support and also bipartisan opposition to the bill.

Nonetheless, right now it’s mostly liberal Democrats who seem to be speaking out against the bill, and once again it’s like the parties have swapped talking points. Progressives in the Charlotte and Research Triangle enclaves say their regions shouldn’t be punished for their success. A rising tide lifts all boats, they assert, and eventually, the wealth generated by the big metros will trickle down to the poorer counties. They warn that the proposed legislation would cause tax increases. John Burns, Wake County Commissioner, says the General Assembly is trying to exploit the urban-rural divide rather than solve it (class warfare, anyone?).

Prediction: in the end, the vote on this bill will break down mostly by geography. Democrats who represent rural counties (and there are quite a few of them) will be subject to a lot of pressure to vote for this legislation that would help their districts, and many of them will vote for it. And Republicans who represent districts in the large urban counties will vote against it. The decisive factor will be whether or not North Carolinians, or their politicians, are content with nearly all of the prosperity going to the 5% or so of counties at the very top.


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