Off-year local elections are the poor stepchild of American
political activity, but the upcoming Durham County election on Nov. 8 have two
tax measures that might attract wider than normal voter interest.
Two separate resolutions would levy a local sales tax of 1/2
cent for transit improvements, including additional bus hours and construction
of commuter rail service, and a tax of 1/4 cent for Durham Public Schools (DPS),
Durham Technical Community College, county pre-K programs and debt service on
The transit tax is expected to raise $17.2 million in the
first year, with collection beginning in April 2012. According to supporters,
the funds collected add an extra 25,000 bus hours in the first full year of
Down the road, the tax revenues will construct commuter rail
service from Durham through Research Triangle Park to eastern Wake County by
2018. Finally, light rail will be constructed to run from just east of downtown
Durham to UNC Hospitals by 2024.
The school tax will raise approximately $9.2 million in the
first year with more than $6 million of the funds going to DPS.
Supporters say both measures are important to the future of
the county. Bill Kalkhof, president of Downtown Durham, said in a letter
to the Durham Herald-Sun that the transit tax will enable Durham to
"think big" at a critical time in the economy.
"For Durham to reach its potential, actions need to be
taken today to solve our looming transportation problems -- even if our action
means taking the lead before our neighbors. If we do not act, Durham and the
Triangle may face the prospect of becoming another Los Angeles, where the car
is king and congestion abounds. Our regional transportation status quo will
simply not serve us for the long term," Kalkhof said.
But opposition has come from several sources, including the
Durham County Republican Party, which is urging voters to vote no on both
a statement released over the weekend, the party challenged the value of
additional bus lines and light rail commuter service and called the ¼ cent tax
"a general revenue tax hike masquerading as education funding."
"We encourage faculty, staff and students to actively
participate in the civic life of the community," said Michael Schoenfeld, vice
president for public affairs and government relations. "Voting is the most direct way in
which every citizen can make a difference."
Schoenfeld noted that as a non-profit, tax-exempt entity,
Duke must abide by federal and state laws prohibiting the use of its
facilities, services or personnel to promote or support individuals or
organizations campaigning for public office. These laws prohibit Duke University, and any of its related
entities, from contributing to or supporting political candidates or parties. The restrictions on political activity
do not apply to any employee acting as an individual, on their own time and
using personal resources.
"Understanding the basic rules helps promote vibrant
discussions on campus about candidates and political issues without violating
the law," he added.
For more information about the tax measures, see the Durham
County Government website.