Mecklenburg voters shoot down quarter cent sales tax

Proposed sales tax increase to benefit the arts rejected in Mecklenburg County

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Voters in Mecklenburg County shot down a proposed quarter cent sales tax to fund the Arts and Science Council. It’s the second time in five years voters rallied against a quarter cent sales tax in North Carolina’s most populous county.

The sales tax would have generated roughly $55 million annually with about $22.5 million being designated to funding initiatives within the Arts and Science Council. Another $17 million would have been spent on parks and greenways.

The campaign committee supporting the quarter cent sales tax, Partnership FOR a Better Mecklenburg, spent more than $1.1 million in media ads and campaigning trying to reach voters.

At the Partnership’s election watch party Mecklenburg County Commissioner Susan Harden, who was an avid supporter of passing the sales tax, said it was too much to overcome ballot language that didn’t specifically state what the tax would be used for.

“If someone could figure out a way to run a campaign and develop a compelling case for this such that it overcomes the ballot language then I we’re open to that,” Harden said.

From the start there were questions and hesitation about how the money would be handled, even from Mecklenburg County Commissioners who voted to put it on the ballot.

Commissioner Pat Cotham was one of two commissioners who voted against putting the sales tax on the ballot.

“I have yet to have a single mother come to me, a struggling mother working two jobs, and say ‘if we could just have money for the arts my life would be so much better’,” Cotham said when commissioners voted on the referendum in July.

The sales tax even came up in city council meetings during tough discussions on funding.

During a meeting on funding for the LYNX Silver Line Councilman Tariq Bokhari, an outspoken critic of the quarter cent sales tax, encouraged voters to vote against it so that it could be used on other local needs.

Former county commissioner Matthew Ridenhour was also outspoken against the sales tax and told WBTV that the defeat of the sales tax referendum wasn’t about the ballot language.

“I think what we saw tonight not so much a response to the ballot wording so much as a rejection from the people of where the dollars were going to go,” Ridenhour said.

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