Queen City Nerve

Charlotte's Cultural Pulse

Opinion: Why I’m Voting Against the Proposed Arts Tax

By Ray McKinnon

October 18, 2019

Early voting in Mecklenburg County started on Wednesday. In addition to voting for local municipal and school board members, voters will see this language: “Local sales and use tax at the rate of one-quarter percent (0.25%) in addition to all other State and local sales and use taxes,” with the options, FOR or AGAINST. Some folks would have us think that a vote against this arts sales tax is a vote against the arts; it isn’t. With all due respect to the many who are supporting the increase — more than a couple are friends — here are the reasons why I am voting against:

Priorities

If passed, we will reach the state-mandated cap on sales tax (7.50%). Since we will reach the state cap if this tax is passed, the question is begged, “Is this the top priority for our community?” I have not been convinced that this, in fact, is a top priority. Folks have said that this question is a “Republican talking point,” however, my track record on issues will show I’m a strong supporter of progressive Democratic values. It isn’t a talking point; it’s the truth. We will max out if this passes, so we need to make certain that we are using our last tool to meet the most pressing need — with input from the community and not just a few people with what seems like outsized access to our local government. Which leads me to the next reason I am voting against: the process. 

Process

There are dozens of incredible nonprofit organizations in our county who are also facing funding shortfalls — with similar funding models as the Arts and Science Council (ASC). The ASC does a lot of good in the community, this isn’t, per se, about them. This is about the process in which a nonprofit that is not part of any municipality in Mecklenburg was able to appear before the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners and get them to vote to allow this ballot measure in the first place. Listen, I get it, raising money in the non-profit space is hard work. No, I literally get it. I am the pastor at a local mission and serve as the president of a Community Development Corporation; raising money is hard work. 

Ray McKinnon (right) and his wife, Kelly.

The United Way, for instance, uses a similar funding model as the ASC; did we just set a precedent where we are going to allow for worthy nonprofits to come before the commission to say why they, too, need what is essentially taxing ability? And, frankly, the United Way is doing an incredible job relative to equity. They are currently funding projects (like the CDC I spoke about) that have folks on the ground working on equity issues. My point is that there are a ton of nonprofits in Charlotte doing incredible work. The ASC is among them. The United Way has had to reconfigure and adapt in these times (and they’ve also made considerable changes in how they directly interface in communities since 2016); why is the ASC different?

Perception

Dr. Maya Angelou is credited to have said, “When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.” What are we saying to the most vulnerable in our county when we pile on fees, on top of sales tax increases? At a time when the county is saying to folks, many vulnerable and desperately in need, that they are at risk of having their wages garnished as a result of outstanding ambulance fees, we probably shouldn’t even consider another regressive tax. Whenever we consider passing regressive taxes (like what’s proposed) we must take care that the benefits of said tax will greatly benefit the most vulnerable — those most impacted by regressive taxes. 

Folks are sick and tired of being sick and tired. They are tired of feeling like they are afterthoughts and that they are being used to get the monied interest of folks they don’t know passed. Not too long ago the arts tax was defeated by voters — decisively. The perception, too, is that we threw in things that, in my opinion, should be funded at higher levels (like parks and schools) into the mix so that folks couldn’t just say this was a tax to only benefit certain folks in the county. I’m not saying that is why but…

Some folks have thrown around some of the most prominent and well-established names in Charlotte-Mecklenburg as those who are “FOR.” the tax. I suppose that’s an effort to sway opinion relative to it. Because, after all, if folks you respect so much are supporting this, shouldn’t you, too? Not necessarily; each person must answer for her or himself.
But I am voting AGAINST. I don’t have the big name, but I have heard from enough regular folks with similar questions to know that there are just too many unanswered (and dismissed) questions to use our last local taxing tool.

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