There’s a new sales-tax proposal on this year’s primary ballot — wait, hear us out. It’s for the teachers. It’s also about as beneficial and painless as a tax increase can be — and approving the increase here would lead to a tax decrease elsewhere.
Let us spell it out:
The last item on the ballot for the March 3 primary election (with early voting now in progress) is titled “Forsyth County Local Sales and Use Tax” and it offers a for or against choice to enact a “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.” The ballot language doesn’t read “to increase the teacher supplement paid by the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school system” because state law doesn’t allow the purpose to be included on the ballot, but that’s what it’s for. It represents a quarter-cent increase in the local sales-tax rate on most items that are sold in Forsyth County. A quarter-cent on every dollar would raise the current Forsyth County sales-tax rate from 6.75% to 7% — competitive with surrounding North Carolina counties and low enough that its effect on pocketbooks will be negligible.
But small amounts add up. The extra revenue would allow the county to increase the salary supplement of every teacher in Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school by $2,000 to $3,000 a year.
We know they’re worth it.
Many essential items would be exempted from the tax, including groceries or unprepared foods, gasoline, motor vehicle and home sales, rent and prescription medication.
Yet the revenue raised is expected to be about $13 million in its first year, increasing to more than $14.3 million by 2025.
And that little, tiny, quarter-cent increase would be paid not by property owners alone, not by Forsyth County residents only, but by everyone who spends money here. The expense is spread out about as widely as it can be.
“We’re estimating 40% would be paid by people who are outside of the county,” Gayle Anderson, a retired president and chief executive of the Winston-Salem Chamber of Commerce, told the Journal’s Fran Daniel earlier this year.
We understand the reluctance that many local residents feel toward new taxes or tax increases. At times, it’s been wise to reject such proposals. As we’re occasionally reminded, what we want and what we need are two different things.
But when it comes to the education our children receive to prepare them to become productive members of society, that want and need blur. There’s no rational limit — they need as much as they can get. And the better pay we can offer teachers, the better teachers we’ll have.
About 15% of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County teachers leave the school system every year, many of them for better offers elsewhere, including other states that offer better pay.
With a more responsive state legislature, that picture would be different, but our state leaders have chosen other priorities, so local communities wind up supplementing teacher pay to retain their talent. Out of North Carolina’s 115 school systems, 111 pay teacher supplements. Among North Carolina’s major urban areas, the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County teacher supplement is the lowest. We should at least be among the top five.
Oh, and about that decrease: Forsyth County raised the property tax rate by 3 cents in 2019 — 2 cents for the new courthouse, 1 cent for the teacher supplement. If this proposal passes, county commissioners say they’ll cut the property tax rate by 1 cent. That sounds fair.
For the good of our children and, ultimately, the community, we urge voters to vote for the “Forsyth County Local Sales and Use Tax.”