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Oct. 26, 2011 10:25

Facts about the prepared-food tax

An anonymous group characterizing Greensboro City Council candidates as being for a restaurant tax or “good for restaurants” is tiptoeing right up to the line of election law, if not crossing it. By law, a group of two or more individuals engaged in activities that “support or oppose the nomination or election of… candidates” must register as a political action committee. The color coding of candidates’ names based on whether their position is favorable to the group’s cause could be interpreted as an endorsement — green for “go” and red for “stop.” But the group will likely be allowed to evade reporting requirements by justifying its activities as educational.

Unfortunately, the cloak of anonymity allows the people behind this campaign also evade accountability for a message that is misleading and disingenuous. Repeated references on Facebook, Twitter and blogs to a “proposed prepared food tax” creates the impression that an active discussion is underway among elected officials, candidates and economic development leaders about a 1 cent tax on restaurant bills, and that a motion could be just around the corner if the conservative majority is ousted from the new city council.

The point that seems to be missed by people whipped up by this manufactured hysteria is that the city council doesn’t have the authority to impose a prepared food tax. Any such tax would require enabling legislation by the NC General Assembly. A bill would typically be filed by a member of the Guilford County delegation, none of whom seem to have heard anything about it. The General Assembly holds the power to require a referendum if it deigns to allow a municipality such as Greensboro to levy a prepared foods tax. That’s exactly what the legislature did in 2005 and 2008 — years of Democratic control, incidentally — when it approved enabling legislation for the city of Monroe and Durham County respectively.

Voters rejected both proposals. For those who haven’t been following state politics recently, the Republican gang that took control in Raleigh last November doesn’t appear to be overly enthusiastic about either new taxes or devolving power back to local government. As one candidate put it, this is a “contrived” issue. Donnell “DJ” Hardy,

the challenger in District 1, has attempted to exploit it to assail incum- bent Dianne Bellamy-Small in the absence of any other major issue that differentiates the candidates for voters. And conservative activists flail- ing about for an issue to discredit Perkins and to help mayoral incum- bent Bill Knight overcome his significant disadvantages have seized on the phantom tax. Was anybody surprised to see Conservatives for Guilford County’s new YouTube video endorsing Knight and the rest of the conservative slate with its female voiceover asking, “Do you want higher property taxes, higher water and sewer rates, and even a new prepared food tax?”

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