The Senate Finance Committee today approved an amended version of House Bill 148, which would authorize Triangle counties to pay for transit improvements with a half-cent local sales tax, a property tax hike in Research Triangle Park, and a hike in car registration fees.
Triangle leaders are pushing for the half-cent option to pay most of the cost for an ambitious plan to add hundreds of buses to the roads and lay more than 50 miles of light-rail tracks over the next 25 years.
The measure goes to the full Senate for a floor vote Wednesday. If the bill passes second and third reading, it will return to the House -- which gave 75-40 approval in April -- for concurrence on a minor amendment added in the Senate Finance committee today.
The measure gives Wake, Durham, Orange, Guilford and Forsyth counties the option to hike the sales tax a half-cent per dollar -- if approved first by the county commissioners and then by voters in a referendum -- to help finance transit construction and operations. It also gives rural counties the option of a quarter-cent transit tax.
It allows an increase in the Triangle of the $5 car registration fee that helps pay for transit -- raising it to $7 now and to $8 next year. And the measure empowers Research Triangle Park landowners to increase their property taxes by 10 cents per $100 to help pay for transit.
Even if the General Assembly approves the transit tax local option this summer, Triangle transit backers are not expected to push for a local referendum vote this year. The expected state tax hike and the continuing recession would provide a chilly climate for proposals to increase local taxes too.
The bill's lead Senate sponsor is Sen. Richard Stevens, a Cary Republican, who spoke in favor of it at the Finance Committee today by telephone from his home, where is recuperating from a knee injury. Other speakers included Sen. Josh Stein, a Raleigh Democrat.