Chamber will not campaign for sales-tax increase

by: Jenna Deery Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - One of Charlotte's most powerful fundraising supporters told Channel 9 it won't campaign for voters to approve a plan to raise sales taxes in November.
 
The money would go to teacher pay raises, libraries and the arts, but the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce is showing a lack of support behind the county's effort to generate extra revenue as it has for public fundraising campaigns in the past.
 
The Charlotte Chamber of Commerce is considered one of the most valuable resources, encouraging votes for plans with public money. It can raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for signs and mail outs before an election.
 
The last sales tax-hike campaign led by the Chamber of Commerce was in 1998 when voters approved raising sales taxes a half cent for money for transit.
 
In an email, a spokesperson said the Chamber was not made aware of the proposed referendum before it was passed. After it was passed, the spokesperson said county leaders asked the Chamber to lead the campaign.
 
Since then, the Chamber has asked county commissioners repeatedly with more dialogue about the plan before taking a position. There is a concern sales taxes are not a stable enough source of revenue to consistently fund teachers.
 
Board Chairman Trevor Fuller turned down a final opportunity during Tuesday night's board meeting to have further discussion about it and make any last changes before sending it to voters in November.
 
Political experts said the Chamber's position sends a strong message to voters watching this issue. Voters usually support something that's been endorsed.
 
"The business community carries a lot of weight within Charlotte and Mecklenburg County so certainly this sends a message that perhaps the business community isn't as sure about supporting it," said political analyst Michael Bitzer.
 
Bitzer said endorsements speak volumes to concerned voters and without one from the Chamber, the referendum could face an uphill battle.
 
"This could send a cue to some voters, most likely to Republicans, but Mecklenburg County and Charlotte have become so Democratic in leanings that perhaps that signal isn't as powerful as it used to be," he said.
 
However, commissioners have different views on whether the plan needs the Chamber.
 
"Do you need the support of the Chamber?" Eyewitness News reporter Jenna Deery asked Fuller.
 
"Well, we'd like the support of everyone in the community because we believe it helps everyone in the community," Fuller said.
 
“Without the support of the community, all we are going to be able to do is have a couple of commissioners around town saying vote yes to the referendum," said Commissioner Matthew Ridenhour, R-Dist. 5.
 
A Chamber executive committee could decide later to vote to endorse the sales tax.