GREENSBORO — While Guilford County voters rejected last fall raising the sales tax by a quarter cent to pay for school construction, a new measure might make the idea more popular.
The Guilford County Board of Education wants the county’s legislative delegation to support a bill allowing the county to restrict the use of future sales tax increases to just “public school capital outlay.”
Capital outlay typically includes expenses such as buying, renovating or constructing school buildings or purchasing equipment.
House Bill 120 already passed the state House with bipartisan support earlier this month, but has not yet been approved or rejected by the Senate. It’s a local bill, which means it would change the law for Guilford County, but not other counties.
School board legislative committee members brought up their desire to see the measure pass during a virtual meeting with the county’s legislative delegation on Monday. Board members called the meeting to share what priorities they would like to see lawmakers tackle.
Board member Deborah Napper said that while the district is grateful that voters approved a $300 million school bond referendum, that money represents just a first step toward fulfilling more than $2.6 billion in school facility needs.
County commissioners placed both the proposed sales tax increase and the school construction bond referendum on the November ballot. The plan was to use money from the sales tax to help pay the school bond debt. While the school bond passed, the sales tax did not.
Sales tax increases, unlike property tax increases, must be approved directly by the voters. Commissioners also have the option of using property tax money to pay school bond debt.
Napper said it was obvious why county voters didn’t approve the sales tax increase.
“They are hesitant to approve an increase without knowing how that money would be spent,” she said.
Under current state law, the county cannot specify on the ballot what the proceeds will pay for. That means county leaders can spend the money how they choose.
Napper believes HB120 could help the county pass a sales tax increase to help pay for additional school bonds.
School board Vice Chairwoman Winston McGregor asked Rep. Jon Hardister, R-Guilford, who sponsored the House bill, what he thought about its prospects.
Hardister said the main focus in the General Assembly now is on trying to craft a budget, rather than other measures.
“We are kind of in a holding pattern now where a lot of bills aren’t really moving,” he said.
He said Senate leaders will look at the many bills sent to them by the House, including HB120, and decide which they want to vote on. Most recently the bill was referred to the Senate’s committee on rules and operations.
Contact Jessie Pounds at 336-373-7002 and follow @JessiePounds on Twitter.