Queen City Nerve

Charlotte's Cultural Pulse

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

By Braxton Winston

October 15, 2019

Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have the opportunity to transform. We have mobilized governments, businesses, faith communities, activists and philanthropy to come together to address our issues. The Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners has proposed a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the arts and cultural sectors, parks, greenways and teacher’s assistants in our public schools.

Braxton Winston

The board declared its intent to allocate the proceeds based on the following percentages: 45% to arts and culture, 34% to parks and greenways, 16% to education, and 5% to arts and culture in Charlotte’s surrounding municipalities.

In the framework put forth by the Board of Commissioners, the Arts and Science Council (ASC) will also be restructured. The ASC will continue to exist as a non-profit organization but will no longer have a role in fundraising or administering programs. A newly constituted Board of Directors comprised of equal parts County Commissioners and Charlotte City Council members will work with representatives from county towns, community members and private sector representatives to guide how this revenue will be administered to its best use.

This tax initiative will allow Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to be more self-determined in coming up with creative solutions to our long-standing problems. Folks that depend on the arts and cultural sectors are in need of affordable housing and affordable workspaces in re-imagined neighborhoods that are integrated and walkable.

Combining funding streams like this tax with the city’s Housing Trust Fund and workforce development dollars can lead to innovative approaches to affordable housing. While we first must get this referendum passed, Nov. 6 is when the real work begins. The city council members and county commissioners, along with the community board members, will be charged with guiding how this revenue is spent and will need to be held accountable to ensure they are adhering to the framework policy that has been thoughtfully crafted by the county.

I grew up in New York City public schools in a family of public school educators. My education was enriched by my schools’ and family’s dedication to expose me to the rich arts and cultural resources that my city could provide me. It pushed me to think wider and deeper about not just my studies, but the world I was living in. This is why I am in support of voting for a dedicated public revenue stream for arts, parks and education in Mecklenburg County.

The primary reason I am in support of this public revenue stream for the arts is jobs. The fact is, we know how valuable public investment of the arts is. Since 2014, when the North Carolina General Assembly eliminated a large portion of our film tax incentive, North Carolina has helped turn Atlanta, Georgia into the movie-making capital of America. The move sent thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of economic impact directly to Georgia. This new revenue stream will allow us to create a larger ecosystem that doesn’t stop at film, but cultivates the diverse talent pool that our growing region continues to attract.

An economic impact study revealed that the arts and cultural sectors of the Charlotte region creates over $350 million in yearly economic activity and supports over 11,000 full-time jobs in 2017 despite a meager public investment in the arts. I know the value of the arts — I have worked in the sector since 2004. Workers in the arts aren’t just creative people who sing, dance, paint and create.

Arts workers are carpenters, electricians, engineers, caterers, event professionals, marketing agents and accountants. They are small business owners and entrepreneurs. They are truck drivers and janitors, they are stagehands and warehouse workers. They are teachers and police officers and firefighters and medics.

There are not many industries outside of the arts and cultural sectors that benefit such a wide-swath of middle class workers outside of the military. A strong public investment into arts and culture will provide an exponential return on investment to Mecklenburg County’s taxpayers like few other investments can.

On Nov. 5, we have the opportunity to do something good for our people. We have the opportunity to take a transformative approach cultivating continued growth in our region. We have the opportunity to vote for a more equitable, accessible and interconnected Charlotte. I am asking you to join me in voting for the quarter-cent sales tax to support arts, parks and education in Mecklenburg County.

-Braxton Winston,
Charlotte Councilmember At-Large, Stagehand IATSE #322 Camera Operator, Charlotte Hornets Sports & Entertainment; Community Connections Manager, Levine Museum Of The New South

4 thoughts on “Opinion: Why I’m Voting For the Proposed Arts Tax

  1. At the risk of trying to make sense of this screed:

    >>Charlotte and Mecklenburg County have the opportunity to transform

    Raising taxes is an opportunity? For bureaucrats perhaps. Why does Charlotte/Meck need to transform, exactly? Is there a secret lack of growth we’re not aware of as we watch another forest clear-cut to build more houses or as we watch more apartment buildings hulking over intersections as we sit in gridlock?

    >>Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners has proposed a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the arts and cultural sectors, parks, greenways and teacher’s assistants in our public schools.

    Arts and culture do not require government funding. In fact, they suffer from it since the uninvited invisible hand of government will be involved in future decisions regarding content, venues, personnel, etc. How many musicians exist, play and even thrive without a penny of welfare? Why and how will government expenditure deliver inspiration to an artist?

    >>The board declared its intent to allocate the proceeds based on the following percentages: 45% to arts and culture, 34% to parks and greenways, 16% to education, and 5% to arts and culture in Charlotte’s surrounding municipalities.

    When has government ever honored its promises where taxes, funding and expenditures are concerned? How many times have governments robbed Peter to pay Paul, especially when those robberies are motivated for political reasons? Today’s good idea is tomorrow’s slush fund.

    >>In the framework put forth by the Board of Commissioners, the Arts and Science Council (ASC) will also be restructured. The ASC will continue to exist as a non-profit organization but will no longer have a role in fundraising or administering programs. A newly constituted Board of Directors comprised of equal parts County Commissioners and Charlotte City Council members will work with representatives from county towns, community members and private sector representatives to guide how this revenue will be administered to its best use.

    In other words, the foxes will be guarding the henhouse. Do the commissioners and board members not have enough to do already? If not, why are their numbers not reduced or their prescribed duties increased proportionally? Does any rational person believe that this Board will not be populated with political favorites, cronies and other insiders?

    >>This tax initiative will allow Charlotte and Mecklenburg County to be more self-determined in coming up with creative solutions to our long-standing problems.

    Taxation equals self-determination? What a novel way of standing sovereignty on its head. How, exactly, does more money wrung out of commerce equate to creativity? Why are people who had nothing to do with creating the problem now responsible for funding its solution?

    >>Folks that depend on the arts and cultural sectors are in need of affordable housing and affordable workspaces in re-imagined neighborhoods that are integrated and walkable.

    This is an appalling word salad. Who, exactly, ‘depends’ on arts and culture in the sense of day-to-day existence? Whatever their value they are surplus to the requirements of living and working.

    The word ‘affordable’ has been rendered meaningless by the people who use the word the most. As usual. Affordability is a function of market forces. Supply. Demand. Ability to pay. Government subsidies ie expenditures of taxes does not and can not make things ‘affordable.’ They merely distort the market by artificially reducing prices to certain favored groups or individuals with the expectation, even the knowledge, that those groups or individuals will provide future political support. A $1,500/month unit made ‘affordable’ by declaring its rent to be $500 with government covering the other $1,000 sounds wonderful – until you realize that government probably has to collect $2,000 in order to fund all the bureaucrats, salaries, benefits and other costs associated with this magical affordability.

    What does integration (whatever it means) have to do with arts and culture? What does walkability have to do with arts and culture? Is the Music Factory suffering despite a lack of walkability? No, it’s thriving despite its somewhat isolated location, dearth of parking and inadequate access roads.

    >>Combining funding streams like this tax with the city’s Housing Trust Fund and workforce development dollars can lead to innovative approaches to affordable housing.

    Here we go again. Handouts and subsidies are not innovation. In fact, they are quite the opposite.

    >>While we first must get this referendum passed, Nov. 6 is when the real work begins. The city council members and county commissioners, along with the community board members, will be charged with guiding how this revenue is spent and will need to be held accountable to ensure they are adhering to the framework policy that has been thoughtfully crafted by the county.

    Yes, you said that already.

    >>I grew up in New York City public schools in a family of public school educators. My education was enriched by my schools’ and family’s dedication to expose me to the rich arts and cultural resources that my city could provide me.

    The city and government didn’t provide it. Artists did. This is the same error of attribution relied upon by those who desire government takeover of health care. Government is not a provider or a nurturer or an incubator. Government is a cost. A burden. A meddler. A controller.

    >>The primary reason I am in support of this public revenue stream for the arts is jobs. The fact is, we know how valuable public investment of the arts is. Since 2014, when the North Carolina General Assembly eliminated a large portion of our film tax incentive, North Carolina has helped turn Atlanta, Georgia into the movie-making capital of America. The move sent thousands of jobs and millions of dollars of economic impact directly to Georgia.

    This is mendacious in the extreme. Georgia’s film enterprises existed before, during and after NC’s foibles. The reality is that Georgia’s growth in film is as much down to the LACK of taxes as it is to government expenditure.

    >>This new revenue stream will allow us to create a larger ecosystem that doesn’t stop at film, but cultivates the diverse talent pool that our growing region continues to attract.

    Again, nothing – including individual finances – is preventing creativity. People can be creative with no government help at all. In fact, that creativity will be uninfluenced and unbounded by the need to satisfy and/or answer to a ‘Board of Directors’ (which sounds very Warsaw Pact indeed).

    >>An economic impact study revealed that the arts and cultural sectors of the Charlotte region creates over $350 million in yearly economic activity and supports over 11,000 full-time jobs in 2017 despite a meager public investment in the arts.

    In other words, the place and people are doing just fine without government expenditure. On this we can agree. Unfortunately, such a statistic completely undermines the pro-tax argument.

    >>I know the value of the arts — I have worked in the sector since 2004. Workers in the arts aren’t just creative people who sing, dance, paint and create. Arts workers are carpenters, electricians, engineers, caterers, event professionals, marketing agents and accountants. They are small business owners and entrepreneurs. They are truck drivers and janitors, they are stagehands and warehouse workers. They are teachers and police officers and firefighters and medics.

    And all of these can be provided by private sector firms, individuals, contractors, etc. Teachers, police officers, firefighters and medics are already publicly funded and we are told that there are not enough of them and that they are underpaid. How will ‘arts’ improve rather than exacerbate this problem?

    >>There are not many industries outside of the arts and cultural sectors that benefit such a wide-swath of middle class workers outside of the military.

    Huh? Complete rubbish.

    >>A strong public investment into arts and culture will provide an exponential return on investment to Mecklenburg County’s taxpayers like few other investments can.

    As Tom Sawyer once remarked, your saying it don’t make it so.

    >>On Nov. 5, we have the opportunity to do something good for our people. We have the opportunity to take a transformative approach cultivating continued growth in our region. We have the opportunity to vote for a more equitable, accessible and interconnected Charlotte. I am asking you to join me in voting for the quarter-cent sales tax to support arts, parks and education in Mecklenburg County.

    And what if ‘something good’ is defined quite reasonably as allowing them to keep more of what they earn and decide individually how it will be spent? Why is taxation (and government) equated with altruism? How will collecting and spending money on specific budget items make things more equitable, accessible and interconnected?

    As above, if Charlotte/Meck had any problems with economic activity – including that of artists and creative types – then the problem would be clear and omnipresent. It’s not. Instead, tax proponents are engaging in the usual straw men and soul butter. If the urgency is as tax proponents claim then why are current budgets and revenues not being revised to meet this impending disaster? Why are such revisions not part of the pro-tax plan?

    In the end, the mania for taxation under the rubric of good deeds is simply more of the same mania for control. Red tape. But the people living here and moving here do so in large part because of the lack of red tape especially as exemplified by sclerotic, rapacious Northern states and cities who also raised taxes on countless items and activities claiming they would improve the quality of life and make things ‘affordable.’ Obviously this is not the case and never more obvious – as the thousands of new arrivals every month who are fleeing their former cities demonstrate.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

X