It might be a bit early in the game for a Hail Mary, but Gov. Bev Perdue’s surprise decision earlier this week to propose an increase in the sales tax as a way to boost education suggests that she understands the challenge of being re-elected to a second term.
Perdue said she will include in her 2012 budget an increase of three quarters of a cent in the sales tax, which would boost it from 6.75 percent to 7.5 percent, costing the average household in North Carolina about $180 a year and raising about $850 million over that time that would be funnelled to education. She said the increase is needed after a Republican-controlled General Assembly made across-the-board cuts to education last year that critics say will have long-range and far-reaching effects.
“Education is the key to our children’s future and to North Carolina’s economic future,” Perdue said in a statement. “Investing in education is central to our ability to attract new jobs and businesses to our state. We owe it to our children and our state to stop these cuts and make education a priority again — a fraction of a penny for progress.”
As far as taxes go, a sales tax is the fairest. It is progressive in the sense that the more you buy, the more you pay, but everyone pays at the same rate, so financial success isn’t penalized.
Perdue touts the tax increase as temporary, but the public should be wary. Republicans last year, while fulfilling a campaign promise, let the sun set on a 2009 temporary single-cent sales tax increase over the objection of Democrats and Perdue, who said the $1 billion that was raised each year was needed to protect education while revenues were depressed by the recession. Cutbacks in education followed, with Democrats calling them debilitating, and Republicans arguing that most lost jobs were part-time and the state could do just as much with less by being efficient.
We doubt that the Republicans will support the increase when budget talks heat up in June, and revenues likely to pick up because of an improving economy. Perdue herself probably has that factored into her calculation, but understands the proposal allows the governor to campaign as an education crusader while trying to distinguish herself from Pat McCrory, the former Charlotte mayor and the presumptive Republican nominee.
Perdue, during a campaign with McCrory, could ask North Carolinians what they value more, their child’s education or a three-fourths of a penny on the dollar. Perdue’s was a bold move, one that will be championed as risky politically.
But a larger risk to her re-election might have been to do nothing.