A new version of the tax bill surfaced on the Senate floor Thursday just before midnight and was voted on early Friday.
The bill increases the cap on the county sales tax rate to 2.75 percent but allows Wake, Guilford, Forsyth Mecklenburg counties to put a sales tax on the ballot.
Guilford and Mecklenburg counties already have a quarter cent sales tax on the ballot, and Wake County is considering it. Under the bill, Wake County would have 90 days to decide whether to put the tax to a vote. Counties could use money from the tax for education and public transportation.
"They now will have the opportunity to have a 2.75 and therefore you should be thrilled and happy that you achieved your goal," said Sen. Bob Rucho, R-Mecklenburg.
Wake County officials would have to scramble to organize and get the initiative on the ballot, said Sen. Dan Blue, D-Wake. The measure meddles into things Wake County people should be deciding for themselves, he said.
"I don't know why you're singling Wake County out for this treatment," he said. "It's unfair to keep heaping on Wake County these extra burdens you're putting on us."
The bill is another case of the state exerting power over local governments, said Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake.
"This is an example of you telling the people of Wake County that you know better than we what our priorities are and you don't," he said.
Democrats were satisfied with the economic development portions of the tax bill, which includes a job development grant program, and a job catalyst fund to help local governments create jobs. It also orders a study of historic rehabilitation incentives.
A previous version of the bill limited nearly all of the state's 100 counties to a local sales- and use-tax of 2.5 percent, including the six urban counties currently allowed to raise the sales tax to 2.75 percent.
Consumers in more than 70 counties currently pay a combined state and local sales tax of 6.75 percent. Other counties have slightly higher rates.
The bill now goes to the House for approval.