02/07/2023
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Information for this story appeared in The North Carolina Tribune, an arm of Business North Carolina magazine. Five counties across North Carolina had the worst political timing this year: They asked voters to raise local sales tax rates amid sky-high inflation.

Not surprisingly, every sales tax referendum on the ballot this year went down in defeat. The only difference was the vote margin: In Cleveland County, opposition to a sales tax hike was strongest, with 77% voting no. In more moderate New Hanover County, 53% voted against higher sales taxes to fund the area’s transportation needs. In Wayne County, 65% said no.
In Cleveland, Macon, and Bladen counties – all of which lean Republican – county leaders made the pitch
to voters that a sales tax hike could eliminate the need to raise property taxes to fund school construction and safety needs. They argued that raising the money through sales taxes would mean that out-of-county visitors would chip in, instead of placing the burden entirely on property owners.

It’s likely that messaging didn’t cut through the noise of midterm election season, and ballot language typically doesn’t explain what the extra revenue would be used for in the county.